Food shopping & coronavirus risk explained in new government guidelines – latest advice

Many Britons are worried about catching coronavirus from food they buy, be it from the supermarket or from local takeaways who are still operating in the pandemic. Customers have already changed their ways by visiting supermarkets only when absolutely necessary and taking extra precautions to practise social distancing, but could the food purchased be bringing the virus into homes? 


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The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has released new guidelines on coronavirus and food, which are now available on the government’s website. 

The document includes advice on whether you need to clean your food packaging and whether you’re at risk from picking up the virus from the items that you buy.

The new information clarifies the advice on whether it’s safe to accept food deliveries and takeaways, as well as guidance on food hygiene, expiry dates and food storage. 

However, overall the risk of catching the virus from the food we buy is said to be low.

“The FSA’s advice is clear that it remains very unlikely that people can catch COVID-19 from food,” the FSA wrote on its website. 

“COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and not known to be transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging.”

However, the advice remains that everyone should be washing their hands often and for at least 20 seconds, especially before and after handling food or takeaways. 

The new guidelines assure consumers that cooking food thoroughly will kill the virus, and that so long as food businesses are following the usual food safety advice then cross contamination is highly unlikely. 

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With many restaurants and businesses adapting the way they work to provide a takeaway-only service and food deliveries, the FSA has also updated its food safety guidelines to make sure you limit all contact when getting takeout. 

Addressing the public directly, the regulator says not to make any orders in person, but to order online or on the phone. 

However, having takeaway food delivered is perfectly safe so long as the business is following the safety guidelines. 

This means staff maintaining good hygiene, including practising social distancing when delivering and keeping a distance of two metres, which is why many companies are offering ‘contactless deliveries’ in leaving the food on the doorstep before ringing the bell. 


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The latest advice also warns people to be vigilant about how they store, freeze and defrost their foods, noting that if you defrost food outside of the fridge and therefore in warmer temperatures, it provides the perfect environment for bacteria to spread – putting you and your family at risk. Instead, you should defrost food slowly over a number of hours in the fridge, and then eat it within 24 hours. 

Customers are also urged to be mindful when they shop, not only by keeping their distance but by being careful when picking up items as staff won’t necessarily have worn gloves. “When you are buying loose foods such as fruit, vegetables, or bread in a bakery, try and only touch what you are going to buy,” the guidelines add.

However, though many people have been carefully wiping down all of the items in their food shop, the FSA says there should be no need to disinfect the packaging once you get home. 

“This is because food businesses are required to have a system for managing food safety in place, which should include keeping packaging clean,” the advice states. “You should still follow good hygiene practice by washing your hands after handling any outer packaging.”

The guidelines also discuss the trend for reusable cups, saying that businesses may decide whether or not they will serve your drinks in the eco-friendly containers. However, to avoid risk to both you and the staff, you should wash the cup regularly in hot and soapy water to reduce the chances of contamination. 

The up-to-date advice came on Friday, following guidelines which had already been issued for businesses to help them stay safe during the pandemic. 

Read the full FSA guidelines on the government’s website here. 

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