Worries Persist About COVID-19 Transmission on Packaging

New cases in unexpected places are prompting investigations into the spread of COVID-19 on packaging.
August 14, 2020

Since the coronavirus pandemic began earlier this year, governmental bodies and scientists around the world have been working diligently to determine how COVID-19 is spread and how to protect against it. This is particularly important information for businesses that work directly with the public, like food service and food retail businesses. Knowing how the virus is spread and how to protect staff and the public is key to operating safely during the pandemic. To date, research indicates that the coronavirus is spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets and at a close range (6 feet or less). This information is the basis for the safety measures being put in place in Australian food businesses, such as mandatory masks, plexi-glass screens and physical distancing floor markers.

Concerns around the world

Recently, however, concerns have been mounting that COVID-19 can be contracted through packaging. In Shenzhen and Xian, China, city food inspectors have reported finding traces of the coronavirus on packaging from imported food items such as chicken wings from Brazil and shrimp from Ecuador. Despite finding trace amounts of COVID-19 on some imported food items, workers who came into contact with the items were tested and none had contracted COVID-19. Investigations continue but the initial results indicate that transmission from packaging is not likely. 

In New Zealand, concerns are growing about the source of a growing outbreak of COVID-19 cases — the first cases the country has seen since going 102 days without any community transmission. Health officials are trying to identify where the cases could have come from, and have been exploring the potential of COVID-19 being spread on the packaging of frozen food. The basis for this consideration is the fact that one of the individuals infected with COVID-19 works for a company that transports and stores goods at controlled temperatures and handled frozen foods for grocery stores and other food service companies.

No evidence of COVID-19 spread from packaging

While investigations are underway into the source of some outbreaks around the world, there is no evidence to indicate that an individual can get COVID-19 from packaging, even if there are trace amounts found. This concern came about early on in the pandemic, but continues to be unproven at this time.

The World Health Organization (WHO) addressed the findings of COVID-19 on packaging by food inspectors in China, and has confirmed that there is no evidence that food products or the food chain is contributing to the spread of COVID-19. WHO emphasized that people should not be concerned about contracting the virus from food or food packaging.

According to the Australian Department of Health, the way the virus spreads is from “person to person through: close contact with an infectious person (including in the 48 hours before they had symptoms), contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze, and touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face.”

Australians are encouraged to continue to abide by the COVID-19 guidelines and safety measures put in place by their state or territory. Food businesses that are operating at this time must continue to operate with restrictions in place and ensure that they are operating within the mandated guidelines applicable to them. The measures that are in place will continue to help stop the spread of COVID-19 — by reducing close contact and restricting the spread of respiratory droplets.