On March 16, 2020, representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented a webinar to food industry professionals focused on issues pertinent to COVID-19 and food manufacturing facilities. The webinar was organized by the Food and Beverage Issue Alliance, a coalition of food industry trade groups.
Amanda Cohn, MD, acting director for the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) and deputy incident manager for CDC’s COVID-19 response, strongly encouraged participants to check the CDC website for daily updates and guidance. She emphasized that the broad CDC recommendations regarding COVID-19 apply to all states, but how states choose to implement the guidance may vary based on the particular epidemiology of the disease in each state and its local vulnerable populations.
While emphasizing the need to keep up to date with CDC and to work with local and state health departments, Dr. Cohn, along with Jonathan Yoder, MSW, MPH, the water emergency preparedness coordinator at the CDC, underscored that much remains unknown about COVID-19 and news of its impact changes rapidly.
In this evolving situation, they offered some guidance on specific questions asked by webinar participants.
How long can the virus survive on surfaces and inanimate objects, such as stainless steel surfaces, plastics, and fabrics?
According to Yodar, limited data on the virus suggests that it appears to remain active hours to days based on the particular type of material. [Data from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 17—a day after the webinar—indicated that the virus remains stable for several hours to days: up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.] For aerosols, the virus is stable for up to three hours. Yoder emphasized that the virus on surfaces can easily be inactivated by using common household cleaners or disinfectants.
Is there a risk of contracting the virus via a food product or packaging surfaces?
Saying there is little data on this, Yoder added that the risk outside of person-to-person spread is considered low; he also underscored the broad recommendation that people wash their hands after handling food or food packaging.
What are the recommendations for disposing of personal protective equipment from production workers either exposed to or diagnosed with the virus?
Yodel referred participants to the CDC COVID-19 website on solid waste disposal and said the guidance is no different than what is generally recommended.
Should employees avoid handling currency or other types of paper?
Yodar said there are no current guidelines for handling currency, but reiterated that frequent hand washing and not touching one’s face is recommended after touching surfaces.
Do you have an indication on time and temperature lethality for this virus? Is it sensitive to heat or cold?
Like other microbes, this virus is sensitive to heat, according to Yoder, adding, for example, that boiling or pasteurizing should inactivate it. However, given the different types of manufacturing facilities with varying types of processes, he couldn’t provide more specific approaches to using heat to inactivate the virus.
If someone tests positive for COVID-19 at a facility and has used personal protective equipment, such as a face mask or respirator at work, what is the recommendation for cleaning procedures?
Dr. Cohn said to rely on local health investigators or a company’s occupational health clinic to assess the situation.
What are the recommendations if a person in a food producing facility tests positive for the virus?
Yodel said this depends on state and local guidance, but that, generally, there would be an assessment of risk to others, some level of closing and cleaning the area the person worked in. Companies should work with their local health departments to determine who needs to be monitored if exposed to the ill person.