< Transmission

Can SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus be caught by eating?

Text updated on 2020-12-08

During a meal, the main risk of COVID-19 contamination is when interacting with others. Cooked foods, peeled and rinsed fruit/vegetables are not contaminants.

No COVID-19 contamination through ingestion of food has been reported. If food is cooked at high temperatures or boiled, the virus is inactivated and there is no risk. The coronavirus is also inactivated by the acidity of the digestive tract (unlike rotaviruses that cause gastroenteritis). 

For fresh vegetables to be stored in the refrigerator, the general hygiene recommendation, even outside of the pandemic, is to wash them thoroughly with water before drying and storing them. Avoid bleach, which is highly toxic if swallowed, and if you use soap or dishwashing liquid, rinse well.

In China, frozen products from abroad are tested for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and several packages have tested positive. However, the presence of the virus' RNA does not mean that the virus is infectious or in sufficient quantity to infect a person. 

Wash your hands and all surfaces and utensils used for cooking thoroughly. If someone has COVID-19 or has symptoms, it is preferable that he/she does not do the cooking. If you are cooking or handling food for people who do not live with you (e.g., at work), put on a mask and clean gloves - only use them to touch the food!

Note We modified our answer to this question (written before the summer of 2020) in October 2020 and again in December 2020 to reflect the absence of contamination through ingestion. We are well aware that "absence of evidence is not proof of absence". However, this coronavirus and its transmission are being studied by thousands of doctors and scientists around the world. Since no publications show any transmission through food, this means that this route of contamination is rare or non-existent. However, meals are often contaminated by vectors other than food (sprays, aerosols).

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In one restaurant, a pre-symptomatic COVID-19 person contaminated at least two other people more than 2 meters away, who were eating at two adjacent tables. Note that the space on the third floor of the restaurant was enclosed and ventilation must have contributed to the spread of the viral particles.

Lu, J., Gu, J., Li, K., Xu, C., Su, W., Lai, Z., ... & Yang, Z. (2020). COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in Restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 26(7).

Several cases of COVID-19 infections in January-February 2020 in South Korea were due to contamination during a family meal or at a restaurant/café.

Kong, I., Park, Y., Woo, Y., Lee, J., Cha, J., Choi, J., ... & Kim, T. (2020). Early epidemiological and clinical characteristics of 28 cases of coronavirus disease in South Korea. Osong Public Health Res Perspect, 11(1), 8-14.

Several people from the same family were contaminated after two family reunion dinners.

Ye, F., Xu, S., Rong, Z., Xu, R., Liu, X., Deng, P., ... & Xu, X. (2020). Delivery of infection from asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 in a familial cluster. International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Several cases of contamination at family meals in China. Note that the space on the third floor of the restaurant was enclosed and ventilation must have contributed to the spread of viral particles.

Liu, Y., Eggo, R. M., & Kucharski, A. J. (2020). Secondary attack rate and superspreading events for SARS-CoV-2. The Lancet, 395(10227), e47.

SARS-CoV-2 is inactivated in 5 minutes at 70°C, but it resists well at 4°C.

Chin, A., Chu, J., Perera, M., Hui, K., Yen, H. L., Chan, M., ... & Poon, L. (2020). Stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions. medRxiv.

Using a culture medium mimicking the inside of the human digestive tract, the researchers were able to observe that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus rapidly loses its infectivity in the face of the acidity of the digestive tract. In contrast, a rotavirus responsible for gastroenteritis remains infectious even after 24 hours.

Zang, R., Castro, M. F. G., McCune, B. T., Zeng, Q., Rothlauf, P. W., Sonnek, N. M., ... & Diamond, M. S. (2020). TMPRSS2 and TMPRSS4 promote SARS-CoV-2 infection of human small intestinal enterocytes. Science immunology, 5(47).

Article of 20 November 2020 taking stock of the state-of-the-art omg frozen products and the associated risk of transmission of COVID-19.

Siregar, T. Could frozen food transmit... COVID-19? The Conversation. 20 Nov 2020. Last accessed 6 Dec 2020.

Further reading

How to organize a meal at home without risk to the guests?

Can the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus be caught by going to the bathroom?

Can we catch COVID-19 without direct interaction with a contagious person?

Is the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus resistant to cold or heat?

How long is the coronavirus infectious?

Is the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus transmitted by aerosols?

Can we catch COVID two times?

How does she get COVID-19 ?