Food Systems & Safety resources for COVID-19

As novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) precautions increase throughout South Carolina and the nation, it is reassuring to know that our food does not contribute to the spread of the virus. The United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices when handling or preparing foods:

  • wash hands and surfaces often,
  • separate raw meat from other foods,
  • cook to the right temperature, and
  • refrigerate foods promptly.
  • Consumer Food Safety

    Dining Out

    COVID 19 precautions have closed restaurants to sit down customers and is forcing producers to find new outlets for their products. They are finding creative ways to bring their product direct to consumers through on farm pick up, home delivery, and neighborhood drop-offs.

    Food Safety

    During these uncertain times as we cope with keeping ourselves and our families healthy and practice social distancing, many are asking how the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) effects the safety of our food supply.  The US Food and Drug Administration reports that “Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19” (USFDA, 2020).  Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission. Grocery stores and restaurants providing take-out food, are taking the necessary precautions to keep consumers and their employees safe.  However, consumers should continue to practice proper food safety, and personal hygiene practices. It is also important for consumers to follow the additional recommendations given by the CDC in order to stay safe (CDC, 2020).  Along with the safety precautions given directly related to limiting the spread of the coronavirus, here are some practices that should be followed when purchasing and preparing food:

    Purchase food from reputable sources, such as grocery stores, convenience stores, farmers markets and restaurant take out. Bring a disinfecting wipe (or paper towel soaked in sanitizer) with you to the store to wipe down your shopping cart or basket.  Bring your own clean re-usable shopping bags if possible.  Make sure re-usable bags are washed in hot soapy water or wiped down with sanitizer before each use.   

    Be sure to wash hands after touching food packaging. Research from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has reported that the coronavirus can remain viable on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces for up to three days, and on cardboard for up to 24 hours.  It is also advisable to disinfect unopened food packaging once you have brought it home from the grocery and before storing the food.  Cardboard boxes should be stored in an area that does not have food contact surfaces or much interaction with people for at least 24 hours before handling or storing in the kitchen to allow for the virus to die off if it is present.   

    Wash hands thoroughly before and after touching food and food contact surfaces, and after touching packaging. Wet hands with warm running water.  Add enough soap to create a good lather and scrub hands and wrists for at least 10 to 15 seconds.  Pay close attention to the areas between your fingers and around your fingernails.  Rinse hands with warm running water and dry hands with a single-use paper towel.  Use the paper towel to turn off the water faucet and open door if you are in a restroom.  Hand sanitizers should not be used in place of hand washing, but if there are no alternatives then a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used.  Make sure hands are visibly clean and not greasy before applying the hand sanitizer, or it will not be effective. 

    Practice good personal hygiene in the kitchen. Make sure clothing is clean, hair is pulled back and avoid touching hair, face and cell phone (or other potentially contaminated surfaces) while cooking.   

    Clean and sanitize all food contact surfaces and equipment before and after food preparation as well as all common touch points (doorknobs, cabinet handles, faucet handles, refrigerator and freezer handles, etc.). Cleaning must take place before sanitizing. 

    • Cleaning refers to removing all visible dirt and debris. Sanitizing refers to reducing pathogens to safe levels. 
    • Cleaning should take place with hot soapy water to remove debris and grease. There are certain factors that should be considered when sanitizing to ensure that the process is effective. 
    • If you are mixing your own sanitizer (i.e. with bleach) make sure to follow instructions on the proper amount of the sanitizer to mix with water. Using too much water can make the sanitizer ineffective and using too much could be toxic. 
    • Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions on how long the sanitizer needs to be in contact with the surface in order to reduce pathogens. Some need as little at 30 seconds, and some may need up to 10 minutes of contact time!  Know this amount of time and ensure the surface is wet with the sanitizer and allowed to air dry.
    • If bleach is used as a sanitizer, use 4 teaspoons of bleach with 1 quart of cool water.  Bleach solutions should be kept covered and made fresh daily.  Contact time for bleach is 5 minutes.
    • A list of EPA approved disinfectants and contact time can be found on the following website:

    Cook all foods that require cooking to their required minimal internal cooking temperature. If foods are not eaten immediately after being cooked, then hold hot foods above 135°F or chill to below 40°F as quickly as possible. 

    • 135°F for 15 seconds
      • Cooked vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains
    • 145°F for 15 seconds
      • Raw eggs cooked for immediate service
      • Fish and meat (including game) commercially raised for food
    • 155°F for 15 seconds
      • Mechanically tenderized or injected meats (cubed steak, water added hams, spiral cut ham, injected roasts, etc.)
      • Ground fish, meat, and game commercially raised for food
      • Raw eggs cooked for hot holding
    • 165°F for 15 seconds
      • All poultry
      • Any stuffed fish, meat, pasta, or poultry
      • Any stuffing containing fish, meat, or poultry
    • Keep all refrigerated foods below 40°F and frozen foods below 0°

    It is important to take all necessary precautions to contain the spread of COVID-19.  Please continue to purchase the food you need and be sure to support your local producers as many of them have seen a sharp decline in sales due to restaurant closures.  If you have questions, please contact your local Clemson Extension Food Systems and Safety Agent.  Their contact information can be found on our website:   


    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2020. How to protect yourself. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Downloaded from:  Accessed March 20, 2020.

    United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA). 2020. Food safety and the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID 19). United States Food and Drug Administration.  Downloaded from: Accessed March 20, 2020. 


    Kimberly A. Baker, PhD, RD, LD, Food Systems and Safety Program Director, Clemson Extension, Clemson University

    Revisions by Food Systems and Safety Team: Chad Carter, Samantha Houston, Daniel McKamy, Gayle Williford, Chase Baillie, Faith Isreal, Frances Seel, Rebecca Baxley.

  • Farm Food Safety

    Where farm food safety is concerned, growers are taking every precaution to assure that their staff and their customers stay healthy. The US Department of Homeland Security has included workers in the food and agriculture sector as essential critical infrastructure workers, including agricultural production, food processing, distribution, retail and food service and allied industries. These workers should continue to report to work because they are vital to the food and health supply chain. Hugh Weathers, the South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture agrees. “In South Carolina, key industries like poultry and forestry are essential to feeding and caring for our population,” Weathers said. “During this unsettling time, as businesses take appropriate steps to keep their workers safe, food and fiber industry workers have a special responsibility to maintain their normal work schedules. I applaud the many workers helping to keep us all fed and healthy. Working together, we will get through this difficult time”.

    It is important that farms maintain good sanitation and personal hygiene practices, along with following the CDC guidelines of social distancing and staying home when you are sick, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Frequent and proper handwashing can stop the transmission of the virus, and is already a part of farm food safety protocol. Research from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has reported that the coronavirus can remain viable on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces for up to three days, and on cardboard for up to 24 hours. This means that proper cleaning and sanitation of all food contact surfaces is essential.

  • What growers should do to prevent the spread of COVID-19
    The University of Vermont Extension gives a succinct overview of what growers should do to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
    1. Stay Away from Produce if Sick – If someone is sick, they should be nowhere near fruit and vegetables that others are going to eat. This is likely already part of your farm’s food safety plan and policies, but this is a good reminder to emphasize and enforce the policy. Make sure employees stay home if they feel sick and send them home if they develop symptoms at work. Consider posting signs asking customers not to shop at your farm stand if they have symptoms.
    2. Practice Social Distancing – By putting a more space between you and others you can reduce your chances of getting ill. This might mean limiting or prohibiting farm visitors or reducing the number of off-farm meetings you attend in person. Avoid shaking hands and other physical contact. This also reduces the risk of your produce coming into contact with someone who is ill before it heads to market.
    3. Minimize the Number of Touches – Consider changes in your policies and operations that minimize the number of times produce is touched by different people. This may include workers, distributors, and customers.
    4. Wash Your Hands – Reinforce the importance of washing hands well when arriving at work, when changing tasks (e.g. moving from office work to wash/pack), before and after eating, after using the bathroom, before putting on gloves when working with produce, and after contact with animals. Soap + water + 20 seconds or more are needed to scrub all surfaces of your hands and fingers thoroughly. Then, dispose of paper towels in a covered, lined trash container.
    5. Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Drying – According to the FDA , there is no indication that this virus has spread via food. But, we know viruses (including SARS-CoV-2 ) survive and spread via hard surfaces. Farms handle produce using tools and equipment with surfaces. We also know that produce has surfaces. Viruses, in general, can be relatively long-lasting in the environment, and have the potential to be transferred via food or food contact surfaces. So, there’s no better time than the present to review, improve, and reinforce your standard operating procedures for cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, and drying any food contact surfaces, food handling equipment, bins, and tools. Remember, cleaning means using soap and water, sanitizing is using a product labeled for sanitizing, disinfecting typically involves higher concentrations of a product labeled for disinfection, and drying means allowing the surfaces to dry completely before use.
    6. Plan for Change – Many produce farms are lean operations run by one or two managers and a minimal crew.  Do you have a plan for if you become severely ill? How do things change if half your workforce is out sick?  More business and labor planning guidance is available at the Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development site .

Covid-19 (Coronavirus) Resources

Below is a list of useful resources pertaining to COVID-19. If you have questions please contact Chad Carter, Clemson Extension Food Systems and Safety Associate,, 843-730-5211.