Will Cooking Food Kill COVID-19?

SARS-CoV-2 is not a foodborne pathogen, but you should still pay attention to how you prepare foods.

You probably mastered a pandemic grocery shopping routine, with social distancing, sanitizer use, and hand washing for 20 seconds. But what about when it comes time to finally eat all of those goods you picked up at the store—namely those fresh fruits, veggies, and other ready-to-eat or cook products? Are they safe to consume as-is—and does subjecting SARS-CoV-2 to heat via cooking effectively kill it before entering your system?

Can COVID-19 Exist on Food?

It is important to keep in mind that, as of March 2022, "there is no evidence of food, food containers, or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19," according to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). That's mainly because SARS-CoV-2 primarily causes respiratory illness (unlike other viruses, like norovirus and hepatitis, which cause gastrointestinal illnesses). "COVID-19 spreads when an infected person breathes out droplets and very small particles that contain the virus," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Less commonly, a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object contaminated with the virus, then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. As of March 2022, the FDA acknowledged that it's possible that SARS-CoV-2 can survive on objects.

So, while there was no evidence of food transmitting COVID-19, if you're worried, the FDA suggested to "wash your hands after handling food packaging, after removing food from the packaging, before you prepare food for eating and before you eat." Make sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, per the CDC. Clean and disinfect surfaces often.

Regardless of COVID-19 levels, the FDA recommends always following four key steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill. This helps cut down on all kinds of germs.

These required food safety measures include keeping raw meat separate from other goods, always refrigerating perishable items within two hours, and cooking meat to the right temperatures (more on that later). And when it comes to fruits and veggies, wash them off ASAP before eating—just using water is sufficient. And please, never wash anything you'll consume with any cleaning products.

Does Cooking Food Kill COVID-19?

While there is no evidence, as of March 2022, that SARS-CoV-2 is a foodborne pathogen, it's still a good idea to cook food to the proper internal temperatures—and doing so would also likely reduce any amount of virus on the food, said Sheldon Campbell, MD, PhD, a Yale Medicine pathologist and associate director of Yale Medicine's Clinical Microbiology Lab. There is, of course, an exception to that: "[As long as] the food isn't contaminated by handling after it cools," added Dr. Campbell.

Urvish Patel, MPH, medical advisor for eMediHealth, explained that many viruses, in general, are heat-sensitive, and coronaviruses, in particular, tend to survive for shorter periods of time at higher temperatures and higher levels of humidity than in cooler, dryer environments. As of June 2, 2021, the CDC stated that SARS-CoV-2 can be 99.99% inactivated in only a few minutes at 158 degrees Fahrenheit (and in a longer period of time at some lower temperatures).

Patel also added that "all measures should be taken care of considering standard guidelines for food cooking." According to the FDA, those proper temperature guidelines for cooking—which not only prevent the growth of viruses but also bacteria in foods—include internal temperatures of:

  • 145 Fahrenheit for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb
  • 160 Fahrenheit for ground meats, such as beef and pork
  • 165 Fahrenheit for all poultry, including ground chicken and turkey
  • 165 Fahrenheit for leftovers and casseroles
  • 145 Fahrenheit for fresh ham (raw)
  • 145 Fahrenheit for fish with fins (or cook until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork)

Another important point: Just because you've previously cooked food doesn't mean you can stop worrying about proper food safety—Patel said it's imperative to refrigerate food within two hours of preparation (that gets cut down to one hour if the temperature outside is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit). And overall, keep this temperature range in mind: 40–140 degrees Fahrenheit. That's considered the "danger zone" in which food—cooked or uncooked—is at "an unsafe temperature and promotes the growth of organisms."

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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