Can the new type of coronavirus be transmitted via food and objects?

Updated BfR FAQ dated 14 May 2020

After the outbreak of the respiratory tract disorder COVID-19 caused by an infection with the new type of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), and the subsequent epidemic in various regions of China, the virus is now spreading worldwide. Disconcerted consumers have asked the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) whether the virus can also be transmitted to humans via food and imported products such as children’s toys, mobile telephones, articles such as door handles, tools, etc., as well as dishes and cutlery. Against this background, the BfR has summarised the most important questions and answers on the topic.

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What do we know so far about the new type of virus-related respiratory tract disorder?

The new type of respiratory tract disorder COVID-19 is based on an infection with the new type of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), according to the current state of knowledge. Knowledge about the exact transmission methods of this coronavirus is still limited. However, the transmission method of other closely related coronaviruses are well known. Different types of coronavirus typically trigger conventional colds in humans. Moreover, other coronaviruses, such as the SARS and MERS coronaviruses, have occurred in the past which have led to severe respiratory tract disorders. The main target organs of the coronavirus in humans are the respiratory tract organs. The most important transmission method is a ‘droplet infection’, where coronaviruses are emitted by humans or animals into the air via droplets, and then inhaled. Different respiratory tract pathogens can also be transmitted via smear infections. In those cases, pathogens located on the hands enter the mucus membranes of the nose or eyes, where they may lead to an infection.

The Robert Koch Institute is in close contact with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and monitors all up-to-date news about the event

Are there other possible transmission methods?

There are currently no cases which have shown any evidence of humans being infected with the new type of coronavirus by another method, such as via the consumption of contaminated food or via contact with contaminated articles. There are also no known reports for other human coronaviruses about infections due to food or contact with dry surfaces. Transmission via surfaces, which have recently been contaminated with viruses, is, nonetheless, possible through smear infections. However, this is only likely to occur during a short period after contamination, due to the relatively low stability of coronaviruses in the environment.

Can imported goods from regions where the disease has spread be sources of an infection in humans?

Due to the transmission methods recorded thus far, and the relatively low environmental stability of coronaviruses, it is unlikely that imported goods such as imported foods, cosmetics or consumer goods and toys, tools, computers, clothes or shoes may be sources of an infection with the new type of coronavirus, according to the current state of knowledge. This assessment is still valid after the most recent publication on the persistence of the known coronaviruses by scientists from the Universities of Greifswald and Bochum

How can we protect ourselves from being infected by the virus via food and products (including cosmetics)?

Although it is unlikely that the virus will be transmitted via contaminated food or imported products, general everyday hygiene rules, such as regular hand washing, and hygiene rules for food preparation (https://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/364/protection-against-foodborne-infections.pdf) should be observed when handling them. Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food, as they need a living animal or human host to do this. As viruses are sensitive to heat, the risk of infection can also be further reduced by heating foods.

Cosmetics such as lipsticks or make-up should not be shared or used by multiple people, and only hands, which have been washed thoroughly, or a clean spatula should be used when applying creams from opened pots.

Can coronaviruses survive and remain infectious on fixed and dry surfaces, outside human or animal organisms?

The stability of coronaviruses in the environment depends on several factors, such as temperature, air humidity and surface conditions, as well as the specific virus strains and the virus quantity. In general, human coronaviruses are not particularly stable on dry surfaces. Inactivation in dry conditions generally occurs within a period from a few hours to a couple of days. Initial laboratory tests by an American working group for the new type of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 show that it can remain infectious for up to 3 hours as an aerosol, up to 4 hours on copper surfaces, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on stainless steel and plastic following heavy contamination.

According to this laboratory-derived stability data, the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has to be considered markedly less stable than many other pathogens, e.g. various non-enveloped viruses or bacterial spores. The stability mentioned in the study was determined in a laboratory under optimal conditions and with high concentrations of the virus. In practice, it is expected that due to additional factors, such as daylight, fluctuations in temperature and humidity, and lower contamination levels, the stability is lower than in the laboratory study.

Can dock workers, haulage company workers handling containers, or workers who deal with the further processing of semi-finished products, components or other prefabricated products imported from China, be infected by the new type of pathogen?

Due to the low environmental stability of coronaviruses, a transmission of the pathogen via this method seems unlikely in most cases. The German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Committee for Biological Agents, are responsible for assessing possible risks concerning infectious agents in the workplace

Can the new type of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 be transmitted via dishes and cutlery in canteens and other places people eat together?

Coronaviruses can generally reach cutlery or dishes through an infected person sneezing or coughing directly on them and they can survive on these solid surfaces for some time. A smear infection then appears to be possible if the virus is transmitted via cutlery or the hands to the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat or eyes. However, the BfR is not yet aware of any infections with SARS-CoV-2 via this transmission path.

Is the virus rendered inactive by washing up by hand or using the dishwasher?

As enveloped viruses, in which the genetic material is coated by a layer of fat (lipid layer), coronaviruses react sensitively to substances that dissolve fat, such as alcohols or surface-active agents, which are contained in soaps and dishwashing detergents as grease remover. Although specific data is not yet available for SARS-CoV-2, it is highly likely that these substances damage the virus surface and render the virus inactive. This applies in particular if dishes are washed and dried in a dishwasher at 60 degrees Celsius or higher.

Can coronaviruses survive on textiles?

Currently, the BfR has no information on the survival time of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on textiles or in the washing machine. As enveloped viruses, in which the genetic material is coated by a layer of fat (lipid layer), coronaviruses generally react sensitively to substances that dissolve fat, such as surface-active agents, which are contained in detergents as grease remover. In normal everyday life, people in private households can wash their laundry as usual.

 

Clothes, bedding, underwear, towels, flannels, etc. of ill persons as well as textiles that have come into contact with infectious body fluids should be washed in the washing machine at a temperature of at least 60°C with a heavy-duty detergent and dried thoroughly. When handling laundry of ill persons, direct contact of skin and clothing with contaminated materials should be avoided, the laundry should not be shaken and hands should be washed thoroughly afterwards. Further information can be found at the Robert Koch Institute at

at the German Federal Centre for Health Education

Can self-made masks ("community masks") made of textiles prevent the transmission of corona viruses?

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) explains when it makes sense to wear a mouth and nose protection in public against the new corona virus:

The German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) provides information on the different medical protection and features of the various types of masks ("community masks", mouth-nose protection, filtering half masks):

Here you will also find rules for people who wear a "community mask", as well as instructions for cleaning the masks.

Furthermore, the use of sewn-in shaping materials (plastic, metal) and the manufacturer's instructions for the textiles used must be observed when cleaning the "community mask".  Textiles can contain a variety of chemical substances. They give textiles the desired properties, such as colour, shape, grip or water-repellent properties. After the production process sometimes residues of the chemicals, which can be released when worn, remain on the textiles.  New textiles should therefore be washed before they are worn for the first time, especially if they come into contact with the mouth and nose as a self-made temporary mask.

Can coronaviruses be transmitted by touching surfaces, e.g. cash, card terminals, door handles, smartphones, shopping trolley handles, packaging or bags?

The BfR is so far unaware of any SARS-CoV-2 infections via this transmission path. Coronaviruses can generally reach surfaces through an infected person sneezing or coughing directly on them and they can survive there for some time. A smear infection to another person appears to be possible if the virus is transmitted shortly afterwards via the hands to the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat or eyes. For protection against virus transmissions via contaminated surfaces, compliance with general hygiene rules that include regular hand washing and keeping hands away from the face is important.

Can coronaviruses be transmitted via bakery goods or fresh fruit and vegetables?

The BfR is not yet aware of any infections with SARS-CoV-2 via this transmission path. Coronaviruses can generally reach bakery products or fruit and vegetables through an infected person sneezing or coughing directly on them. They cannot multiply in food, as they need a living animal or human host to do this. A smear infection to another person then appears to be possible if the virus is transmitted shortly afterwards via the hands or the food itself to the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat or eyes. To protect yourself from virus transmission, it is crucially important to observe the general rules of everyday hygiene such as washing your hands regularly and keeping your hands away from your face. Bakery products in retail stores are usually protected from sneezing and coughing by customers by splash guards at the counter or self-service counters; these minimise the risk of contamination. When preparing fruit and vegetables, the general rules of hygiene should be observed, which include thorough washing of the food and frequent hand washing during the handling.

Can coronaviruses be transmitted via meat products?

The BfR is not aware of any infections with SARS-CoV-2 via this transmission path. According to the current state of knowledge, livestock used for the production of meat cannot be infected with SARS-CoV-2,and is therefore unable to transmit the virus to humans via this path.

Coronaviruses can generally contaminate sausages and meat through an infected person sneezing or coughing directly on them. They cannot multiply in food, as they need a living animal or human host to do this. A smear infection to another person then appears to be possible if the virus is transmitted shortly afterwards via the hands or the food itself to the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat or eyes. In general, meat and meat products are protected from sneezing and coughing by customers by splash guards at the counter; these minimise the risk of contamination. To protect yourself from virus transmission, it is crucially important to observe the general rules of everyday hygiene such as washing your hands regularly and keeping your hands away from your face. Furthermore, meat and poultry should be heated sufficiently before consumption - also to protect from other possible pathogens - until the meat juice trickling out is clear and the meat has turned to a whitish colour (poultry), a greyish-pink colour (pork) or a greyish-brown colour (beef). You can find more information about hygiene when dealing with foods at

Can coronaviruses be transmitted via milk from cows fed with potentially contaminated feed?

Transmission of SARS-Cov-2 via milk, as for other foods, is unlikely at this stage of knowledge. The BfR is not aware of any infections with SARS-Cov-2 via this transmission path. The Friedrich Loeffler Institute and the Robert Koch Institute are not yet aware of any information from China or other countries affected by SARS-CoV-2, which indicate a particular role of feed for pets and livestock.

So far, there is no evidence that animal feed is a vehicle for corona viruses.

Can coronaviruses be transmitted via feed for pets or livestock?

The BfR is not yet aware of any information from China or other countries affected by SARS-CoV-2 which indicate a particular (special) role of feed for pets and livestock. So far, there is no evidence that animal feed is a vehicle for corona viruses. According to the legal regulations, animal feed are substances or products intended to be used for oral feeding to animals. Animal feed, and also additives, can be used either in processed, partially processed or unprocessed form.

This applies both to the feeding of livestock and to the feeding of pets. For the feeding of livestock, roughage (grass, hay, silage), i.e. so-called farm-produced coarse feed but also compound feed is used. Compound feed is a mixture of feed with comparatively high nutrient concentrations (e.g. cereals, soy bean meal). This also includes supplementary feed including mineral feed, which are additionally fed to match the energy and nutrient requirements of the animals.

For the feeding of pets, mostly compound feed / complete pet food is used. This includes dry food (e.g. pellets, biscuits), wet food or moist food, frozen food, grain food or even snacks (e.g. dog biscuits, dog cookies, chews).

The Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI), Federal Research Institute for Animal Health, is the responsible institution for information on the role of livestock and pets during the coronavirus outbreak. (https://www.fli.de/de/aktuelles/tierseuchengeschehen/coronavirus/) So far, there is no evidence that livestock can be infected with SARS-CoV-2. Furthermore, there is no scientifically verifiable evidence of epidemiologically relevant infection of pets by infected persons.

Can e-cigarette users become infected with the coronavirus if they share the tip with other people?

Coronaviruses can transfer to the tip when an infected person uses an e-cigarette. These viruses can survive for a some time. Indirect contact infection of another person is therefore possible, if the virus passes to the mucous membranes of the oral cavity. To minimise this risk, e-cigarettes should not be shared with others. This also applies to standard cigarettes, cigars and pipes.

Can the intake of high doses of vitamin D via food supplements prevent an infection with SARS-CoV-2?

Some contributions in the world-wide web suggest that supplementation with high to very high doses of vitamin D might provide protection against infection with SARS-CoV-2 or prevent the development of disease symptoms. SARS-CoV-2 has only been known for a short time. Thus, there are no studies that have investigated whether taking vitamin D supplements protects against infection with this virus or the triggering of the disease.

It should be noted that it is not the purpose of food supplements to heal or alleviate diseases. Food supplements are not medicinal products, but foodstuffs designed to supplement a normal diet. As such they must primarily be safe and must not have side effects.

A sufficient supply of vitamin D is important for health and contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system. However, this does not mean that people should take high doses of vitamin D as precautionary measure to prevent disease. On the contrary several case studies indicate high-dosed supplementation without medical supervision to be contraindicative to human health as it may entail health risks.

In cases where supplementation with vitamin D is wanted, an additional daily intake of up to 20 micrograms (µg) of vitamin D per day provides no reason for concern in adults. Consumption of higher doses, especially very high amounts, should only be carried out under medical supervision, taking into account the individual’s vitamin D status.

Can coronaviruses cause respiratory tract infections by transmission via drinking vessels in gastronomy, or in community catering facilities, such as canteens or refectories?

The BfR is not yet aware of any such infection chain. According to the current state of knowledge, the oral/alimentary transmission route (via the oesophagus and stomach) does not play a role in the current outbreak of SARS-CoV-2. Transmission primarily occurs via droplets resulting from coughing and sneezing, which are absorbed from other persons via the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, possibly also via the eyes and mouth.

A virus contamination from drinking vessels, such as drinking glasses, in gastronomy would need the usage by an infected person, whereby the virus is transmitted to the glass via the hands or saliva. Transmission to another person through mucous membrane contact with the glass may then - theoretically - occur if such a vessel has not been sufficiently cleaned in the meantime. However, infections with SARS-CoV-2 via this transmission route have not yet been detected so far.

As enveloped viruses, in which the genetic material is coated by a layer of fat (lipid layer), coronaviruses react sensitively to substances that dissolve fat, such as alcohols or surface-active agents, which are contained in soaps and dishwashing detergents as grease removers. Although specific data is not yet available for SARS-CoV-2, it is highly likely that these substances damage the virus surface and render the virus inactive.

For the related SARS coronavirus, a laboratory study demonstrated that treatment with a conventional detergent for 5 minutes at room temperature led to full inactivation of the virus (https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/41/7/e67/310340). Longer time periods and higher temperatures could increase the efficiency of virus inactivation. Cleaning drinking vessels in dishwashers or glass washing machines at 60 degrees Celsius or a higher temperature is therefore particularly efficient. If this is not possible, water with high temperature (> 45 °C, but no higher than 50 °C, in order to protect the hands), along with detergent, should be used in manual rinsing processes. When using colder water, particular care must be taken to ensure that a sufficient amount of detergent is used, that glasses are left in the sink for longer time, and that glasses are carefully cleaned mechanically, and thereafter dried.

Further information can be found in the BfR opinion ‘Hygienic effectiveness of rinsing devices for cleaning drinking glasses in catering’ (in German):

Are special precautionary measures necessary with regard to dishes or cutlery in care facilities for the elderly?

All the usual measures and rules of conduct for protecting against noroviruses or influenza viruses in care facilities for the elderly also help against transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Can you get infected with SARS-CoV-2 via contaminated frozen food?

So far there is no evidence of chains of infection for SARS-CoV-2 through food consumption, including frozen food. The previous coronaviruses SARS and MERS are resistant to cold and can remain infectious at minus 20 degrees Celsius for up to 2 years in a frozen state. Compliance with the general rules of hygiene for preparing food should be taken into account (https://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/364/protection-against-foodborne-infections.pdf).

In the current situation, does it make sense to use disinfectants at home as well?

Even in the current situation, the BfR sees no need for healthy people to use disinfectants in their own homes. Common hygienic measures, such as correct and frequent handwashing with soap and regular cleaning of surfaces and door handles with standard household surfactant-based washing and cleaning agents, offer sufficient protection against transmission of SARS-CoV-2 via smear infections.

In exceptional cases, the targeted use of disinfectants in homes may be appropriate if recommended by a doctor.Recommendations on the use of biocidal substances at home are set out in FAQs on the topic (https://www.bfr.bund.de/de/fragen_und_antworten_zu_nutzen_und_risiken_von_desinfektionsmitteln_im_privathaushalt-190275.html - in German). The disinfection measures necessary if an infected person lives in a quarantined home should be discussed with the responsible health department or responsible doctor.

Further information on the topic of viruses is available from the BfR website

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the German federal government and German federal states ("Laender") on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.




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