Can coronavirus live on bakery items like bread?

What happens to fresh food that can't be washed? Here's what you need to know

Wondering if coronavirus can live on your baked goods? Here's what you need to know. Unsplash
Powered by automated translation

The coronavirus outbreak has forced us to rethink almost all aspects of our lives, from the big things like how we do our jobs and teach our children, to the smaller things like how we do our grocery shopping.

Most supermarkets across the UAE have implemented strict safety measures to ensure all shoppers adhere to Covid-19 health and safety guidelines, from wearing a mask and gloves in store to maintaining at least a two-metre distance from other customers.

Most shoppers are choosing to follow extra precautions when they get their shopping home, too, taking care when handling goods and washing all fresh produce before consuming.

But what happens when you buy fresh items that don’t come pre-packaged, like bread from a bakery?

There has been a lot of information circulated detailing how long the coronavirus can live on surfaces like metal and plastic, but when it comes to food surfaces, there has been little research.

This notice was circulated on social media, but later ruled out as fake by the WHO.
This notice was circulated on social media, but later ruled out as fake by the WHO.

Despite that, last month, hundreds of social media users circulated a notice seemingly from the World Health Organisation advising to avoid bakery goods.

“Stop eating bakery items,” the notice read, alongside the logo of the WHO. “It is strictly advised to not eat bakery items as it is not washable and can get infected to the virus easily.”

However, the WHO in Sri Lanka was quick to dispel the notice as fake, sharing a post from its verified Twitter account to reassure people that the organisation had not advised people to avoid bakery goods, and instead pointed users to its website as a credible source of information.

While the official WHO website does not go into specific detail about Covid-19 and bakery goods, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) goes into more detail about the transmission of the virus through food.

“We are not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest Covid-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging,” it said in a statement. “However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices (i.e., wash hands and surfaces often, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly) when handling or preparing foods.”

Despite that, many bakers around the world are taking extra precautions to ensure fresh bread products are handled as safely as possible, whether that is wearing disposable gloves and masks, or using tongs to bag up all products.

Martin D'Agostino, virology section manager at Campden BRI in the United Kingdom, told website that the virus was "relatively unstable" on the surface of food as it cannot, as far as researchers are aware, be contracted through ingestion. Instead, Covid-19, as a respiratory disease, is contracted through being inhaled, meaning food is unlikely to be the source of an infection.

Normal hygiene practises should be followed, he advises, such as washing hands thoroughly before and after handling any baked goods and before eating. It is also important to make sure any surfaces food comes into contact with are properly cleaned.

In the UAE, French Bakery Dubai is among the establishments to impose strict safety measures. As well as all staff being regularly screened and bakeries sanitised, staff have been trained in special Covid-19 safety measures.

A spokesperson for the outlet told The National that staff are ensuring the "frequent cleaning and disinfection of food, body and hand contact surfaces," and added that everyone is required to wear aprons, masks and gloves whenever they are working.

“Riders should not touch the handle of the food bag, and should only hold the food bags from the bottom of the bag when picking it up and again do the same when handing it to customers,” the spokesperson added. “All items are to be handled from bottom of the bag and not top handle of the bag, [this is] very important.”