Do We Need to Disinfect Food to Prevent Infection?

30 May, 2020
Baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, lemon... There's currently a lot of talk of different products that can disinfect food, but we don't know if they're actually effective. Hygiene in the kitchen, storage, and cooking temperature are essential to prevent infections.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve become very concerned about food safety and the measures we should take to prevent infection. The question of whether we should disinfect food to prevent infection has come more to the fore as a result.

So, it’s important to get to know the basic safety measures when dealing with food, as these can be very useful to us, especially in these times of pandemic.

Read on and learn more about it in this article.

Coronavirus and other pathogens in food

The measures proposed to reduce the risk of infection are general. Therefore, they don’t just exist to combat the coronavirus. According to some expert sources, food is not a likely source of coronavirus infection since, at this time, the infection is mainly occurring from person to person.

However, food may come into contact with saliva droplets from an infected person. This could, in turn, could find its way on to our mucous membranes. For this reason, as with any other infectious pathogen, we must be extremely careful not to touch our mouth, eyes, and nose with our hands frequently.

We must also keep our hands clean and control the temperature, storage time, and cooking of all foods. These are key to keeping viruses and bacteria at bay.

Is it necessary to disinfect food?

First of all, it’s important to know that the food that arrives at our markets and supermarkets is safe. There’s no reason to believe that it will cause us any health problems. All professionals throughout the food chain are taking all the necessary precautions, both now and before the pandemic.

So in the first place, we don’t need to think about disinfecting food to avoid contagion, whatever the pathogen. However, it’s worth having a look at the best ways to buy, store, and cook each type of food, since these measures will allow us to be safe from all types of possible infections.

Read more: Expiry Date: Play It Safe When It Comes to These Foods

A woman in a supermarket.

Basic food safety measures

As we’ve already explained and we’ll never tire of repeating, when it comes to buying and handling food, the most basic need is to have very clean hands, surfaces, and kitchen utensils. We should also be especially careful when handling different types of food in the same recipe.

With these basic hygiene practices, we’ll already eliminate the most common ways of food becoming infected. However, having said that, there are some more specific measures that we should take when dealing with different types of food:

1. Meat and fish

Meat and fish are extremely unlikely to be contaminated or to become contaminated with coronaviruses. However, they can carry other types of bacteria that could cause food poisoning.

The measures to be taken concerning this type of food are:

  • Always buy fresh and good quality meat and fish. Ask them to clean the pieces of meat and remove the entrails.
  • Refrigerate them quickly. Once in the refrigerator, keep them separated from other food that has already been cooked. If you’re not going to eat them straight away, then you can freeze them.
  • Make sure that the pieces of well are well-cooked all the way through. Temperatures of 75 degrees centigrade (170 degrees Fahrenheit) in the center of the product are sufficient.

2. Eggs

Eggs are a delicate product and are one of the main ways of spreading salmonella. You should store them at a constant temperature, and it’s advisable to keep them in the refrigerator. Contrary to what people often do, you shouldn’t wash the shell, as it provides a protective barrier.

When cooking them safely, you must cook them well -both the white and the yolk– and always keep any dish made with eggs that you’re going to eat later in the refrigerator.

Find out more: 14 Foods that Should Always Be in Your Fridge

3. Fruit and vegetables

Although we know that heat and cooking kills any possible toxic agents, including coronavirus, we don’t need to cook all fresh vegetables and fruit to be able to eat them. The important thing is to clean every piece of fruit or vegetable that you’re going to consume.

A woman washing food.

All you have to do is rub them thoroughly while you rinse them under a stream of water. You can do this with a special brush or rub them with our hands. Then, dry them with a piece of kitchen paper and store them in the right place.

You should only buy fruits and vegetables that are in perfect condition. If you’re going to eat them peeled, then make sure you clean them before you peel them, because otherwise the knife could get infected with the dirt on the peel.

Do we have to disinfect packaged food?

Regarding the possible current infection by the coronavirus, many people wonder what we should do with the purchase once we get home. First of all, the packaging can only be “infected” if someone has touched it with infected hands or coughed or sneezed on it. It’s only possible to infect the container or packaging, and never the contents.

Therefore, you should take extra care to wash your hands thoroughly and not touch your mouth, nose, or eyes when you come back after a shopping trip. To be on the safe side, you can wipe the containers with a single-use paper towel or a wet wipe. Another option is to leave the non-perishable items in the bags for a few hours before storing them in the pantry.

So, in conclusion, you don’t need to disinfect food, but you do need to take the normal precautionary measures.

The safest measures recommended by all experts are basic food safety measures. These are the ones we’ve already mentioned: washing your hands and all kitchen utensils and surfaces thoroughly, storing and cooking food well, and avoiding cross-contamination between foods.

  • Coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 Aliments crus. Conseil de Consomation. Ministère de la Santé Grand Duché de Luxembourg. Marzo 2020.
  • COVID-19 ANSE’S recommendations on food, shopping, and cleaning. French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety. Marzo 2020.
  • Manual sobre las cinco claves para la inocuidad de los alimentos. Organización Mundial de la Salud. 2007.
  • Moreno M, Alarcón A. Higiene alimentaria para la prevención de trastornos digestivos infecciosos y por toxinas. Revista Médica Clínica las Condes. Setiembre 2010. 21(5):749-755.