Image of blank cardboard packaging for products

The world in 2020 is facing the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are moving to the virtual world to keep the virus from spreading. Most businesses and their employees have shifted to telecommunicating and video conferencing. The internet has become a primary and the only destination for some of us where we work, meet friends, and entertain ourselves. But COVID-19 has been changing our shopping habits, too. And while we must stay home, we keep ordering food, groceries, and supplies for delivery or pick-up. Online shopping would become impossible if the workers at stores and restaurants didn’t continue working from their usual workplaces. During the disease outbreak, businesses must keep good hygiene practices, so the employees, as well as customers, are safe from getting the virus.

The Spread of COVID-19

The new virus can spread from person-to-person via droplets of saliva when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets are too heavy to be airborne, but they land on surfaces and objects around the infected person. 

According to the World Health Organization, one may catch the virus by touching a surface or object that contains the virus if they touch their mouth, nose, or eyes with unwashed hands. Research showed that the virus could remain viable for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, up to 4 hours on copper, and up to 24 hours on cardboard. If an infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus can remain on a surface for up to three days. During these days, other employees may touch the surface and get infected. Employees with COVID-19 will increase the risk of contaminating the packaging of food delivered to their customers. Businesses must maintain proper hygiene practices and disinfect surfaces daily to avoid spreading the virus.

Symptoms Workers and Employers Should Watch Out For

Workers who feel unwell and suspect that they are sick with the new virus should stay home and report their condition to management. It is crucial for business owners to inform their employees about the new virus and let them know about the symptoms.

The most common symptoms for the new disease are:

  • a fever (high temperature – 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit or above) 
  • a cough 
  • shortness of breath

According to cdc.gov

The Food Industry

Now that people cannot walk to their favorite restaurants, online orders are becoming increasingly popular. Delivery companies are waiving, cutting, and decreasing their fees for restaurants to help during the outbreak. But when customers order food, they should avoid getting infected by touching the packaging or the food surface. 

Some restaurants are re-opening, and it’s important to keep to the recommendations when selling products in-person as well as online. The food industry must enforce personal hygiene measures and provide training on food hygiene principles to eliminate or decrease the risk of food surfaces and food packaging materials becoming contaminated with COVID-19. Employees must wash hands at each stage of food processing and keep distance from one another at work to reduce the risk of spreading the virus among workers. 

Business owners have to provide staff with written instructions and training on how to reduce the spread of the virus. Infected workers must stay home and let their health care providers know if they experience any symptoms of the new virus.

Even those businesses that keep operating during the pandemic need to follow physical distancing guidance, which is at least 3 feet between workers.

Although workers in the food industry may use gloves, they must change them frequently and wash their hands when they remove their gloves. Gloves do not eliminate the risk of catching the virus, so it’s crucial that the personnel understands touching their face or eyes with dirty gloves would bring the same risk of getting infected as it would without wearing them. Workers should never use gloves as a substitute for handwashing.

Personal Hygiene for Employees

Image of a woman washing her hands with soap and the text Wash your hands with soap or use  sanitizer

According to the FDA, retail food stores, restaurants, and food pick-up/delivery employees should wash hands for at least 20 seconds, especially after using a bathroom, before a meal, and after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing. They should always wash their hands using soap and water. Employees should use gloves to eliminate direct bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods. They should also wash their hands with soap and water before preparing food for at least 20 seconds. If the employee coughs or sneezes, they should cover it with a tissue and dispose of the tissue in the trash and wash their hands after.

Just like food stores and restaurant employees, workers at online stores (including clothing stores, gift stores, etc.) should follow the hygiene rules and wash their hands when they pack the products for clients. For maximum safety, it’s best for them to cover their face with a cloth mask so the droplets of saliva don’t spread on surfaces. The businesses should disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and avoid touching any items for sale with unwashed hands.

For the safety of customers, food retailers should always clean fruits, vegetables, and canned goods before preparing them. FDA suggests separating raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in the shopping cart, grocery bags, and refrigerator and using a separate cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood, and another one for fresh produce. Workers in the kitchen should not place cooked food on a surface that previously held raw meat, seafood, eggs, and poultry. 

Business owners should regularly disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as handles, doorknobs, check out counters, etc. They should also help the community follow social distancing recommendations by discontinuing services that involve customers using common utensils or dispensers, such as buffet or salad bars.

Recommendations from the CDC

CDC recommends for all businesses to have a COVID-19 health and safety plan to protect employees. Companies should provide training to employees on proper handwashing practices and other preventative measures on COVID-19. It’s the businesses’ responsibility to provide employees with soap, clean running water, separate towels or tissues for drying hands, and provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol for use by both workers and customers.

Business owners must also make sure employees clean shelves, displays, refrigerator units, break rooms, rest areas, and other common areas. Grocery carts and baskets should also be clean. Employers should provide disinfectant wipes, cleaners, or sprays for disinfecting areas. If employees need to use a shared computer, phone, or other gadgets, they should disinfect these with a spray or a hand sanitizer.

Can You Catch COVID-19 from Food?

image of food plated at an eatery with the text Can You Catch Covid-19 From Food

As ordering food for delivery or pick-up is the only way we can keep enjoying meals from our favorite restaurants, many have been wondering if the food we eat can be a source of COVID-19. There is no evidence that a person can get the new coronavirus through food, and it’s very unlikely that a person can contract the new virus from food or its packaging.

“There is no evidence to date of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses being transmitted via food or food packaging. Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food; they need an animal or human host to multiply.”

The World Health Organization

Is It Safe to Ship/Receive Orders during the Outbreak?

Another concern for online shoppers is the risk of getting infected through a package they receive. Luckily, there is no need to avoid buying items online as, according to the World Health Organization, “the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, traveled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low”.

But it’s best not to touch your face with unwashed hands. Use a disinfectant spray or a sanitizer to clean the packaging if you are worried about getting infected.

When it comes to receiving a package, many delivery companies offer contactless delivery for maximum safety. If this option isn’t available, it’s necessary to keep a minimum of 6 feet from with a courier. If you want to feel even safer, you could let the non-perishable packages sit for 24 hours before you touch them if it’s in a box, or 72 hours if it’s wrapped in plastic.

If you pick up a package or shop in-store, keep your distance from others and do not touch your face with unwashed hands.

CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are challenging to maintain. Some people might not show any symptoms even when they are infected, and wearing cloth face coverings may prevent them from transmitting it to other employees, customers, surfaces, and objects. These face coverings are not medical masks or respirators. Online store employees should cover their faces with cloth face masks when preparing products for shipment in order to protect from contaminating its surface.

In Conclusion 

Businesses that continue operating during the outbreak, either online or through in-person purchases, must:

  • Keep the store, restaurant, café, or any facility they operate, clean by disinfecting surfaces such as terminals, counters, doorknobs, handles, cash registers, computers, phones, desks, etc.
  • Focus on the personal hygiene of workers by providing sufficient information on handwashing and supply items such as soap, tissues, clean running water, and hand sanitizers.
  • Keep distance between workers. 
  • Maintain hygiene during preparing/packing products.
  • Remove staff from work who are feeling unwell and develop symptoms of COVID-19.