Could You Get COVID-19 from Meat Processed in a Facility With an Outbreak?
COVID-19 has impacted almost every facet of life, but has been especially devastating for the food world. While the impact to restaurants was visible and immediate, the pandemic is now creating problems further down the food supply chain, as evidenced by a number of high-profile meat processing plant closures that have inspired purchase limits at places like Kroger and Costco.
With a May 1st CDC report indicating that 115 different meat and poultry processing facilities across 19 states have reported a total of 4,913 COVID-19 cases, it's natural to be concerned that any meat that's managed to make it to store shelves could potentially transmit the virus.
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The good news, however, is that you essentially have nothing to worry about when it comes to contracting COVID-19 through food. The CDC says that COVID-19, like other past coronaviruses, is "generally thought to be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets," which explains the importance of face masks and maintaining six feet of social distance. The CDC further adds that "currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food… there is [also] likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging."
While those are general guidelines, the USDA's coverage of the meat situation reiterates that "public health and food safety experts do not have any evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging." Meat from facilities where cases have been observed is similarly safe to eat based on knowledge of how the virus is transmitted. Though the virus can potentially live on certain surfaces such as packaging for several days, its likelihood of transmission decreases over time. Given the time it takes for meat to get from a processing plant onto grocery store shelves, the likelihood of transmission via any packaging is very low.
Of course, you should still take the same precautions you normally would when handling meat. That includes regularly washing your hands and surfaces, especially after either comes in contact with packaging. You should also continue to separate raw meat from other foods, cook them to the right temperature, and refrigerate them properly.
While meat production facilities will continue to pose a risk for workers in the absence of new and unprecedented precautions, the safety of the end product isn't something consumers need to worry about right now. There are already enough sources of stress at a time like this as it is.