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Under certain conditions, the virus was detectable on food items like ham, cheese and peppers for several days
FOOD SAFETY: However, the scientists have said that the risk to consumers remains very low (Photo by PA)
Recent tests conducted for the Food Standards Agency revealed that the virus that causes Covid-19 can live on some food items for days.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus was purposely spread on packaging and food, including fruit and bottled beverages, during laboratory tests. Scientists explained that they deliberately selected food items that people might eat without cooking or cleaning.
The results varied, with most foods tested having a significant drop in levels of virus contamination over the first 24 hours. But for peppers, bread crust, ham and cheese the infectious virus was detected for several days under some conditions.
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For items often sold loose at grocery, deli or bakery counters such as croissants and pain au chocolate, the virus was present for several hours on the surfaces. Despite the findings, scientists have emphasised that the risk to consumers remains very low.
According to the report, the “foods and packaging considered as part of this study were artificially inoculated with Sars-Cov-2 and are therefore not a reflection of contamination levels found on these foods at retail. Lower levels of contamination will require less time to decline to undetectable levels.”
“However, it is important to note that the virus may persist in an infectious state, on foods and food packaging surfaces, for several days under certain common conditions.” The study concluded with reinforcing the importance of rigorously following the recommendations on maintaining appropriate hygienic handling methods and display of unpackaged foods in stores.
Here’s how long the virus can stay on groceries:
Fresh fruit and veg
Compared to produce with smooth skin, like apples, the virus appears to persist longer on produce with irregular surfaces, like broccoli and raspberries (although chilled or frozen food had detectable virus a week later).
Eggs contain arachidonic acid which has an antiviral effect. According to the FSA scientists, pastries like pain au chocolat appeared to have little virus after a few hours, possibly because they are coated in a fine layer of egg wash during baking.
With its high levels of protein and fat, cheese and cold cuts appear to help the virus persist for days – possibly even a week.
Drinks and ready meal containers
On plastic surfaces, Covid can survive for up to a week. For cartons, it could be several days, whereas for aluminium cans, it is probably only hours, say the researchers.
The study comes at a time when the recent decline in the number of Covid-19 patients in England appears to have come to an end, with early indications that levels are starting to climb once more. According to NHS England data, 4,964 patients who tested positive for coronavirus were hospitalised as of November 30, an increase of 8 per cent from the week before.
After peaking at 10,688 on October 17, patient numbers had been declining for just over a month. But according to data from the most recent few days, this decline appears to have levelled off.
By Benjamin Cooper, PA
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