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Handwashing is the most important defense against many illnesses.

Food, packaging does not seem to be a source for novel coronavirus

But K-State food safety specialist still encourages safe food handling practices

March 31, 2020

MANHATTAN, Kan. – While many of our day-to-day systems continue to be strained by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, the safety of America’s food supply does not appear to be one of those, says a Kansas State University food safety specialist.

Karen Blakeslee notes that three of the United States’ leading agencies – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – all report that so far there have been no human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging.

“The nation’s food system is being challenged,” Blakeslee said, “but is still performing well.”

ALSO: Listen to this podcast with Karen Blakeslee and Londa Nwadike

However, while the food supply seems to be safe, Blakeslee urges consumers to continue practicing common food safety steps when preparing meals:

  • Clean hands, utensils and surfaces often.
  • Separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods and use separate equipment for different foods and tasks.
  • Cook foods to proper temperature measured with a food thermometer. Keep hot foods hot.
  • Chill or freeze food properly. Refrigerate perishable foods and leftovers within two hours of preparing them. Keep cold foods cold. Freeze foods for later use to reduce food waste.

Blakeslee also reinforced the importance of washing hands throughout the day, such as when preparing food and eating; caring for someone who is sick; after using the bathroom or changing a diaper; after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; or after touching animals or handling the garbage.

“Handwashing is the most important defense against many illnesses, whether foodborne or overall health,” she said. “This simple practice can save your health and the health of others. The soap, water, rubbing, rinsing and drying steps all help physically remove visible and invisible contamination from your hands. Soap bubbles and friction help remove visible dirt and break up bacteria so it can be washed away. Always wash your hands before and after handling food.”

Blakeslee, who publishes a monthly newsletter that addresses many consumer food safety issues, added that getting through stressful times will require many people being considerate of one another.

“We are all in this together,” she said, “and we all need to eat. Make a plan before going to the grocery store and only buy what you need. If you don’t need the item, don’t handle it. This helps reduce potential contamination. Use up the food you already have to reduce food waste.”

For more information and tips to help people take care of themselves and others during times of crisis, K-State Research and Extension has compiled numerous publications and other information online.

Local K-State Research and Extension agents are still on the job during this time of closures and confinement. They, too, are practicing social distancing. Email is the best way to reach them, but call forwarding and voicemail allow for closed local offices to be reached by phone as well (some responses could be delayed). To find out how to reach your local agents, visit the K-State Research and Extension county and district directory.

At a glance

While food and food packaging does not seem to be a source of contamination for the novel coronavirus, Karen Blakeslee still urges consumers to use common food safety practices.


Extension Food Safety

Notable quote

“Handwashing is the most important defense against many illnesses, whether foodborne or overall health. This simple practice can save your health and the health of others.

-- Karen Blakeslee, food safety specialist, K-State Research and Extension


Karen Blakeslee

Written by

Pat Melgares

For more information: 

You Asked It! (Newsletter from the K-State Rapid Response Center)


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the wellbeing of Kansans.
Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan.