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Top tips for food hygiene during COVID-19

We’re all across hand hygiene and physical distancing, but what about food hygiene? Associate Professor of Food Microbiology at UNSW, Julian Cox, says there are lots of misconceptions about food hygiene floating around out there, particularly when it comes to fruit and vegetables.

According to Associate Professor Cox, while there’s no evidence to suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted through food, it’s important to take hygiene, including food handling, seriously.

UNSW’s Associate Professor Julian Cox says it’s important to take hygiene seriously, including the handling of food. Image supplied.

Here he shares his three top tips on safe food hygiene processes (spoiler alert: you’ll need to wash your hands!).

1. Cleaning

“We don’t want people to lose sight of traditional food safety issues like time-temperature control but really the key message is cleaning,” he says, stressing that people often wash their fresh fruits and vegetables before consumption anyway.

“Washing them under fresh running water is sufficient – I advise against using cleaning products on foods.

“We really don’t want cleaning chemicals going on our food as that might be unpleasant, even harmful, when we consume it.”

He also recommends thoroughly cleaning your food preparation area with a standard surface sanitiser, and washing your hands regularly, following health advice to wash thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.

2. Surface-distancing

You should aim to keep away from surfaces where the virus might be, for example, avoid putting your grocery bags and products on the same surface you prepare food on.

“We want to keep the virus on a surface away from our own key surfaces as well – our eyes, nose, and mouth,” he says. “We also don’t want to use sanitisers all over our packaging as this can remove important food safety information such as use by dates.”

If you’re concerned about packaging, decanting the food as soon as you get home may help avoid contamination; however the risk of transmission of the virus from packaging is very low, and its survival on surfaces is limited.

“So food is, generally, best left in its packaging, for food safety’s sake,” he says.

“Again, if you’re worried about picking up the virus from packaging, wash your hands well before you eat and when you put your hands near your own surfaces.

“In general, the same guides apply when ordering takeaway; with food for immediate consumption, you may wish to transfer your food to another bowl or plate and dispose of the packaging – that way you are not unknowingly contaminating other areas.”

3. Time and temperature

His third tip is to remind everyone of the importance of time and temperature when preparing food.

He says the virus is “quite temperature sensitive”, but for those who are still concerned, try cooking or reheating food to reduce risks.

“And when you do, remember the danger zone: try to keep foods above 60 degrees Celsius or below five degrees Celsius, because that’s when bad bugs can grow.

“Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, and get perishable and cooked foods into the fridge as soon as possible – this will minimise any risk of food becoming unsafe.”

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