Virginia Tech researchers study how long COVID-19 survives on food surfaces

Published: Oct. 26, 2020 at 6:36 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Our food meets many surfaces in the food supply chain, and Virginia Tech researchers are studying how long COVID-19 survives on these food surfaces - before reaching your home.

Virginia Tech researchers are studying how long SARS-CoV-2 survives on surfaces, focusing on its survival on food, food contact surfaces and other points along the food supply chain.

“For the average consumer this means if you go into the grocery store, and you pick up a tomato, if someone else picked up that tomato or that tomato contaminated transport or on the farm—is that tomato still a risk,” said Dr. Andrea Bertke, a virologist and associate professor.

With a two-year, $1 million grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the research team will address such topics as how to ensure someone won’t contract SARS-CoV-2 from handling packaging and how to properly sanitize at all levels of food distribution and production.

Their project looks at food from the farm to the table - and the risks the virus can have along the way.

“How long are they going to survive under different conditions? Freezing conditions, room temperature and refrigerator temperature,” said Dr. Reza Ovissippour, assistant professor in food science and technology.

Researchers want to understand how the virus survives under different conditions on different materials before it gets to the consumer.

“So if your chicken gets contaminated in the processing plant or if your tomato gets contaminated either during transport or on the farm, how long is that virus going to survive and is it a risk to the consumer,” said Dr. Bertke.

To find out, they plan to use a virus that looks and acts like COVID-19.

“It can’t cause any form of disease. It can’t infect people. And so, we are growing this up to use a surrogate as an alternate so we can test some of these processes that may be a little messy when you’re looking at food residue but in a much safer way,” said Dr. Bertke.

Researchers also hope to learn which sanitizing methods will be helpful to kill the virus on its way to your home. To learn more about their research, you can click here.

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