Food in shopping basket

How to prepare food safely

Learn about food safety during the coronavirus outbreak. Find guidance on food shopping, food hygiene at home, and use-by and best-before dates.

It can be tricky keeping up with all the information that’s available around staying safe when you’re shopping and cooking during this time. Different shops and supermarkets may appear to be working to different systems and, depending on where you live, you will have access to a variety of shops or delivery opportunities.

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This guide isn’t exhaustive, but it will give you some pointers on what to look out for when buying food. It also contains links to government advice, which are regularly updated with the latest information.

Food safety

Hand washing

The latest government advice about coronavirus in relation to food can be found on GOV.UK. It advises that:
  • It is very unlikely that you can catch coronavirus (COVID-19) from food.
  • Cooking food thoroughly will kill the virus.
  • COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. It is not known to be transmitted by exposure to food.
  • Everyone should wash their hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to reduce the risk of illness. It is especially important to wash hands before handling food or eating.

Food shopping

Food on counter

When it comes to shopping, government advice includes:
  • The risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) cross-contamination to food and food packaging is very low. 
  • Food businesses are required to have a system for managing food safety in place, but this does not necessarily require staff to wear gloves when serving or handling food.
  • When you are buying loose foods such as fruit, vegetables, or bread in a bakery, try and only touch what you are going to buy.
  • You should maintain a 2-metre distance between yourself and others, and only buy what you need. Further information on social distancing can be found on GOV.UK.
  • The risk of imported food and packaging being contaminated with coronavirus is very unlikely. This is because the law requires the exporter to follow the right controls during the packing and shipping process to ensure good hygiene is met.

Food hygiene at home

Washing tomatoes

Government advice is that, although it is very unlikely that coronavirus is transmitted through food, cooking thoroughly will kill the virus. You should think about hygiene as usual, and follow guidance to keep everyone you are feeding, even if it is only yourself, safe.
  • It is important that anyone handling and preparing food for others follows the Food Standard Agency’s guidance on food safety and hygiene listed in this guide.
  • If you have been shopping, there should be no need to sanitise the outer packaging of food. This is because food businesses are required to have a system for managing food safety in place, which should include keeping packaging clean. You should still follow good hygiene practice by washing your hands after handling any outer packaging. If you have reason to believe the packaging has been contaminated, you should follow the recommended cleaning guidance.
  • You should follow good hygiene and preparation practices when handling and eating raw fruit, leafy salads and vegetables. This includes washing fresh produce to help to remove any contamination on the surface. Peeling the outer layers or skins of certain fruits and vegetables can also help to remove surface contamination. 
  • Meat and chicken should not be rinsed as this risks cross-contamination in your kitchen.

It’s important to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after you prepare food.
 

Use by and best before dates

Reading food label

As usual, the food you buy should have ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates.
  • Best before’ is about quality, food is still safe to eat after this date but may no longer be at its best.
  • Use-by’ is about safety. Food should not be eaten, cooked or frozen after this date as it could be unsafe – even if it looks and smells fine and you have kept it as instructed.
  • If your food is freezeable, it can be frozen right up to, and including, the ‘use-by’ date, as freezing acts as a pause and stops bacterial growth. Our guide to what you can freeze is here. It’s best to defrost food slowly and safely in the fridge. Food should be eaten within 24 hours once defrosted.
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For further information, visit GOV.UK.