COVID-19 has impacted lives throughout the world in numerous ways. Buying and consuming food is no exception. COVID-19 has caused confusion and anxiety among consumers as it relates to grocery shopping, getting takeout from restaurants, and the safety and stability of the food supply in general. The importance of proper food handling techniques continues to be the best safety measure.

Given what scientists know about COVID-19 and how infection has occurred to date, there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through food and the risk of COVID-19 transmission via food or food packaging is low. However, it is critical that consumers continue to follow good food handling practices when handling and preparing food. That includes handwashing often, particularly when returning from the grocery store, before and during cooking, and directly before eating. It also includes cleaning and sanitizing of kitchen surfaces and utensils, and storing/cooking foods to recommended temperatures.

A health crisis such as COVID requires clear, consistent messaging about steps a person can take to reduce their risk of illness. Encouraging these practices isn’t new to food safety communications, but research suggests that consumer adherence is low, particularly for good handwashing. RTI research conducted in partnership with North Carolina State University and funded by the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service indicated that close to 30% of consumers did not attempt to wash their hands prior to cooking in an observational kitchen; of those who attempted to wash their hands, less than 3%  of consumers followed all of the steps required for effective handwashing

Creating messaging for consumers that is clear, consistent, and easily accessible is challenging, especially when the science continues to be updated as in the case of COVID-19. Adding to that, misinformation is being shared on social media and other sources. Experts in food safety from FDA, the Partnership for Food Safety Education, and university researchers have taken this challenge head-on. It is critical for consumers to continue receiving food safety messaging from trusted experts throughout the pandemic and beyond. At RTI, we’ve developed and tested consumer food safety messaging design studies to measure the efficacy of food safety messaging to improve food handling practices. Food safety messages for consumers should be specific, clear, and tailored to the audience as much as possible.

For more information on our innovative food safety research, training and education tools, visit our website

Disclaimer: This piece was written by Ellen Thomas Shumaker (Research microbiologist), Juliana Ruzante (Research Public Health Analyst), and Sheryl C. Cates (Senior Research Policy Analyst) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.