It’s not a touchy issue: boxes and packages are safe, say experts

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It’s not a touchy issue: boxes and packages are safe, say experts

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found no sign of the virus on cardboard after 24 hours

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it is safe to handle packaged goods from an area where there are Covid-19 infections.
box clever The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it is safe to handle packaged goods from an area where there are Covid-19 infections.
Image: supplied

It’s safe to handle packaged goods during the deadly coronavirus outbreak, the Paper Manufacturers’ Association of South Africa (Pamsa) said on Tuesday.

“The trouble with fighting an invisible enemy is precisely that — you can’t see it. And when that same enemy is highly contagious, and potentially on any surface you touch, it’s easy to see why people are worried about contracting the virus that causes Covid-19 from packaged goods.

“However, leading international health organisations, such as the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) say there isn’t cause for concern, because the virus is mainly transmitted via human contact — specifically having an infected person sneeze or cough on you,” the association said.

It cited a statement from the CDC, which said: “It may be possible that a person can get Covid-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

The association quoted a study, published as a research letter in the New England Journal of Medicine,  which found the virus was not detectable on copper after four hours and on stainless steel and plastic after 72 hours. On cardboard, no viable SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, was measured after 24 hours — and that’s under unvarying laboratory conditions.

The CDC and WHO answered the following questions:  

Is it safe to handle package from an area where there are Covid-19 infections?

Yes. The package will have moved and travelled over enough time, and been exposed to different conditions and temperatures, so the risk of being infected is low.

Can I catch the virus via food products or packaging?

In all likelihood, no. The risk is very low, because the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 doesn’t survive well on surfaces, especially surfaces such as plastic and cardboard that have been shipped over a period of days or weeks, whether at room temperature or colder temperatures, in the case of refrigerated and frozen foods.

Should I be taking additional measures to sterilise or sanitise to reduce the risk of bringing the virus into my home via food or food packaging?

The CDC says there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of Covid-19, because the main way the virus spreads is person to person. The likelihood of the virus surviving on surfaces is also poor.

“The bottom line is that whether you’re going to the supermarket or receiving a package at home, your main goal should be to avoid physical contact with other human beings. That means requesting contactless delivery from post carriers or couriers, washing your hands frequently, and for the recommended 20 seconds minimum each time, especially after you’ve been out or handled anything you haven’t cleaned yourself,” Pamsa said.