What is SARS-CoV-2?
SARS-CoV-2 is a new strain of coronavirus that was discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019. You may also see it referred to as the Wuhan novel coronavirus; 2019-nCoV; WN-CoV; HCoV-19 (SARS-2), where SARS is the acronym for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, and CoV is that for Coronavirus.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the disease associated with SARS-CoV-2.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The main symptoms of coronavirus are:
- a high temperature;
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours.
How is the virus spread?
- The primary route of transmission for SARS-CoV-2 is via inhalation of the aerosols and droplets created when an infected individual coughs or sneezes.
- These droplets can land on the surrounding surfaces and transmission of the virus can then also occur through touching of the contaminated surface, and subsequent touching of the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose or eyes.
Can you catch COVID-19 from food?
- The World Health Organisation, the European Food Safety Authority and the UKs Food Standards Agency have stated that there is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
- However, as a precaution, you may
- wash or peel fresh fruit and vegetables prior to consumption;
- wherever possible buy wrapped ready to eat products;
- wipe down food packaging, using a disposable cloth and a commercially available disinfectant, and leave to air dry;
- dispose of food packaging immediately after unpacking the food and wash your hands before handling the food or touching other surfaces, including your face.
- SARS coronaviruses are easily inactivated by heat. Cooking or heating of food, to a temperature >56oC for a minimum 15 mins (or thermal equivalent) should destroy the virus on the surface of the food.
How long can the virus remain viable (survive) on surfaces?
SARS-CoV-2 virus (specifically) can remain viable on,
- cardboard for up to 24 hours;
- plastic and stainless steel for 2-3 days; and
- copper for ~4 hours.
- Viability on clothing and hair is not yet known.
Virus viability will depend on the type of surface; the presence of organic material (biological fluids, biofilm, food debris); temperature; relative humidity; and specific strain of the virus.
Should I clean and disinfect re-useable/shared personal protective equipment/clothing between uses?
How are viruses different to bacteria?
- Bacteria are living cells that can grow and reproduce independently in most environments. Viruses are non-living particles that need a host (living cell) to reproduce.
- Virus particles can be up to 50 times smaller than bacterial cells. This aids their transfer to and harbourage on surfaces.
- SARS-CoV-2 virus remains viable (survives) on surfaces for 2-3 days. Some bacteria are known to remain viable for years.
Are cleaning and disinfection effective against the virus?
Viruses can be protected from disinfection by organic material like food, biological fluids and biofilms. It is therefore essential that visibly dirty surfaces are cleaned prior to disinfection. Additionally, cleaning removes the majority of virus from a surface, so even cleaning of apparently clean surfaces will have a huge impact on virus removal. Clean surfaces with detergent and water, using a cloth or brush. Surfaces should be disinfected after cleaning.
- Chemical disinfection:
Enveloped viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, are among the weakest or least resistant organisms to disinfection.
Many disinfectants are active against them and achieve their effective inactivation within minutes. The following are recommended for use in controlling coronavirus:
- Alcohol based, containing 60% – 85% alcohol by volume.
- Sodium hypochlorite based, between 1,000ppm – 5,000ppm of the active.
- Peracetic acid and hydrogen peroxide, both used at the concentrations recommended by the chemical manufacturer.
- For those in the US and countries that follow the guidance of the US-EPA, visit https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registeration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2 and use your EPA registration number to identify suitable disinfectants.
- For those in Europe and countries using the EN norms, use a disinfectant that has approval (partial approval for enveloped viruses) to EN 14476; EN 1276; or EN 13697.
The contact time of any disinfectant formulation used should be checked with the chemical supplier. The contact time needs to be sufficient to allow it to inactivate the virus.
Can I use wholeroom disinfection techniques?
Alcohol, peracetic acid and hypochlorite solutions are not suitable for wholeroom fogging. However, hydrogen peroxide and ozone gases may be useful for wholeroom disinfection, after thorough cleaning. Efficacy will depend on the temperature, concentration and contact time of the gas and the presence of organic material.
Can I use microfibre for cleaning and disinfection?
In principle yes. Microfibre is very effective at removing bacteria from surfaces and this should be the same for viruses. However, there are very few published studies on the use of microfibre for virus removal and none (currently) in relation to SARS-CoV-2.
Microfibre (both re-useable and disposable) used damp or dry, without the use of chemical disinfectants, is unlikely to inactivate SAR-CoV-2. Consequently,
- Use a separate disposable microfibre cloth or mop for each different surface cleaned and dispose of immediately after use.
- Change re-useable microfibre cloths and mops frequently, and launder after use, using a minimum wash cycle of 56°C for 15 minutes (or thermal equivalent), to ensure destruction of the virus before re-use.
- Clean and disinfect hands and equipment, e.g., floor mop frames, thoroughly after use.
If microfibre is used in combination with a chemical disinfectant, this can either be applied directly to the surface and then wiped off or dosed directly onto the mop/cloth. Care should be taken to ensure that the disinfectant is used at the correct concentration (as per chemical manufacturers instructions).
Note: Microfibre efficacy is based on the ability of the microfibres to attract and hold contamination through electrostatic (when dry) and capillary (when damp) action. The use of chemicals that contain alcohol, chlorine and strong acids and alkalis may damage the fibres and affect their efficacy.
Can the virus be killed using heat?
Heat at 56°C for 15 minutes (or thermal equivalent) will inactivate SARS coronavirus.
Is Ultra-Violet light effective against the virus?
Short wavelength (254 nm) UVC light has been shown to inactivate viruses. Although no studies have yet been conducted involving SARS-CoV-2 it is very likely that UVC will also inactivate this virus.
Can antimicrobial products and surfaces help?
- The antimicrobials impregnated into surfaces and equipment have shown the ability to inactivate some viruses, but no studies have yet been conducted involving SARS-CoV-2.
- Surface antimicrobials work best against microbes on relatively clean surfaces but organic matter (e.g., food; biofilms; biological fluids) shields them from the antimicrobial.
- Importantly, surface antimicrobial need time (hours) to work effectively, by which time the virus may have already be transferred.
- Standard cleaning and disinfection techniques are faster and more effective for minimising the risk of virus transmission, especially for frequently touched surfaces.
Do I need to clean and disinfect things more often? What do I need to clean?
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces more often, ideally after contact by each different individual. Focus on,
- door handles;
- door push plates;
- trolley and bucket handles;
- cleaning tools; and
- Clean and disinfect surfaces in non-food handling areas such as toilets; changing rooms; offices; canteens; and vehicles more often.
Do I need to do any additional decontamination if a worker is subsequently diagnosed with Covid-19?
If an individual is diagnosed with COVID-19, it may be appropriate to additionally decontaminate all surfaces that the person could have come into contact with.
Should I wash my hands more often?
Yes. More frequent through handwashing and drying is the single most important thing you can do. More frequent hand hygiene practices (use of appropriate hand sanitiser; use of disposable disinfectant wipes) are also recommended.
Will hand sanitiser kill the virus on my hands?
Hand sanitisers containing a minimum of 60% alcohol will effectively inactivate the virus on clean hands.
Can I use disposable gloves to minimise the risk of virus transmission?
The use of disposable gloves may help but careful consideration must be given to when the gloves are used and removed, to ensure that the gloves themselves do not become a vector for viral transmission.
Gloving and the use of hand sanitisers should not replace good hand washing practices.
Can I catch COVID-19 by handling money?
There is no evidence that money has caused a COVID-19 infection, but it is a possible source of virus transmission. Consequently, many retail stores are now requesting contactless card rather than cash payment for goods. If you need to handle cash wear gloves, take care not to touch other surfaces (including your face) while you are handling money, and dispose of them immediately after use; or wash your hands immediately after handling money.
Can I catch COVID-19 from packaging materials?
The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low. The risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also very low. While food packaging is not known to present a specific risk, it should be cleaned and handled in line with usual food safety practices. Additionally, as a precaution, you can,
- Leave packaged products untouched for 3 days before un-packing.
- Wipe down product packaging, using a disposable cloth and a commercially available disinfectant, and leave to air dry.
- Wear disposable plastic gloves while unpacking the goods, taking care not to touch anything else including your face, while doing so. Remove and dispose of the gloves immediate after you’ve finished un-packing. Then wash your hands thoroughly.
- Unpack the goods using your hands, taking care not to touch anything else including your face, while doing so. Then wash your hands thoroughly immediately after you’ve finished un-packing
- You can also do either 1 or 2, with either 3 or 4, in combination.
Has there been any impact on food production in Europe?
Short answer - yes, in fact the impact has been felt worldwide. Long answer – for a continuous update on the situation please use this link.
Can the virus contaminate livestock and be transferred through processing?
So far, no link has been established between livestock and virus transmission. The only animals that have been associated with the disease to date are bats (the likely source of the virus), ferrets and cats.
What do I do with waste potentially contaminated with the virus?
- Disposable items that have been used with a disinfectant will be safe to dispose of immediately, through normal waste disposal routes. The residual disinfectant will continue to work to inactivate the virus.
- Disposable items not used with a disinfectant can be double bagged and quarantined for 72 hours as a precaution, before disposal via the normal route.
Will future HACCP plans include environmental assessments for SARS-CoV-2?
Monitoring the environment for the presence of SAR-CoV-2 is currently costly, time consuming and of limited value, as finding viral RNA is not indicative of the ability of the virus to cause infection. All food production facilities should already have in place a robust Food Safety Management System (FSMS) that utilises the HACCP process and includes pre-requisite, and environmental hygiene control and monitoring programmes. Cleaning activities should continue in line with these practices, and staff should continue to follow existing risk assessments and safe systems of working.