SERVICE PIECE – Why you’re unlikely to contract Covid-19 from packaging

  April 14, 2020 – 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 like the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) say there isn’t cause for concern, because the main way the virus is transmitted, is via human contact – specifically having an infected person sneeze or cough on you.

According to the CDC, “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.”

And while it is possible to contract the virus by touching, for example, a doorknob or lift button that many other people are touching, the virus doesn’t survive as well on surfaces as it does once it’s found a new human host.

A small study, published as a research letter in the New England Journal of Medicine(“Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1”, 17 March 2020) recently looked at how the virus survives on plastic, stainless steel, copper and cardboard. 

The virus was not detectable on copper after four hours, on stainless steel and plastic after 72 hours, and on cardboard, no viable SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – was measured after 24 hours – and that’s under completely unvarying laboratory conditions.

What does that mean for you – and for the packages you’re handling at the supermarket, or receiving via post or courier? 

Here are some answers from the CDC and WHO.
Q. Is it safe to handle package from an area where there are Covid-19 infections?
A. 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.

Q. Can I catch the virus via food products or packaging?
A. In all likelihood, no. The risk is very low, because the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 doesn’t survive well on surfaces, especially surfaces like 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.

Q. 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?
A. The CDC says that currently, 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, as well as the poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces.

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.

Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, keep your distance – those are the most important principles to keep yourself and the greater community safe from contracting Covid-19.

** Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA) – which represents 90% of South African pulp and paper manufacturers – promotes the renewability and recyclability of paper products that we use every day, from writing and printing paper, to tissue, cellulose pulp and cardboard boxes. RecyclePaperZA, the paper recycling association of South Africa, represents processors of recycled paper fibre. PAMSA provides a platform to the sector on pre-competitive issues such as research, energy, water and environmental matters, as well as education, training and development.