Food Worker and Establishment Guidance on COVID-19Download page as PDF
Many parts across the world and Washington are experiencing an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus. This virus can spread from person-to-person and the number of cases detected in the United States and many other countries is growing.
As new information emerges, please remind your community that the risk of COVID-19 is not at all connected with race, ethnicity, or nationality. Stigma will not help to fight the illness. Sharing accurate information during a time of heightened concern is one of the best things we can do to keep rumors and misinformation from spreading.
The following information for food workers and establishments is also available in Spanish, Russian, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), and Korean.
What is coronavirus?Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that usually cause mild respiratory illnesses such as the common cold. Some coronaviruses have caused more severe illness, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new coronavirus that was not identified in humans before December 2019.
What are common symptoms of COVID-19?Signs and symptoms of infection with COVID-19 include fever (100.4°F or greater with an oral thermometer), cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus.
Some people who get COVID-19 may have only mild illness. However, the virus can also cause pneumonia, which may be severe.
People are encouraged to contact their medical provider if they have developed symptoms and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if they have traveled to an area with ongoing spread of the virus.
How does the virus spread?Infected people can spread COVID-19 through their respiratory secretions, such as when they cough or sneeze in close contact to others. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Other examples of close contact that may spread illness include kissing or hugging, sharing eating or drinking utensils, talking to someone nearby, and touching someone directly. Close contact does not include activities like walking by a person or briefly sitting across a waiting room or office.
While COVID-19 primarily spreads person-to-person, it may also be capable of spreading like some other coronaviruses through contact with a contaminated surface.
Prevention RecommendationsFood has not been identified as a likely source of COVID-19 infection at this time. However, it is important to follow current food safety standards to help protect workers and customers from COVID-19. In addition, expanding your current food safety practices will help slow the spread of respiratory viruses in the community, and help reduce working days lost due to illness.
Review Employee Health Policies and ProceduresEmployee health policies should prohibit food workers from working in food establishments while sick.
Connect with your local health department to ask any questions specific to your area.
Additional Answers to Food Safety QuestionsDoes coronavirus spread through food?It is unlikely, and there is no current evidence, that the novel virus is transmitted through food or water. History with previous outbreaks of coronavirus such as SARS and MERS suggest that people do not likely become infected with coronavirus through food. However, limited research on the new coronavirus indicates that it can be shed in stool. It is not known at this time whether the virus can make people sick after it has passed through the digestive tract.
While we don’t believe the novel virus can spread through food, we do know other germs can. We highly encourage people to practice routine food safety procedures to reduce risk:
Can a food worker who is symptom-free get tested? What if they’ve been asked to self-isolate for 14 days because they meet the definition of close contact to someone that might have COVID-19?At this time, we do not recommend testing for people without symptoms because it is hard to interpret negative results. If someone has been exposed but is not yet sick, it may just be too early to detect the virus. In addition, a negative result would not decrease the isolation period. If the local health authority or health care provider indicates isolation, please complete the full 14 days to help ensure we limit the spread of the virus in our community.
Additional ResourcesCoronavirus Retail Food Establishments Supply Chain Issues & Conservation Strategies
Novel Coronavirus Outbreak 2020, DOH
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), CDC
Resources for Workplaces and Employers, DOH
Coronavirus and Pandemic Preparedness for the Food Industry, FMI Food Industry Association
Coronavirus: What Can You Do? National Restaurant Association (PDF)
Interim Guidance for Business and Employers, CDC
Getting Your Workplace Ready for COVID-19, World Health Organization (PDF)
Guidance for Travelers, CDC