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Trucks used to preserve human remains amid COVID-19 pandemic can also transport food, FDA says

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released new guidance in response to inquiries about whether food transport vehicles and refrigerated storage units that had been used for the temporary preservation of human remains amid the pandemic “subsequently can be used to transport and store human and animal food.”

In the guidance, the FDA noted the importance of protecting food during transport and storage to ensure items are “safe for humans and animals and that conditions do not exist that may adulterate the food.”

The FDA stated that floors, walls, ceilings and other hard, non-porous surfaces on the interiors of refrigerated transport vehicles can be easily cleaned. After doing so, those surfaces should be disinfected using EPA-registered disinfectants, the FDA said in the guidance.

“Some surfaces may require repeat applications to ensure treatment for the required contact time,” the agency’s guidance says. “Also, because some disinfectants may not be effective at refrigeration temperatures (check the label), interiors may need to be brought to the appropriate temperature before disinfection.”

The FDA said some vehicles that have interior surfaces that were in direct contact with blood or bodily fluids that cannot be cleaned should not be returned for use.

The circumstances under which a truck should not be used to transport food, according to the FDA, include the following:

  • Surfaces being made of porous unfinished wood having become contaminated and are not able to be properly disinfected or replaced.
  • Surfaces themselves becoming so damaged they can not be properly cleaned.
  • Offensive orders permeating through the unit itself.

The novel coronavirus is believed to spread through respiratory droplets with no current evidence to support that it is transmitted through food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But the agency notes that it may be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or an object, such as touching a box that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

“In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging,” the CDC notes.

Since the onset of the pandemic, there have been multiple studies performed on the novel coronavirus’ ability to live on surfaces.

In March, a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other partners found that the virus “was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.”

Later that month, a press release from the NIH announced findings that SARS-CoV-2 can live on stainless steel surfaces for up to three days.

During a previous coronavirus task force press briefing, the White House had touted research that suggested that the virus does not thrive under heat or sunlight, but other research indicates that warmer weather has little to no effect on the transmission of the virus.

The new guidance from the Food and Drug Administration comes during a month where grocery prices are increasing and concerns over food shortages and supply chain issues are worsening.

As of May 14, more than 1.4 million people in the U.S. were confirmed to have the novel coronavirus and more than 85,000 had died, according to data from Johns Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center.

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