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TALLAHASSEE – With 155 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) is once again updating consumers and business on precautionary steps to minimize coronavirus infection risk. Last week, the FDACS Division of Food Safety provided guidance to Florida food establishments on best practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In a letter sent to the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association, and thousands of grocery stores, markets, gas stations, convenience stores, and food manufacturing businesses that FDACS regulates, the Department advised these businesses to sanitize shopping cart and shopping basket handles, and ensure sanitization supplies are available to consumers. Commissioner Fried also shared these best practices on social media.
“As the Florida’s food safety and consumer protection agency, we’re working to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus in high-traffic areas like grocery stores, convenience stores, and gas stations — places that millions of Floridians visit every day,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “As confirmed cases of coronavirus increase in Florida and across the country, everything counts when it comes to limiting the spread of viruses, like sanitizing shopping carts at the store, using hand sanitizer, and washing your hands.”
“As millions of Florida consumers visit food establishments each day, it’s crucial that we work alongside these businesses to ensure the best sanitization practices are being followed. This is critical to reducing the transmission of bacterial and viral pathogens and lessen chances of spreading COVID-19,” said Dr. Matthew Curran, FDACS Director of Food Safety. “Whether in the grocery store or at the gas pump, we want to remind businesses and consumers to wipe down hard surfaces before use, and maintain clean hands with thorough hand-washing or hand-sanitizer of at least 60% alcohol content.”
The letters follow previous communications from FDACS during National Consumer Protection Week advising regulated businesses on how to mitigate spreading COVID-19.
On March 3rd, FDACS’ Division of Food Safety reminded businesses to follow requirements (Rule 5K-4.002, Florida Administrative Code and FDA Food Code) to ensure food safety and reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses, and the Division of Consumer Services notified businesses and associations of important guidelines and recommendation to protect consumers and lower the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Consumers and businesses with questions about food safety practices can call the Division of Food Safety at (850) 245-5520 or email FoodSafety@FDACS.gov. Questions about human health-related impacts of COVID-19 should be referred to the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 center at (866) 779-6121 or COVIDfirstname.lastname@example.org.
For Retailers/Food Establishments:
FDACS is reminding these businesses of the following requirements (Rule 5K-4.002, Florida Administrative Code and FDA Food Code) to ensure food safety and reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19:
- Food preparers must keep hands and arms clean, and follow cleaning procedures including washing at least 20 seconds with hand cleaner and rinsing under warm running water.
- When to wash includes: after touching body parts; after using the restroom; after caring for animals; after coughing, sneezing, or using tissue; after using tobacco; after eating or drinking; after handling soiled equipment during food preparation; after handling raw food and working with ready to eat food; before donning gloves; and after any other activity that contaminates hands. (Chapter 2-301)
- There is required to be at least one hand washing sink (Chapter 5-203), that handwashing sink must be convenient to employees and or immediately adjacent to toilet rooms (Chapter 5-204), and handwashing supplies such as hand soap and cleanser and drying devices such as towels or heated air devices for handwashing sinks are required to be present (Chapter 6-301).
Studies have shown that human coronaviruses can persist on inanimate surfaces like plastic, glass, or metal for up to nine days. Therefore, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and FDACS recommend the following food safety tips for consumers:
- Wash your hands often when cooking, including: before, during, and after preparing any food; after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs; before eating; after touching garbage; after wiping counters or cleaning surfaces with chemicals; after touching pets, pet food, or pet treats; and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
- Wash your hands even when wearing gloves, as contaminated gloves can spread germs to your hands when removing the gloves.
- Disinfect and dry commonly-used surfaces such as countertops and cutting boards, as dampness can help remaining viruses survive and multiply.
- Use disposable cloths or paper towels when possible, or wash reusable cloths at 140 degrees Fahrenheit after each use.
- While there is no evidence that fresh produce (or other foods) can transmit the virus, wash all fruits and vegetables under running water.
At the Gas Pump:
Additionally, Deputy Commissioner for Consumer Affairs Mary Barzee Flores offered the following tips to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at commonly-touched gas pumps:
- Clean surfaces: Use a disinfecting wipe to clean gas pump handles and keypads, or use the wipe to handle each surface and don’t re-use the same wipe.
- Use hand sanitizer: Apply hand sanitizer on your hands after pumping gas or wash your hands for at least 20 seconds or more as recommended by the CDC.
About the FDACS Division of Food Safety: The Division of Food Safety inspects and regulates more than 40,000 grocery stores, convenience stores, markets, and food manufacturing facilities in Florida. As of March 3, the Division of Food Safety has been in communication with the majority of these food establishments, as well as the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association, to share food safety practices that protect public health.