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31 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: how to store food safely

The truth about what you need to wash, how and when to protect your family, and tips to keep your food lasting longer between supermarket stock-ups

Can COVID-19 be transmitted through food? Do I need to wash fresh food before I put it in the fridge? Do I need to wash or remove packaging before storing food in the fridge or freezer?

We'll take you through the latest advice on what to do with your food and its packaging while we're on coronavirus confinement, and show you how to get the most from your food by storing it safely.

COVID-19 and transmission through food

Earlier this month, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) put out a statement to address fears that food might be involved in coronavirus transmission. The EU food-safety watchdog said there is currently no evidence that this is likely.

According to EFSA, experiences from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses show that transmission through food consumption did not occur.

At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is any different in this respect.

You can keep up to date on our latest coverage over on our coronavirus advice hub.

Do you need to wash fresh food before you put it in the fridge?

It's always sensible to wash fresh fruit and veg before you eat it, particularly if you're not cooking it first.

The French food-safety agency recently issued advice that coronavirus is sensitive to heat treatment. Heat treatment at 63°C for four minutes can reduce any contamination of a food product by a factor of 10,000.

So if in any doubt, either washing or cooking your food before eating it will kill the virus.

Do you need to wash or remove packaging before storing in the fridge or freezer?

While removing packaging could be sensible as it might mean you can fit more food into your fridge or freezer, it is not a necessary step to take in order to avoid contracting COVID-19.

The UK Food Standards Agency said on 26 March 2020: It is very unlikely that people can catch COVID-19 from food.

'COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and not known to be transmitted by exposure to food or food packaging.'

In some cases, particularly with fresh food, removing the packaging could end up being counter-productive. This is because it can lead to the food deteriorating more quickly, meaning you'd end up having to go to the supermarket sooner than necessary.

How to keep your food fresher for longer

It's sensible right now to limit your contact with other people, so reducing the number of trips you make to the supermarket is something we should all be trying to do.

Online deliveries are a great way to do this, but we know that at this time it can be virtually impossible to get a delivery slot.

One way to reduce the number of shopping trips you need is to make the food you do buy last for longer. Here are a few tips on how to make your fresh and frozen food last for as long as possible.

1. Store your food at the correct temperature

If you want your food to last as long as possible, you need to store it at the right temperature.

That's between 0°C and 5°C in your fridge, or between -18°C and -20°C in your freezer.

In our fridge freezer reviews we time how long it takes to get room-temperature food down to the optimum temperature.

It can take some freezers more than a day and a half to put food in the deep freeze, while the best models can do it in less than 10 hours.

2. Don't put hot food in your fridge or freezer

Regardless of whether leftovers are going in the fridge or the freezer, you should always let them cool to room temperature before you put them in. Otherwise, the warmth of your recently cooked food will send the temperature in your fridge and freezer skyrocketing.

Not only will that reduce the freshness of other food in the fridge, which needs to be kept at a stable temperature, but it will also force your fridge freezer to work harder to cool down, pushing up your energy bills.

3. Clean your fridge

Cleaning your fridge regularly will remove any lingering bacteria and prolong the life of your food. Cleaning regular touch points on the fridge, including the handles and the door trays, can also prevent the spread of bacteria.

Cleaning the fridge will send the internal temperature up, so it's best to clean before your next big shop, or when your fridge is almost empty.

To clean your fridge, remove all shelves and drawers and wash them in warm soapy water. You can wipe down the inside with lukewarm soapy water.

Antibacterial spray isn't recommended, as it could contaminate your food.

You can use a mixture of water and baking soda if you have any particularly stubborn stains.

Coronavirus: how to clean your home effectively.

4. Use super cool and fast-freeze functions

Most modern fridge freezers have supercool or superfreeze settings.

Although using these regularly will send your energy bills soaring, you could consider using them each time you load up your fridge or freezer with a new shop.

They will get your food to the correct temperature much more quickly, meaning that it will stay fresher for longer.

Here's a helpful list of surprising foods you can't freeze, and some you can.

5. Store foods on the correct shelves

Did you know that no matter how accurate your fridge's thermostat is, the temperature in different parts of the fridge will vary.

As a general rule, the higher the shelf, the higher the temperature will be. It's not a bad thing; if you know this you can use it to your advantage.

  • Raw meat, fish and seafood should be kept between 0°C and 3°C in order to lock in freshness and prevent harmful bacteria from tucking in. This means you should keep them on the bottom shelf or, if your fridge has one, a chill compartment that's specially designed for this purpose.
  • Butter and cheese are less perishable, so they're best kept near the top of your fridge where it's warmer. Condiments are also a good bet for the higher shelves.
  • Middle shelves are good for leftovers, cooked meats, pizza and any fruit.

How dirty is the average fridge?

A Which? investigation in 2019 found that a bevvy of harmful bacteria is thriving in most fridges.

We took five swabs from 10 different fridges. In each one, we took a sample from the vegetable drawer, the bottom shelf (where meat should be kept), the upper door rack, the back wall and the outer door handle.

You can read about the different types of harmful bacteria we found in 7 out of 10 fridge freezers, but, essentially, your fridge might not be as clean as you think it is.

Any type of bacteria present in your fridge is likely to lead to your food deteriorating more quickly than if it was in a more sanitary environment.