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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


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Advice on SARS and Potential for Food Transmission


May 29, 2003 

Due to the heightened interest in Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the concerns regarding the public health, the FDA is informing the public that there is no information that suggests food is unsafe for consumption and can transmit SARS.

SARS appears to be a respiratory disease spread by a coronavirus. There is information that indicates that SARS may remain on hands and surfaces for several hours. Based on this knowledge, FDA recommends strict hand-hygiene be enforced among food handlers and within the food processing industry. Strict hand-hygiene, includes washing hands with soap and water after using the restroom and after sneezing or coughing. In addition, food workers should not handle ready-to-eat foods, such as sandwiches, vegetables and cut fruits, with bare hands, but should use gloves or utensils for an extra level of protection. Strict hand-hygiene should be followed when preparing the food in individual homes as well.

The importance of hand washing cannot be overstated as a prevention method for SARS and other diseases. Proper hand washing, as described in the FDA Food Code continues to serve as a vital and necessary public health practice to eliminate the spread of food borne illnesses in retail food stores and food service. Contamination factors common in retail and food service environments inhibit the effectiveness of alcohol-based hand sanitizers when used in place of hand washing. They can be used as an additional safeguard following hand washing.

FDA is working closely with national and international public health and agricultural organizations to ensure that foods consumed in the United States remain safe as well as wholesome. As more information is acquired, the FDA will update its advice accordingly.