The non-governmental organization UPSTREAM has published a factsheet answering seven most frequently asked questions related to the safety of reusable products such as food packaging and foodservice ware. The included information is based on cited communications from US government health agencies, peer-reviewed scientific publications, and published interviews with health experts. The factsheet explains that communications from various government agencies have emphasized that the greatest potential for contracting COVID-19 is through person-to-person contact. There have been no documented cases of the responsible virus for the disease being transmitted through touching surfaces.

The factsheet clearly communicates that disposable, single-use products such as plastic cups and takeaway containers are not safer than reusable ones since, in theory, any product’s surface could contain the virus after being handled by customers or food service employees. Reusable products provided by a retailer are regulated by state food safety regulations and can be adequately cleaned and sanitized. Currently, guidance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) focuses on cleaning, disinfecting, and social distancing, but “no mention is made of any threats posed by reusable bags, cups, or cutlery or other reusable products.” The National Restaurant Association’s guide to reopening following COVID-19 pandemic closures does not promote the use of single-use products, and the only mention of reusable products is a recommendation to clean reusable menus.

If customers bring their own reusable items into a store, the factsheet recommends applying contact-free practices. In the case of reusable bags, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that employees should not touch or place groceries in the bags. Instead, customers should leave their own bags in their shopping cart and bag their own groceries. While UPSTREAM recognizes that bring-your-own (BYO) reusable products are a positive step forward in reducing waste, they write that “even better is when businesses have reuse systems which serve customers in ways that don’t generate waste.”

UPSTREAM has also published a recording of a recent Indisposable podcast episode that discusses safety and the future of reuse with a set of expert panelists. More information related to the COVID-19 pandemic and packaging is available on the Food Packaging Forum’s resources page.

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UPSTREAM (May 2020). “Answers to the 7 most frequently asked questions regarding the safety of reusable products.” (pdf)