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Does coronavirus survive even longer in your fridge or freezer?

Published Apr 10th, 2020 1:32PM EDT
can coronavirus live in freezer
Image: STEFAN POSTLES/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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  • Viruses similar to the novel coronavirus have demonstrated an ability to live for extended periods of time in cooler temperatures.
  • Past studies have shown that these viruses can live up to a month in temperatures similar to that of a household refrigerator.
  • The virus is also believed to be capable of surviving after being frozen, which means it could also persist in the environment of a household freezer.
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We all should be doing whatever we can to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. That means social distancing and staying home if you can, but it also means taking measures inside your own home to ensure that if the virus somehow makes it through your door, it doesn’t spread to you or your friends and family.

With that in mind, there’s a lot of questions about what conditions the virus can withstand. If you want to kill the virus on food or other goods you bring into your home, is sticking it in the refrigerator or even the freezer a good idea? Based on what scientists know about similar viruses, the answer is probably no.

As the New Jersey Department of Health explains, recent research into two viruses that are closely related to the novel coronavirus tend to prefer cooler temperatures and can survive much longer in the cold than you might expect.

Researchers found that both lower temperatures and lower humidity helped viruses survive longer. In particular, at 4 degrees C, or 40 degrees F, and 20% relative humidity, more than two thirds of the viruses survived for 28 days. On the other end of the spectrum, at 40 degrees C, or 104 degrees F, and 80% humidity, the viruses survived for less than 6 hours.

So, high heat dramatically reduces the lifespan of the related viruses, while temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit allowed them to persist for a month. Unfortunately, many refrigerators hover right around the 40-degree mark, making them the perfect place for such a virus to wait it out and hope it rubs off on someone it can infect.

When it comes to freezing the virus, it’s believed that the coronavirus would do just fine being frozen and then thawed, retaining its ability to infect a person if it were to find its way into the eyes or respiratory system.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about this particular virus, and it’s entirely possible that it reacts somewhat differently than other viruses to temperature changes. Additional research will teach us a lot in this regard, but for the time being, we have to use the knowledge we already have, and the fact is that viruses in the same family as the COVID-19 virus would love to hang out in your fridge or freezer.

The good news at this point is that washing your hands and sanitizing surfaces in your home is still a great way to combat any virus that makes it into your living space.