Is there a risk of contracting COVID-19 from consuming wine?

SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus, responsible for the illness known as COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2 is spread from person to person when respiratory droplets produced by an infected person reach the nose, mouth or eyes of another person. These droplets containing the virus can also land on surfaces. Consequently, transmission may also be possible through a person coming into contact with contaminated surfaces, and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Once someone is infected with SARS-CoV-2, viral particles accumulate in their lungs and upper respiratory tract. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand indicates that there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through the consumption of food or beverages.

Other types of viruses such as foodborne or gastrointestinal viruses can be transmitted through consumption of contaminated food. The US Food and Drug Administration advises everyday safe food handling and hygiene practices to avoid foodborne illness. SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, however, is a virus that causes respiratory and not gastrointestinal illness.

Ethanol solutions can be used as a sanitiser to inactivate coronaviruses or other pathogens on surfaces (Kampf et al. 2020, WHO, CDC). Sanitation efficacy is defined as the reduction of the microorganism load on a surface to a level that minimises microbial spoilage potential, typically between a 5 and 3 log (99.999 to 99.9%) decrease in cell number. Ethanol solutions (60-70% v/v in water) sprayed onto surfaces and left for 30 seconds to 5 minutes achieve a 3 log or 99.9% decrease in cell number. Lower alcohol concentrations can still have some action against some pathogens but might require hours of exposure contact time (dependent on the pathogen) and thus are impractical as surface sanitisers.

Table wine contains several inhibitors of human pathogens, including alcohol (at lower concentrations than sanitisers, typically 8-16%), organic acids and phenolic material. In contrast to a surface presented with short-term exposure to higher percentage ethanol solutions, pathogens exposed to wine are presented with a relatively constant exposure to these hostile or toxic inhibitors. Arnand (2015) and Weisse et al (1995) noted that it was not just the alcohol, nor the low pH (acidic environment) in wine that provided antimicrobial effect, but rather a combination of the two combined with polyphenol content. Wolff et al. (2005) noted that it was the combination of alcohol and phenols that proved highly effective against human coronaviruses.

In summary, there has been no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through the consumption of food or beverages including wine. In addition, the wine matrix, which includes alcohols, organic acids and phenolic material, creates a hostile environment for the survival of human pathogens and this is likely to also be the case with SARS-CoV-2.

References and further reading
Anand, S.K., Ebenezar, A.V., Anand, N., Mary, A.V., Mony, B. 2015. A comparative analysis of antimicrobial property of wine and ozone with calcium hydroxide and chlorhexidine. J. Clin. Diag. Res. 9(6): ZC04-06.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand Novel Coronavirus and Food Safety: Accessed: June 2020.

Kampf, G., Todt, D., Pfaender, S., Steinmann, E. 2020. Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents. J. Hosp. Infect. 104(3): 246–251.

Price, P.B. 1939. Ethyl alcohol as a germicide. Arch. Surg. 38(3): 528-542.

Weisse, M.E., Eberly, B., Person, D.A. 1995. Wine as a digestive aid: comparative antimicrobial effects of bismuth salicylate and red and white wine. BMJ 311(7021): 1657-1660.

Wolff, M. H., Sattar, S. A., Adegbunrin, O. and Tetro, J. (2005). Environmental survival and microbicide inactivation of coronaviruses. Schmidt, A., Weber, O., Wolff, M.H. (eds) Coronaviruses with special emphasis on first insights concerning SARS. Basel, Switzerland: Birkhäuser: 201-212.