COVID-19: Information for consumers

Article 2 min

We recognize that in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, consumers have a variety of questions about milk and dairy products. Please find information and answers to some of the most common questions below.

By DFC - PLC, Communications Team

Highlights

  • Canadian milk is safe to drink. There is no evidence to suggest COVID-19 is circulating in dairy cattle or other livestock nor that it could transmit from human to cattle or vice-versa.
  • Measures are being taken throughout the value chain to ensure consumers continue to have access to the dairy products they know and love in these uncertain times.

We recognize that in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, consumers have a variety of questions about milk and dairy products. Please find information and answers to some of the most common questions below.

Should I worry about drinking milk?

Canadian milk is safe to drink.

According to the Canada Food Inspection Agency and the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health), there is no evidence to suggest COVID-19 is circulating in dairy cattle or other livestock nor that it could transmit from human to cattle or vice-versa.

In Canada, dairy Farmers already follow a rigid, well-documented set of practices and procedures every single day to ensure the safety of the Canadian milk supply. Milk is pasteurized, tested regularly, and handled and transported with very specific protocols. Consumers can rely on the quality of our milk because there are strict regulations in place and the dairy industry’s mandatory proAction program prescribes robust requirements, particularly with regards to food safety, milk quality, biosecurity and traceability.

These aren’t extraordinary measures: it’s a set of standards Canadian farmers uphold every single day.

Can Milk be frozen?

Yes. According to Health Canada, unopened milk can be frozen up to six weeks. Make sure your freezer is set at -18 °C (0 °F) or lower and freeze before the ‘best-before’ date. Freeze it in the original packaging. You may notice the milk separates when you freeze it; don’t worry that’s normal. Once you’re ready to use the milk, let it thaw completely in the refrigerator. Give it a quick shake before opening. While freezing suspends the spoilage process, it’s recommended that thawed milk be used as quickly as possible.

Firm, hard and processed cheeses, yogurt, as well as butter can be frozen too. The texture of cheese may change however, so you may prefer to use it in baking or cooking when you take it out of the freezer.

How long will dairy products last?

Please refer to the following guidelines from Health Canada:

Dairy products

Refrigerator at 4 °C (40 °F) or lower

Freezer at - 18 °C (0 °F) or lower

Un-opened milk

Best before date

6 weeks

Opened milk

3 days

Don't freeze

Un-opened cottage cheese

Best before date

Doesn't freeze well

Opened cottage cheese

3 days

Don't freeze

Un-opened yogurt

Best before date

1-2 months

Opened yogurt

3 days

Don't freeze

Soft cheese

1 week

Doesn't freeze well

Semi-soft cheese

2-3 weeks

8 weeks

Firm cheese

5 weeks

3 months

Hard cheese

10 months

1 year

Processed cheese

5 months

3 months

Un-opened salted butter

8 weeks

1 year

Un-opened unsalted butter

8 weeks

3 months

Opened butter

3 weeks

Don't freeze

The shelves at my store were bare last weekend! Are we running out of milk and food?

As the full impact of the outbreak became known, there was a rush on many common grocery products as consumers stocked up on emergency supplies. Any shortages on dairy products were isolated and temporary – we are continuing to produce milk and dairy as usual.

We encourage Canadians to not hoard groceries unnecessarily, and to share with those less fortunate. Given the uncertain economic impact of the outbreak, many food banks have appealed for assistance and we encourage Canadians to support them and other community organizations if it is in their means to do so.

Is milk going to be available? Is the supply chain compromised?

We have a strong food distribution system in Canada, so any shortage you may have experienced lately should be fixed now, and we expect that, as demand normalizes, so will the stocks on the shelves. Still, measures are being taken throughout the value chain to ensure consumers continue to have access to the dairy products they know and love in these uncertain times. Milk and milk products are staples in millions of Canadian homes, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that remains the case.

Why are farmers being advised to practice social distancing?

In accordance with recommendations from public health authorities, farmers are limiting human-to-human contact to prevent transmission of the virus. Measures include implementing social distancing by cancelling or postponing non-urgent farm visits and staying two metres away from truck drivers, veterinarians, feed deliverers, technicians and other service providers.

Who is going to look after the cows if a farmer is sick?

Farmers have been advised to follow the same advice given by public health authorities to all Canadians by self-isolating if they are showing symptoms.

Even in the event a farmer falls ill, the dairy industry is committed to upholding the same high standards of animal care we uphold every day. Most farmers have business continuity plans that identify alternate sources of help on the farm – otherwise they would never be able to take a vacation!

There are various options available to help farmers in the event they are not in a position to do daily farm chores and take care of animals. At the national level, the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council also has a series of resources in place to assist farmers.

I’ve heard that cows can get coronavirus - is COVID-19 the same thing?

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that was discovered in 2019. COVID-19 is transmitted from human to human and is different from the bovine coronavirus. Bovine coronavirus does not infect humans. A vaccine is available for cattle for bovine coronavirus. There is no evidence of COVID-19 circulating in livestock or other animals or other animals in Canada.

Can COVID-19 be transmitted through dairy products?

No. According to both Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, there is no evidence to suggest that food is a source or route of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. This virus spreads via human-to-human contact and via human contact with contaminated surfaces which is why it is very important to follow public health recommendations regarding proper hygiene.

The food industry has implemented social distancing practices and continue to have good practices in cleaning & disinfecting all equipment regularly – this is consistent with public health recommendations to limit risks to humans working in the food industry.

Scientists and food safety authorities across Canada and around the world are closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19. If we become aware of a potential food safety risk, appropriate actions will be taken to ensure the safety of Canada’s food supply.

Can I boost my immune system by changing my intake of dairy products?

No. According to Dietitians of Canada: “Simply put, you cannot “boost” your immune system through diet and no specific food, supplement or natural health product will prevent you from catching COVID-19. […] There are many nutrients that are involved with the normal functioning of the immune system and therefore we encourage eating a variety of healthy foods each day in order to support immune function."

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the best way to protect against COVID-19 is by following proper hygiene and following the advice of public health officials. For more information, visit the Public Health Agency of Canada website.

To date, the Government of Canada has not approved any product to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19. Selling unauthorized health products or making false or misleading claims to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 is illegal in Canada and the government is taking action to stop this kind of activity. More information can be found here.

I’ve heard that drinking milk could increase nasal secretion (mucus), which could make it harder to fight off COVID-19, is it true?

There is no solid evidence to support the notion that milk consumption causes an increase in the production of mucus. Studies have shown that drinking cow’s milk does not cause or increase the production of mucus in the airways. Drinking milk sometimes leads to sensations of ‘‘coating of the throat’’ or ‘‘thicker saliva,’’ but these are sensations that are due to the viscosity and velvety texture of milk rather than an increased production of mucus.