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COVID-19 Preventative Measures: Cloth Face Coverings For Food Employees



Authors as Published

Renee Boyer, Professor and Extension Specialist, Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech; and Ben Chapman, Professor and Food Safety Extension Specialist, North Carolina State University

According to the CDC, cloth face coverings can be an effective way of preventing spread of infectious diseases. Cloth face coverings are used over the mouth and nose of a person who is or might be infected to catch virus particles from a cough, sneeze or normal talking. Face coverings provide the best protection to the wearer if they are 1) the right type for the situation, 2) worn properly and 3) handled properly. Wearing a cloth face covering can decrease risk but does not provide complete protection. Other risk reduction measures should also be followed, like physical distancing, handwashing and hand sanitizer usage, and avoiding touching eyes, mouth and nose.


  • Many essential workers at grocery stores, restaurants, farms and food manufacturing are now being asked to wear a cloth face covering during work hours.
  • Cloth face coverings and gloves are intended to decrease the risk of transferring the virus particles from hands or through respiratory droplets from the mouth or nose. Face covers can also reduce transfer from inadvertently touching the nose or mouth.
  • Gloves and cloth face coverings do not eliminate risk, they only reduce it; they should be used in conjunction with handwashing and hand sanitizer use and physical distancing whenever possible.
  • Since cloth face coverings may become contaminated they should be changed as needed and laundered between uses.


  • Cloth face coverings can trap moisture with use, so it is best to have several on hand to use throughout the day.
  • Masks and cloth face coverings should be handled assuming they are contaminated with the virus causing COVID-19.
    • Face coverings should be removed without touching the inside. They should be immediately placed with dirty laundry, or stored in a plastic bag until they can be properly cleaned.
  • Wash your hands after handling a used face covering or use hand sanitizer if hand washing is not an option. If possible, wash your face after removing a face covering.
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed at the hottest setting for the fabric, and dried thoroughly before next use.
  • Washing is more effective than heat alone, so face coverings should not be heated in microwave or conventional ovens.


an illustration showing how to wear a mask: covers nose and mouth, secured over ears/ behind head


  • Cloth face coverings can be uncomfortable to wear. A proper fit is tight over the nose, mouth and chin.
    • Shaving is not necessary for cloth face coverings or surgical masks. Cloth face coverings can help reduce disease transmission but wearing one does not provide absolute protection.
  • According to CDC, wear cloth face coverings whenever interacting with the public or when caring for someone who is sick or may be infected.
  • It is not necessary to wear a face covering while at home or outside for exercise.
QR code link to

No-sew cloth face coverings can be made from cut up t-shirts or folded bandanas. For step by step instructions on no-sew and sewn versions, visit or scan here.

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Updated April 27, 2020

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Publication Date

April 16, 2020