Researchers at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) working with the British Footwear Association (BFA) have discovered that while coronavirus can remain on shoe leather for up to two days that there is also an anti-viral treatment that can inactivate coronavirus after two hours.
The independent research was commissioned to help the shoe industry recover from the pandemic after workers in the supply chain and retail staff expressed concern at the possibility of transmitting the Covid infection through handling the same materials and how long the virus could remain on the material and throughout the manufacturing process.
The team, led by DMU microbiologist Dr Katie Laird, head of the infectious disease research group, and virologist Dr Maitreyi Shivkumar, looked at how the virus survived on different types of shoe leather and cross-contamination on surfaces such as stainless steel, used in sewing machines, and cardboard to assess transfer from shoes in a shoebox.
The study used a human coronavirus OC43, which the team has previously shown to have a similar survival pattern to that of SARS-CoV-2. They found that OC43 was able to survive on some leathers for up to 48 hours and suggested that it could be transmitted to shoe boxes and stainless-steel surfaces during the manufacturing process.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Shivkumar said in a statement: “Although the coronavirus can remain infectious on some leathers for 1-2 days, the risk of transfer is greatest for up to a few hours after contamination of the leather.”
Microbiologists find that coronavirus can remain on shoe leather for up to two days
To find solutions in helping shoe companies slow the spread of Covid-19 during manufacturing and in retail outlets, researchers worked with Leicester company Micro-Fresh which makes an anti-viral treatment to see if that could help keep workers and shoe shops safe.
They found the when leather was treated with Micro-Fresh it took the survival time of coronavirus from 24-48 hours down to just two hours. They also added that there was no transmission from the anti-viral coated leathers to other surfaces two hours after contamination of the leathers.
The study added that anti-viral products, like Micro-Fresh, can be coated to leather goods during the manufacturing process by adding it to the product lacquer.
Lucy Reece Raybould, chief executive of the British Footwear Association, said: “I am pleased that this study has found some concrete information for the footwear industry that can now be transformed into actionable guidance to boost consumer confidence and give customers greater peace of mind, whether they are browsing, trying on or taking their goods home.
“Similarly, the findings are vitally important for manufacturers across the BFA network, and I hope to see businesses critically assessing their processes to see if any improvements can be made. Armed with this information, we can all contribute towards making the footwear sector more resilient and better able to counteract the influence of Covid-19.”
Byron Dixon, chief executive of Micro-Fresh, added: “Our journey began as a simple formulation to prevent the growth of mould on leather goods. After working with leather for over 20 years, this is a great development and a pivotal point for Micro-Fresh, especially during the current climate.”
Results from the study are to be shared throughout the industry in an online webinar which will include partners such as the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA), World Footwear and organisations in Europe and Asia.