How Should We Be Unloading Our Groceries? The Latest Recommendations
In our "new normal," we know it's best to limit our trips to the grocery store, keep our distance from others while we're there, and wash our hands once we get home. But what happens next? Do we need to be disinfecting our grocery hauls too? Can you even get the virus from food?
This topic seems to be on top of everyone's mind lately, so we dug into the official guidelines from the FDA and got our follow-up questions answered from immunologist Heather Moday, M.D. Here are the latest recommendations.
So, can we catch the coronavirus from food?
Short answer: no. All current evidence suggests you cannot actually contract COVID-19 from food itself, because it is a respiratory virus, not a foodborne one. In order to get sick, you need to breathe the virus in as opposed to ingest it. "There have been no known cases of food-to-human transmission," Moday explains, but, she says, there's a caveat: "One study in the New England Journal showed that the virus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and 72 on metal and plastic."
So, if you touch a hard packaging surface in the store that has been recently contaminated, there's a chance you could contract the virus if you then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes. But the FDA says this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Being in close proximity to other people is still thought to present the largest risk.
"Limiting time in a store, touching only what you intend to buy, wearing gloves and masks, staying 6 feet away from others, and wiping down carts and baskets with sanitizer wipes is recommended," Moday summarizes. And once you get home, "always dispose of gloves properly and wash hands again."
Do I need to wash pantry staples like cans and jars when I get home?
Once you grab your essentials and head home, there are some additional precautions you can take to make sure your groceries are clean. Although Moday says there are no clear recommendations on wiping down cans and hard packaging, if you want to be on the safe side, you can feel free to do so with "either alcohol wipes or a mild 1% bleach solution."
She also advises unpacking groceries outside your door and then discarding your grocery bags. If you're using reusable cloth bags, you'll want to throw them in the washing machine (or your makeshift one) after every trip to the store. When that's all said and done, wipe down the counters where you unpacked your items and wash your hands with soap and water.
What about fresh produce?
Again, food doesn't seem to transmit the virus, so eating fresh produce is A-OK right now assuming you wash your hands before and after handling it, according to the Institute of Food Safety at Cornell. And Moday adds that you should still be washing your fruits and vegetables to get rid of pesticides and other germs. She recommends running them underwater and using a stiff brush on sturdier veggies like potatoes and thick-skinned fruits. "Using soap is not recommended as the residue left behind may make you sick," she says.
The bottom line.
Bottom line is, we've all gotta eat. And while it's easy to become paranoid about all the potential ways we might be exposed to the coronavirus, there are actionable steps we can take to limit our risk as much as possible: Follow social distancing guidelines while in the stores, wear masks and gloves, and clean hard surfaces as you're unloading your groceries, and you should be OK. And, of course, keep washing those hands!
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