Should you wipe down your groceries to avoid coronavirus? Experts weigh in
During the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, grocery shopping is considered an essential outing. Of course, being in a public place such as the supermarket means you’ll need to wear a mask, practice social distancing with other shoppers, and be mindful about washing your hands when you get home. But one thing that hasn’t been made clear yet: Do you need to sanitize or disinfect your groceries once you bring them home? Even if you choose to have your groceries delivered, what are the proper precautions for washing the food to avoid contamination from the virus? With many people on high alert about how easily the virus can be transmitted, lots of shoppers are taking extra precautions to stay safe.
At this moment in time, there’s been no official guidance stating that groceries should be disinfected, but we talked to industry experts to get their input.
Here’s what you need to know about wiping down groceries to avoid COVID-19:
The first thing is that it’s important to know that coronavirus is not a foodborne illness. According to the FDA’s website, “The virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.”
Because of this, Steven Chevalier, a food safety consultant and National Environmental Health Association-registered environmental health specialist, says, “The odds of someone depositing enough [of the] virus onto a grocery item or takeout container are pretty low, and using chemicals to disinfect groceries actually might lead to MORE illnesses related to chemical-poisoning of food. [Plus,] many types of food packaging are porous, even if it doesn’t seem like it.”
It may be tempting to spray everything you buy with Lysol the minute you get in the door, but it’s important to be mindful that the chemicals we put on the packaging could absorb through to the food and end up making us sick.
If you’re concerned, it won’t hurt to wipe down non-porous containers like glass or cans with a disinfectant wipe, but packages made of cardboard or plastic are more likely to be porous (and therefore potentially allow the chemicals from the disinfectant to seep through), so it’s not necessary to wipe these down.
When it comes to unpackaged goods like fresh produce, Dr. Tania Elliott, M.D., FAAAAI, FACAAI—an immunology expert and national spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology—says it’s okay to run fruits and veggies under running water for at least 30 seconds as you take them out of your bag. Just as you would normally do for your produce, rubbing them under the water will help physically remove pesticides and germs. There is no reason to wipe down these items down with household cleaners or disinfectants as ingesting them could make you sick.
Additionally, Dr. Elliott advises that you vigorously wash your hands with warm water before and after handling groceries (abiding by the CDC’s recommended 20-second rule) and wipe down all the surfaces that the groceries were placed on after they have been put away.
Chevalier does note that extra precautions may be necessary when groceries are for an immunocompromised individual. Though the chances of contracting the virus from food or its packaging are still low, studies have shown that the virus may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days.
As an added precaution, Chevalier says that groceries that don’t need refrigeration can be left to sit for a day or more before unpacking. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, after eight hours on cardboard, stainless steel, or plastic, for example, the virus becomes reduced by about a hundredfold, or 99 percent.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, HelloGiggles is committed to providing accurate and helpful coverage to our readers. As such, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, we encourage you to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments, and visit our coronavirus hub.