As social distancing continues amid the COVID-19 outbreak, even things as simple as grocery shopping have become stressful. You probably know proper protocol for inside the grocery store (keep your distance, bring a paper list, get in and out as quickly as possible), but what about once you bring your groceries home? How should you be handling them? And should you really be wiping everything down?
We've broken down the proper protocol for safely handling food below. Reminder: These guidelines may change as the situation develops. As of publishing, this information is current, and we'll continue to update it as needed.
There is no evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted via food or food packaging.
Experts still believe that the primary form of transmission of COVID-19 is person-to-person, not through food or food containers.
"This particular coronavirus causes respiratory illness and is spread from person-to-person, unlike foodborne gastrointestinal or GI viruses, such as norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food," the FDA wrote.
This makes it that much more important to make sure you're following proper protocol while in the store.
So, should I be wiping down my food?
The FDA does not explicitly recommend wiping down any food containers or food as a way of preventing coronavirus. They do, however, recommend washing your hands once you return from the store and after handling groceries (a good idea any time, truly).
You may have seen some viral videos of people following extreme lengths of disinfecting their groceries, but the FDA doesn't list any of these as official recommendations. That being said, they do note, if it makes you feel better, you can wipe down some containers and allow them to dry.
Experts seem to agree that you can wipe up off non-porous containers, such as cans, with a disinfectant wipe and remove things such as bags of cereal from their cardboard box.
But again, this is only if this brings you peace of mind. As Dr. David Aronoff, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told NPR, "the vast majority of virus is no longer infectious" after 24 hours, and studies have found that coronavirus "is trace or undetectable on most surfaces" after 72 hours. That means washing your hands—not your packages of food—should be sufficient, especially if you're not going to touch them for a day or so.
What about fresh produce?
You might be wondering what to do about produce, especially food you're going to eat raw. Luckily, experts previously told Delish that good food safety rules still apply here. You should simply be rinsing your fruits and veggies with cool water and washing your hands after loading them into your fridge and before eating.
If you're cooking your produce, this is plenty, but if it makes you feel better, you can use a solution made with three parts water and one part vinegar, as outlined in NPR, if you want everything to be extra clean.
One thing you should NOT do is clean fruits and veggies, as well as porous food containers, with things like soap or bleach. They can make you sick. Again, you should be washing your hand after touching them, and if it makes you feel better, you can simply wait to eat these items.
What about my bags?
Experts aren't quite sure yet how re-usable bags can contribute to coronavirus spread, so it's best to be cautious. If you're using a reusable bag, wash your hands after handling them, disinfect any surfaces they touch, and wash and dry them on high heat after using. If they aren't washable, wipe them off and try not to touch them until you go shopping next.
Okay, but what about takeout?
Again, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. That said, you can and should still take some precautions when ordering takeout. Consider contactless delivery to keep you and your delivery driver safe. Definitely wash your hands after you open your food containers and before eating. Also, consider transferring your meal to your own plate and throwing the take-out container away.
Avoid using plastic utensils from the restaurant both as a health and environmental precaution (let them know you don't need them!). You can also give your meal a minute or two in the microwave if you want, but this is an extra precaution.
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