How to Safely Handle Groceries

Many Americans have been spending most of their time inside their homes for over a month. But, many of us feel like we still haven’t found our “groove.” This situation is unprecedented, so we don’t have a plan to fall back on. No one was prepared for this. And, as it continues to go on, many of us have questions about how to protect ourselves.  

While we have grown accustomed to social distancing, washing our hands, not touching our faces and wearing masks when we leave our homes, we still have other things we’re trying to figure out. For instance, when we go to the grocery store, we wipe off the cart, stay away from others, wear masks, grab what we need and leave as quickly as possible. When we get home, we scrub ourselves off, leaving our shoes by the door and changing our clothes. But what do we do with our groceries? Should we wash them? Will it die on its own? What is and is not safe?

Porous surfaces, like cardboard and paper, can have COVID-19 on them for up to 24 hours. Hard surfaces, like plastic, glass or metal, can have the virus for up to three days. So, your first step should be to just leave products that don’t require refrigeration in your car/a shed/back doorstep for three days. That way, anything on them won’t be brought into your house. Just keep in mind what the temperature is, many places are either still below freezing at night or are getting hot in the day. If a product could be damaged by extreme temperatures, it could be impacted when left outside.

Dr. Felicia Wu, a professor in food safety, toxicology and risk assessment at Michigan State Univ., and an adviser on food issues to the WHO and UN, has tips on washing food in water-proof, nonporous containers. Wash your hands immediately upon walking into your home. Designate a clean area and a contaminated area in your kitchen, either on the counter or floor. Place your groceries in your contaminated area. With a cleaning spray like Clorox or Lysol, clean everything individually and move it to the “clean” area. Once you have finished, discard your shopping bags, clear your designated contaminated area, rewash your hands and put your food away. Make sure your food is completely dry before putting it away, the cleaners are still active until dry. As always, thoroughly wash all produce before cooking or eating it raw. Do not use chemical cleaners like Clorox or Lysol on anything you will later put in your mouth.

People have been asking about using their reusable shopping bags. While some states have gotten rid of disposable bags in the store, most of them have inexpensive ones in the store. Some experts say you can use your own bags as long as you thoroughly disinfect them when you get home. But our team has been wary of that. It’s just one extra way to bring home the virus. Many stores have also banned the use of bags brought from home as they feel shoppers who are ill may infect baggers or cashiers who come in contact with them. Some stores have waived fees for single-use bags now to stop people from bringing them from home. We’ve been using the single-use bags from the supermarket and then immediately discarding them. Or, you can store them in your car for three days before using them as garbage bags.

These protective steps would have seemed laughable to many of us two months ago. People with compromised immune systems often take great care with groceries. But many of us have never paid attention to cleaning our bags of frozen peas! Now, it’s an essential step toward staying healthy, and we’ll be following these steps until the danger has passed.
April 20, 2020
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