When it comes to keeping ourselves healthy and safe during the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important that we not only do our part to stay home and practice social distancing, but to also make sure that anything we bring into our homes hasn’t been contaminated. That’s especially pertinent with our groceries—especially if you’ve picked them out at your local grocery store where there could be unseen viral droplets on any packaging.
So to make sure our groceries are safe, we spoke to Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, a family doctor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who’s had the opportunity to speak with virologists and food safety experts on the subject. He repackaged that information in a YouTube video, which went viral at the end of March, explaining all the ways you can keep your groceries safe during this pandemic—and whether or not you need to actually clean your groceries when you get home from the store. Although he does speak to the necessity of properly cleaning your groceries, Dr. VanWingen wants to make something clear: “People shouldn’t fear their food. This is not a food-borne illness. But using logic that respiratory droplets are out there, and while they can land on packaging, they are going to degrade with time.” Sanitizing your groceries will help protect and keep you safe, even if it seems like a little more work.
Ahead, Dr. VanWingen offers a slew of easy solutions for what we should do to properly clean our groceries.
If they’re not needed immediately, leave any canned goods or non-perishable items outside (or in a separate safe place, like the garage, car, or porch) for three days, which is the length of time it takes for any COVID-19 particles to fully degrade.
Any extra materials you’ve brought back from the store, like plastic or paper grocery bags, should be discarded. If you’re working with reusable bags, set them aside to be laundered after they’ve been used.
There are certain boxed goods whose packaging can be thrown away immediately. For example, a box of cereal has of course been handled, but the inside hasn’t been touched by human hands. Toss the box immediately, but keep the plastic sealed bag inside.
Fresh produce—whether it arrives in extra packaging or not—should always be washed. “Washing them off in flowing water and then making sure that as much water as you can is patted off, because if you wash your vegetables and they’re damp and put them in your fridge, that could harbor bacterial growth,” Dr. VanWingen explains. Another method Dr. VanWingen suggests is sanitizing the packaging with a standard disinfectant, then put the produce in the crisper for a day, in the worst case scenario that there were some viral particles on the food.
For groceries like fresh bread, that are often packed in plastic, Dr. VanWingen recommends first sanitizing the plastic, then removing the item into another container without it touching the plastic. This will help protect any cross contamination.
Any bigger, bulkier foods, like jars of pickles or tubs of yogurt, can be directly sprayed and wiped down with a disinfectant, working to more rigorously wipe down areas that you think would have been more prone to be touched by human hands (aka, the middle of jars, the sides of boxes, etc).
If you’re ordering takeout, Dr. VanWingen explains that the same logic should be used for those containers, too. “I think it’s reasonable to take the packaging, dump the food out on a clean plate, then get rid of the packaging, and wash your hands.”
Any surface that was touched by uncleaned groceries or takeout containers should be sanitized as well.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.