How to handle groceries during coronavirus and other food safety tips

By Hannah Frishberg



A different kind of clean eating is on everyone’s mind during the time of the coronavirus.

Food presents a surface that the coronavirus can live on, which is why there is suddenly an intensely heightened importance to sanitizing everything when stocking up the refrigerator and pantry.

Grocery stores are doing their best to ensure shopper safety, like Whole Foods, which has enacted a 50-shopper limit. Many stores are even taking drastic measures to protect workers and customers alike with sneeze guards and plexiglass. Still, everyone is responsible for taking extra precautions to make sure groceries are safe before storing them at home.

Grand Rapids, Michigan-based family physician Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, MD, has 20 years of experience in the field and an assortment of guidelines to ensure that your groceries are safe and sound for consumption.

Grocery stores are doing their best to ensure shopper safety, like Whole Foods, which has enacted a 50-shopper limit. Many stores are even taking drastic measures to protect workers and customers alike with sneeze guards and plexiglass. Still, everyone is responsible for taking extra precautions to make sure groceries are safe before storing them at home.

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While shopping

In a PSA that has racked up over 12 million views on YouTube in just three days, VanWingen lays out four key tips to keep in mind while shopping:

  • Wipe down the shopping cart handle with an antiseptic wipe.

  • Commit to what you are buying. Do not remove items and then put them back.

  • Do not shop if you have respiratory symptoms, have been exposed to the virus or are over the age of 60.

  • Plan what you will buy for two weeks before going to the store.

“Stores are doing better,” VanWingen says of recent grocery store protocols, but they’re still not sanitizing everything. For those at higher risk, “We can bring groceries to them after we’ve ensured that they’re safe,” he says.

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Groceries

Even those who wisely stock up their kitchen still have to leave the house to get more provisions periodically. Here’s how to help ensure you don’t contract the virus on your shopping trips or bring a contaminated object into your home.

Leave groceries outside for three days

There’s been conflicting data regarding how long the coronavirus can survive on surfaces, but VanWingen says for the sake of your groceries, it’s smart to assume it’s three days.

He recommends leaving groceries outside your home for three days — by storing them in a garage, on a porch or in an entryway — in the hope that by the time you bring them in, they will be rid of the virus.

“When you go out to get your groceries, and you bring them home, try not to bring them into your house unless you absolutely need them,” says VanWingen. Those who have their groceries delivered should do this, too. “Have [the delivery person] dump them outside, so you can bring them in when you need them,” he says.

This method for sanitizing groceries might not be possible for urban dwellers, especially New Yorkers who live in apartment buildings, but there are other ways to ensure food is safe to eat.

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Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen


Containers

All unnecessary external packaging should be discarded.

For bagged produce, if two people are available, one person can open the refrigerator’s crisper and the other can dump in the vegetables, disposing of the bag. Items like bread can be placed in sterile storage containers.

“We know that coronavirus can likely live on [cardboard] for 24 hours, but on the inside, no human hands have touched this for more than a few days,” he says while removing a cereal bag and throwing out the box itself.

If you’re buying groceries for someone else, consider removing the groceries from their external containers and putting them in a cloth bag. For items whose container can’t be removed, sanitize the groceries first and then put them into the bag.

Sterile technique

VanWingen recommends applying a method called sterile technique — used by health-care professionals to prevent the spread of infection within a hospital — to sterilize food.

Before bringing groceries inside, designate a clean side and a dirty side of a table, sanitizing the clean half with any standard disinfectant. Then place the groceries on the dirty side of the table.

“Imagine that the groceries that you have are covered with some glitter, and your goal at the end of this is to not have any glitter in your house, on your hands, or especially on your face,” he says.

Using a sanitizing towel, he says to “make sure your rag is good and saturated with disinfectant” and start wiping everything down.

“More hard plastic things that you’re not worried about disinfecting more liberally,” like medication bottles, can be sprayed directly and then wiped down.

Use common sense when focusing on where to wipe down more.

“Now, you wanna wipe off the areas that you think humans’ hands were touching a bit more liberally than the areas that you don’t think human hands have touched,” he says.

Fruit

Wash fruit like you would wash your hands — for 20 seconds per piece of fruit, in soapy water.

“I know all this seems like it’s time-consuming, but these days, in truth, people do have a bit more time on their hands,” he says. “Let’s be methodical and be safe and not take any chances.”

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Takeout

What is open?

There are plenty of great takeout options still available, and it’s fine to order in, so long as you are careful and stay safe while getting the food. (One Facebook group has taken it upon itself to crowdsource a comprehensive list of NYC restaurants currently taking orders.)

Dump out what you can

After you’ve gotten your order, wash your hands and then focus on getting rid of unnecessary packaging.

“The good news is you don’t have to worry so much about the food,” he says. “Coronavirus does not do well in food — but it’s the wrappers that I’m more concerned about.”

This means any and all containers the food is in. For sauce packets, squeeze out the sauce onto your plate or into a container, chuck the empty packet, wash your hands and enjoy.

Like it hot

Regarding coronaviruses — not specifically the COVID-19 strain, but in general — research has found that a little bit of microwaving and heat destabilizes the virus, he says. Hot takeout food is therefore a safer bet than cold.

Freezing food, meanwhile, does nothing to fight the virus: Coronaviruses are known to survive while frozen for up to two years.

Originally Published: https://nypost.com/2020/03/27/how-to-handle-groceries-during-coronavirus-and-other-food-safety-tips/?utm_source