Unfortunately, Yes, the virus that causes COVID-19 can be viable for up to 72 hours on certain surfaces and therefore, shopping for groceries carries extra risk. So, taking extra care when handling your groceries can reduce your risk of exposure.
While shopping, not only are you near other people, but many of the products you’re buying have probably been handled by others — and possibly sneezed or coughed on. That’s why you should take a little extra care when handling your groceries to avoid spreading the virus to other people and surfaces in your house.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus was detectable on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, and on cardboard for up to 24 hours.
Charlotte Baker, DrPH, MPH, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia, said when you’re at the supermarket, you should “assume all surfaces everywhere have been touched by someone who is sick.” This includes produce and packaged foods. “Touch just the items you intend to buy, wipe down the cart or basket handles with disinfectant wipes, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when you’re done,” she said.
Elizabeth L. Andress, PhD, a professor of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia, said at the very least you should wash your hands after unpacking and putting away your groceries. If you’re concerned about potential contamination on your groceries, you should take additional steps to protect yourself. “Some people may choose to wipe or wash cans and boxes of food before storing them to reduce possible virus content,” said Andress.
When you’re done, Andress suggests that you wash any tables, countertops, or other surfaces that were touched by your groceries or grocery bags and wash your hands again.
Also, if you’re using cloth bags, wash them with laundry soap in a washing machine and dry them thoroughly before reusing them.
If you or someone in your household is at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, you might want to adopt the modified “sterile technique” recommended by Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, a family physician practicing in Grand Rapids, Michigan
VanWingen said that one option is to leave your groceries in your garage or porch for at least 72 hours to allow the virus to become inactive. However, this isn’t possible for many people. For them, he suggests the “sterile technique.” Also, you can also do this after letting your groceries sit outside for 72 hours.
A key part of VanWingen’s method is setting up a cleaning station to avoid contaminating your food or other surfaces in your house. After that, it involves wiping down all packaging with a disinfectant before putting your groceries away. You can also discard packaging and transfer the food to a clean bag or container.
For fruits and vegetables, VanWingen suggests scrubbing them for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Make sure that you rinse them completely with clean water before storing.
Overall, taking these precautions with your groceries can help you lower your chance of being exposed to the virus. And If you do get sick, you’ll need to take extra care in order to protect your family.