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How to Safely Unpack Your Groceries at Home


Shopping for groceries carries extra risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many people are wondering if they should be sanitizing their produce and food packages once coming home from the grocery store. The decision to sanitize food packaging is based on personal preference, but according to the most recent information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)….“It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, like a packaging container, that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. In general, because of the poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely a very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.”

Nevertheless, the much-cited National Institutes of Health (NIH) study found that coronavirus can live up to three hours in the air, 24 hours on cardboard, and 72 hours on hard surfaces like plastic and stainless steel.

We still have to eat and get essentials, after all, so how do we get those groceries, and ensure we do it safely? Home Base’s Registered Dietitian Emilie Burgess shares some helpful tips on how to proceed.

Step #1: Grocery Shop Safely

When you go, practice social distancing, don’t touch your face, come home, and immediately wash your hands. Consider wearing a mask. Although it might be tempting to get the kids out of the house, grocery shopping is not the time. Get in, and get out. 

Step #1: Wash Your Hands

One way to protect yourself is to wash your hands before and after handling food. Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Try singing through “Happy Birthday” twice, or the ABC song one time through!

Step #2: Rinse Off Produce

Using bleach, isopropyl alcohol, soap, or other cleaning chemicals can be harmful.  Veggie washes and vinegar solutions will not kill coronavirus, so it is ok to just use running water. For loose produce like lettuce, apples, and broccoli, run them all under running water.

What else do you need to know?

If possible, leave your groceries outside or in the garage for three days. This allows them to meet the 72-hour viability time frame determined by the NIH. If you use a shopping service, have the delivery person leave the groceries outside.

If you must bring the groceries inside immediately, designate an area to wipe down bags and food packages. Wear gloves to protect your skin when using sanitizing wipes, or bleach. Wipe down bags and food packaging with a cleaning wipe (remember to wash your hands after) and always wipe down the area you used to unpack your groceries after putting them away.

Whether you’re in a high-risk category or not, however, you should take precautions while in the grocery store — and when you get home.