The novel coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread across the United States, and with it a new focus on food safety and hygiene. With many states ordering residents to “shelter in place” grocery stores are seeing a surge of “last minute” shoppers. As people crowd to get supplies, many consumers want to know how they can be sure that the food they purchase is not contaminated with the coronavirus.
Did someone cough on those tomatoes? What if someone who is sick handled that package of meat then put it back? Can coronavirus germs live on packages or food items? How can I protect my family?
These are all reasonable questions in light of what our country is experiencing. While experts say that the coronavirus cannot be spread through food, they do caution that germs can live on packaging like paperboard or cardboard. Also, if someone does cough or sneeze on produce, it could carry the germs home to your kitchen. So what do you do?
Food Safety and Hygiene Tips
We all have heard, seen and read about the importance of washing our hands regularly. We also know the importance of keeping our homes clean and sanitized. Good hygiene is one of the most effective ways to combat the coronavirus. But what about food safety? Can hygiene help keep our foods safe too? Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and various universities offer some advice for consumers.
According to food safety experts:
Practice Good Hygiene While Shopping
Your experience with store bought food begins at the grocery store. Experts recommend starting your food safety and hygiene practices while still at the store. Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen recommends consumers do the following:
- Wipe down your shopping basket or cart with hand sanitizer or an antiseptic wipe. Some retailers are doing this in between shoppers, but experts recommend each shopper do the same.
- Commit to what you are buying before you touch it. Do not remove any food item and then put it back – especially fresh produce.
- Make a list before you go to the store. We all need to limit our visits to the grocery store, so experts recommend making a list and shopping once every two weeks.
- If you have any respiratory symptoms, do not go to the store. Even if you think it is not coronavirus, you still should use caution and stay home.
Wash, Wash, Wash
Wash fresh produce thoroughly before preparing or eating it. Washing produce under running water removes around 90 percent of contamination. Experts recommend washing all fresh produce, including items like bananas. Even though you don’t eat the peel, you touch the peel and then the fruit or your face.
Of course, consumers should practice good food safety and hygiene all the time, even when there is not a pandemic. Properly washing food, in general, is one of the best ways to prevent food poisoning.
Resist the Temptation to Disinfect Food
Do not use dish soap or detergent to clean produce or food items. Soaps are designed for hands and surfaces, not food. Ingesting enough soap can make you sick. Consumers also should not attempt to clean produce with cleaners, bleach, disinfecting wipes or alcohol. These products are not safe for human consumption and should be kept away from your food.
With that said, if you have hard plastic or glass items, you can use a sanitizing wipe or hot rag and soap to wipe down the outside of the containers.
Let Your Nonperishable Items Air Out
Sunlight and fresh air are two of nature’s best disinfectants. If you purchase nonperishable items, such as bagged or boxed items, you can leave them outside for three days to air out. Leave them on a screened in porch or in the garage so that the air and/or sunlight kill the virus for you.
Repackage Dry Goods
When feasible, you can repackage dry goods in a plastic container or plastic bag. Discarding the external packaging before you bring the items into your home is another way of avoiding possible germs. Bread, rice, cereal, sugar and other dry goods can be stored in storage bags or freezer bags, or in plastic containers with lids.
According to researchers from the University of California – Los Angeles, coronavirus can live on cardboard surfaces for up to 24 hours. They believe that it can live on plastic surfaces for two to three days. The best way to prevent bringing the germs into your home is to remove exterior packaging outside and discarding it.
Sharing is Not Caring
Do not share food or drinks with someone else. If someone ate off of a fork or used a straw, there is ample saliva left behind to spread germs. Eating after someone who is infected is almost as bad as having them cough or sneeze directly on you. Experts warn that even sharing items with your immediate family can expose you to germs and possibly spread them.
What about Takeout and Food Safety?
Most restaurants have switched to strictly drive-thru or takeout options. Is this food safe to eat? What about storing leftovers? The good news is that the coronavirus is not spread through the food itself. However, it can be spread through packaging or wrappers. That includes sauce packets, wrappers, Styrofoam containers, etc. If you absolutely have to have that takeout burger, take it out of the wrapper or container and put it on a plate. Empty sauce packets onto a plate or container and throw away the package. Wash your hands before you eat!
As for leftovers, microwaving leftovers can destabilize the coronavirus. There is not a lot of information available just yet on the benefits of heating up food to a certain temperature in order to kill the virus. As for freezing, coronaviruses – not just COVID-19 – can survive freezing temperatures for up to two years.
General Food Safety and Hygiene Recommendations
Right now, almost everyone is concerned about food safety and availability. Communities across the U.S. are feeling the impact of restrictions on shopping, shelter in place orders and a serious lack of available products. Because of this, many retailers are changing their policies and are restricting the number of people allowed in at a time. Some retailers are also limiting purchase amounts.
One of the best pieces of advice that Bad Food Recall can give you is to make sure you follow these guidelines. If there are restrictions, dedicated hours for senior citizens, barriers telling you where to stand so you are six feet apart – follow these guidelines. It is all of our responsibility to obey the law and changing policies and keep ourselves and others as safe as possible.