Ought to You Sanitize Your Groceries?

With the coronavirus pandemic spreading around the world, many people are cooking from home more than ever. While you are probably doing your best to practice social distancing and stay indoors, you may be wondering if the groceries, packaging, and grocery bags you bring into your home need cleaning up. This is a legitimate concern considering all hands have touched the apples in your refrigerator or the tuna cans in your pantry.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus is far more likely to spread through an infected person’s breath droplets, and much less likely to spread through surfaces, materials, or food. So, you probably don’t need to do more than is normally recommended to safely disinfect surfaces and prepare food. However, we understand that you may have specific questions about the risks. Here are some things you need to know about handling grocery bags, packaged groceries, and products after you return from the store or when you have groceries delivered to your door:

Is it OK to Use Reusable Grocery Bags?

From what we now know, the risk of the virus being transmitted across surfaces is much lower than the risk of it being transmitted directly from person to person. “While it is theoretically possible for a reusable bag in the grocery store to pick up germs, including coronavirus, the greatest threat anyone faces is someone else in the store who has COVID-19,” said Donald W. Schaffner, PhD. Expansion specialist in food science and a distinguished professor at Rutgers University and co-host of the Food Safety Talk podcast.

However, if you are concerned about bringing reusable bags into your home from the grocery store, Schaffner notes that you can wash them anytime. According to the CDC, washing clothes and fabric bags with detergent according to the manufacturer’s instructions is sufficient. (Please see our COVID-19 blog post on Questions and Answers for more details.) If you’re particularly concerned, you can also leave the grocery bags outdoors, in a garage, or in an unused closet for a few days. that the virus is no longer detectable.

If you bring your own bags to the grocery store, be sure to pack them yourself. Do not ask the cashier to treat you for your and her safety.

Should you disinfect packaged foods and containers?

A preliminary study shows that the virus can survive for several hours or days on certain surfaces, depending on the material. According to a study by scientists from the National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the virus was “detectable for up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two hours up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. “(Although the number of living viruses decreased rapidly during this time.) As noted above, the more likely transmission of the coronavirus is due to contact with an infected person, not through surfaces.

Schaffner told us, “If you are concerned that the outside of food packaging is contaminated, I recommend that you wash your hands and / or disinfect your hands before sitting down to eat any food that you may find in these containers have taken. Washing your hands before you eat is a best practice even when we are not in a pandemic. “While frequent hand washing is likely to be enough, if you want to be extra careful throwing away cereal boxes and other unnecessary outer packaging, or wiping down cans and jars with an approved disinfectant, it won’t hurt. Alternatively, you can leave non-perishable foods for a few days Set aside before using them, as information now available suggests that the virus cannot be detected on plastic or stainless steel surfaces for more than three days.

How to wash fruits and vegetables

There is currently no evidence of food-related transmission of COVID-19, according to the CDC. That said, you should still wash all of your products before consuming them as you normally would, and remove bruises where bacteria can thrive. The FDA, USDA (PDF), and NSF (a public health and safety organization) each recommend washing fresh fruits and vegetables under cold running water and drying them with a clean towel or paper towel to remove dirt and bacteria reduce can be present. You can lightly scrub solid fruits and vegetables like apples, citrus fruits, carrots, and potatoes with a vegetable brush. Clean and dry the brush between uses. Discard the outermost leaves of lettuce or cabbage and pull the heads apart so you can thoroughly rinse each leaf. According to the FDA, packaged products labeled “pre-washed” such as carrots or spinach do not need to be washed again.

The USDA recommends that products should not be washed with detergents or soap because such detergents are “not approved or labeled by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on food.” There is also a risk that the dish soap or detergent could be absorbed into your food and then be absorbed, which is potentially harmful.

You also don’t need to wash your products in a dilute vinegar solution. Vinegar is not registered as a disinfectant with the EPA and is not on the approved list of hard surface cleaning products that meet the agency’s criteria for use against the coronavirus. Schaffner told us, “If you feel better with vinegar, just do it … But you should also know that, according to food safety experts, what you’re doing is no different than plain water.” As mentioned above, the best way to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 is to wash your hands before handling any food. Don’t forget to wash them throughout the cooking process or whenever you touch potentially contaminated objects or surfaces.

Most experts agree that you don’t have to worry about eating properly washed raw fruits and vegetables. Schaffner reiterated: “The simple act of going to a grocery store and being with other people has a much greater chance of contracting COVID-19 [than] anything that could be on my salad. “But he added,” Of course it is important that we be open-minded. Should we find evidence that the disease is food-borne, we will change our recommendations. “

More tips on food safety

While reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19 is a priority for everyone involved, it is important to continue to adhere to basic food safety rules. The last thing needed right now is a trip to the hospital due to food poisoning.

Aside from washing your hands with soap and water, before you start preparing any food, be sure to disinfect sinks and counters with one of the approved disinfectants on the EPA list (or check out our guide to the best cleaning solutions for the coronavirus). Always keep your products refrigerated outside the “food hazard zone” (40 ° F to 140 ° F). If you’re not sure what temperature your refrigerator is, monitor it with a fridge and freezer thermometer.

We also recommend that you label and date your groceries and adopt the basic rule of a restaurant refrigerator: FIFO or first-in, first-out – that is, new groceries are placed on the back of the refrigerator and older groceries on the front. Wrap raw meat, poultry, and seafood tightly (or place in a sealed container) and store on a sheet pan at the bottom of your refrigerator to prevent raw juices from dripping and contaminating other foods. For more information on food safety, please visit the USDA website.


  1. Donald W. Schaffner, PhD, Food Science Expansion Specialist and Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University, email interview, March 26, 2020
  2. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 6, 2020
  3. Disinfection of Health Equipment, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 24, 2019
  4. New Coronavirus Stable on Surfaces for Hours, National Institutes of Health, March 17, 2020
  5. Brooke Cain, should you have groceries delivered? Wash them Tips for Grocery Shopping Safely Amid Fear, The News & Observer, March 17, 2020
  6. Selecting and Serving Products Safely (PDF), U.S. Food and Drug Administration, March 14, 2018
  7. Food Washing: Does It Promote Food Safety ?, Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Oct. 2011
  8. Safe Product Handling, NSF International, July 10, 2018
  9. Food Safety, Nutrition, and Wellness during COVID-19, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, March 26, 2020

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