Posted on: April 6, 2020 at 6:42 pm
Last updated: October 15, 2020 at 3:06 pm

The coronavirus pandemic is on the minds of billions of people every single day, and for good reason. There are now more than 1.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 72,638 fatalities around the world. [1] There’s a lot of great, accurate information about how the virus spreads and what we should do to stop it.

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COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a type of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. This coronavirus is able to spread in water droplets expelled through acts of respiration, like breathing, coughing, and sneezing. The virus enters our bodies when we breathe these droplets in through the nose or mouth. The virus can hitch a ride on dirty hands that have touched your mouth, nose, or eyes.

The best methods for stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2 are simply thoroughly washing your hands with soap and warm water, using hand sanitizer regularly when outside of the home, wearing a mask when in public, frequently disinfecting commonly-used surfaces in and around your home, staying at least six feet apart from others, and staying at home when you feel sick. But what about objects that we bring into our homes? Could the coronavirus survive on things like groceries?

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Writing for ScienceAlert, Donald Schaffner, a microbiologist, and expert on food safety from Rutgers University, broke down the facts and the fiction around some of the claims that we need to disinfect groceries. It turns out, the grocery store is likely a bigger threat than your groceries. [2]

Read: Cell Phone Data Shows Which U.S. States Are Social Distancing And Which Aren’t

“There is no evidence currently that COVID-19 is transmitted by food,” Schaffner writes. “The biggest risk when it comes to COVID-19 and groceries is being around other people in the grocery store while you are shopping.”

Next, he tackles the notion being spread by some that you must leave your groceries on the porch for three days before bringing them inside. He describes this tip as “patently ridiculous,” and potentially dangerous, as some foods being left outdoors can spoil your food, rendering it unsafe to eat.

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“There is a tiny nugget of truth in this advice,” Schaffner writes. “Because we know that the virus is slowly inactivated at room temperature, with a half-life of about eight hours.”

He added: “But this advice presumes that all groceries are contaminated, and that simply touching the groceries will make you sick, neither of which are true.”

The conclusion? There’s no need to leave your groceries outside for three days before bringing them in. But what about disinfecting all of the containers your food comes in?

Read: Coronavirus Could Travel 27 feet, Stay in Air for Hours: MIT Researcher

“I think that this is also advice that does not make scientific sense,” writes Schaffner. “If you are concerned about the outside of food packages being contaminated, I suggest that you wash your hands and/or sanitize your hands before you sit down to eat any food that you might’ve taken out of those containers.”

And that brings us back to a tip we’ve already listed: wash your hands! And really, you should be washing your hands before you eat anyway, pandemic or not. Schaffner also warns that washing your food, like fresh produce, with soap is not particularly safe. Soap is not designed to clean your food, and if ingest, soap can cause nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Schaffner says that it’s a better use of your time to protect yourself while in the grocery store as opposed to once you’ve left with your groceries.

Practice appropriate social distancing, trying your best to keep 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from other shoppers,” Schaffner writes. “If there is hand sanitizer available, I also use it when I’m exiting the store, and then I’ll use it again at home once I’ve finished putting all my groceries away and returning my reusable shopping bags to the car.”

If you would like to read all of the questions that Donald Schaffner answered, you may do so here. [3]

Keep Reading: How To Protect Yourself From COVID-19 According To A Lung Doctor

  1. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
  2. https://www.sciencealert.com/food-safety-expert-explains-how-to-safely-deal-with-groceries-during-the-pandemic
  3. https://metafact.io/factchecks/1517-is-the-risk-of-transmission-of-coronavirus-from-groceries-significant
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Thomas Nelson
Environmental Advocate
Thomas is an environmental advocate currently residing in the Pacific Northwest. In his spare time, he enjoys experiencing the outdoors, raising chickens and ducks, and reading about current environmental issues. Despite slight colorblindness, his favorite color is green.

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