“Wash your hands” is perhaps the motto of 2020 and it will certainly be remembered for some time to come. The importance of maintaining hygiene has possibly never been more important in our lives as it is now during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, as we are cooped up at home, adjusting to this new way of life, one important part still needs to be addressed. How do we bring essential items like food and other grocery products into our homes from outside safely? Moreover, supermarkets have become a risky place to be in right now because the biggest risk at present is not the food items themselves, but coming into close contact with another person who is sick.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is "likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that is shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated or frozen temperatures" because coronaviruses have poor survivability on surfaces.
Right now, it is not clear how significantly produce and food packaging transmits the virus that causes COVID-19. That being said, the World Health Organization observed that, apart from close person-to-person contact, people can also pick up the virus by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.
It is also being found that some surfaces may pose a higher risk. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine has revealed that the novel coronavirus was detectable on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, and on cardboard for up to 24 hours.
Thus, if you have to visit the supermarket, then you must assume that all the items on all the shelves have been touched by someone who is sick. If you cannot avoid going to the supermarket, you should also keep it in mind not to pick up items from shelves to look at them.
"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," says Charlotte Baker, DrPH, MPH, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Also, make sure that you stay at least 6 feet (about 2 meters) away from other shoppers and store employees. Grocery stores are also marking distance placement inside and outside the shop and they must be followed for your own safety.
We can avoid going out to the supermarket, but we can’t avoid getting groceries. That presents a fresh set of challenges. We will have to get our food delivered to us and will have to eat that food. So how do we ensure that the groceries being delivered to us at present are safe from any virus?
When you get your groceries inside your home, you need to handle them carefully to reduce the chance of spreading the virus to other surfaces. The first step, according to experts, is to wash your hands after unpacking your groceries.
You must also take some additional steps whilst unloading groceries. Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, a doctor at Family Medicine Specialists in Grand Rapids, Michigan, recently made a video where he demonstrated a "sterile technique" to unpack food and other groceries. He urges people to leave the packets outside for three days before using them or to thoroughly disinfect each item.
Watch the complete video below:
VanWingen further recommends designating a portion of your kitchen, like one half of a table or countertop, as the "clean side." That particular area should be sanitized with a standard disinfectant. The other can be classified as the "dirty" section where you can put all the grocery items that have been brought from outside.
Now, saturate a cloth with disinfectant and start wiping each product thoroughly. Keep in mind here that you should only disinfect the outside packaging. Many items will be in hard plastic and will be easy to clean. However, there will be products in wrappings or containers - a cereal box, for instance. You should make sure that the box is discarded and the cereal packet is kept in the clean section. For bread packets, you can throw away the plastic wrapper and keep the food safe in a container.
As for the fruits and vegetables, it is imperative to wash them with water properly before consumption. Perishable foods like meat should be brought in the home and refrigerated.
Also, if you are ordering meals from takeout counters or restaurants, you have to make sure that deliveries are left on your doorstep. Restaurants may well be taking all the precautions for sterilizing their surroundings, but the delivery person may not be so cautious. Once the meal packet is inside your house, it is vital to discard the container or wrapper immediately. Remember, the food itself is not the issue with coronavirus, but the packaging is.
Following all these instructions will be time-consuming, as we aren’t used to it and you may feel overwhelmed thinking about doing them regularly. But we shouldn’t feel discouraged or start fearing food itself. "This is not a food-borne illness," Dr. VanWingen says. "Knowledge is the best way to combat fear. If we do the best that we can, we're going to do our part, every person out there, to lower the curve."
Taking these precautions with your groceries can help you lower your chance of being exposed to the deadly virus. Thus, as irksome as they may feel right now, you have to follow them religiously and make it a habit. Hopefully, over time, we would have successfully managed to combat the virus and will claw our way back to our normal lives.