Do You Need to Sanitize Your Groceries During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

We reached out to an expert and looked at what the FDA and CDC had to say to learn more about best practices when bringing groceries into your home.

Whether you're practicing safe grocery shopping or shopping for groceries online, you may be wondering if your groceries are at risk for bringing the coronavirus into your home. New research shows the coronavirus can live on cardboard for 24 hours—and plastic for two to three days—so should we be washing or sanitizing our groceries?

You may have seen the viral video (21 million views and counting!) of Dr. Jeffery VanWingen's tips for safe grocery shopping by utilizing the "sterile technique" practiced by doctors before surgery. Some of his tips include leaving your groceries in your garage (or on your porch) for three days before bringing them inside—and washing certain items to remove possible coronavirus.

Woman unloading groceries from a paper bag
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VanWingen says in the video that while grocery stores are taking extra precautions to sanitize high touchpoint areas around the store, store employees can't sanitize every canned good. But do you really need to wash your groceries? We asked Tamika Sims, Ph.D., director of food technology communications for the International Food Information Council. She studied virology and immunology at Morehouse School of Medicine.

How Should We Handle Our Groceries at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Sims says you should only open food packages (from groceries or delivered items) once your hands are clean—and then wash them again before you eat.

"It's not advisable to try to clean and sanitize food packages before opening due to the risk of chemical contamination," Sims says. "You don't want to accidentally make yourself sick from ingesting cleaning chemicals or soap in an effort to avoid a virus that 'maybe is there.'"

Sims says it's important to remember that given the poor survivability of coronavirus on surfaces, there is likely a very low risk of spread from food or packaging that has been shipped over days or weeks at a time.

What If I'm Worried the Cashier or Delivery Person Who Handled My Groceries Could Be a Carrier of the Virus?

"If you're worried that a person who recently touched your packages is carrying the virus, you should still follow the above advice," Sims says. Handle the package as needed to access the food, then wash your hands before you eat. The CDC now recommends that people wear cloth masks when in public. They also include instructions on how to make your own homemade masks on their site.

She notes the FDA, CDC and WHO have stated that coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person contact—mainly through droplets expelled through coughing or sneezing. There is still no evidence to date that supports COVID-19 transmission from any foods or packaging.

The Bottom Line

While current research is pretty clear that we likely won't be getting the coronavirus from our groceries and takeout containers, we do know it's important to practice proper hygiene and regularly disinfect surfaces in our kitchen. Learn more about the dirtiest places in your kitchen you should be cleaning every day.

Remember to practice social distancing and avoid touching your face when you are at the grocery store. Please do not go grocery shopping if you feel sick, and be sure to wash your hands after your trip to the store.

The situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change quickly; it's possible that information or data has changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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