Are Reusable Containers Safe During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Many restrictions are loosening, and grocers are starting to allow reusable bags and containers again, but is it safe?

full reusable bag
Photo: Getty Images/Paul Taylor

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many activities of daily life have changed quite a bit. From spending time with others to a trip to the grocery store, many things are less simple than they once were. As grocery stores begin allowing reusable bags again and quarantining restrictions loosen, many people are wondering whether the virus poses a threat on surfaces. So, are reusable containers and bags safe right now? We looked into the science and the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for more.

Are Reusable Containers Safe During COVID?

Many people are eager to connect with people outside of their household again in a way that is safe and socially distanced. Particularly if you know someone who has fallen ill or is experiencing hardship, it can feel supportive to bring them a meal. But is it safe to use reusable containers when doing so? The answer is likely yes, if you are following safe food handling practices, wearing a mask and frequently washing your hands.

The CDC states that "the risk of infection by the virus from food products, food packaging and bags is thought to be very low." It is unclear for how long the virus can live on surfaces, and it is not thought to be a main method of disease transmission. It's true that research found the new coronavirus can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours and for up to three days on plastic or stainless steel. But the Food and Drug Administration still isn't recommending wiping down food packages, just washing your hands after unpacking your groceries and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in your kitchen often. The CDC also reiterates that the coronavirus cannot grow on food (while bacteria can grow on food, viruses require a living host). For this reason, if you are washing your hands and your containers after each use, and regularly sanitizing your kitchen countertops, the chance of contracting the coronavirus from a reusable container seems quite low.

What About Reusable Grocery Bags?

The same goes for reusable grocery bags. Prior to the pandemic, we'd gotten used to bringing reusable bags to the grocery store to avoid single-use plastic or paper bags, and then they were widely banned as restrictions went into place. Now that many stores are allowing customers to bring their own bags again, people are understandably hesitant about their safety. The CDC reassures that, so long as bags are being cleaned properly after each use, there is very little risk from using reusable bags.

The CDC is very clear that there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of the coronavirus. For those who want to bring your own bags to the store or food to your neighbors, this is reassuring. However, it is still highly important to wash your hands regularly and wear a mask when out in public.

The Bottom Line

As long as you're using safe food handling practices, and washing your hands and kitchen counters regularly, you don't need to worry about contracting COVID-19 from reusable containers or bags. It doesn't hurt to regularly wash them both to ease your worries and ensure they're definitely clean. Remember to continue social distancing and wearing a mask in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. For more, check out these tips for grocery shopping during the coronavirus pandemic.

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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