8 Steps to Safer Grocery Shopping During COVID-19 Pandemic
I think almost everyone is a little paranoid these days when it comes time to purchasing groceries for your home, and rightfully so. But there is also a fair amount of alarmist misinformation creating unnecessary anxiety. In this article, I’m going to review just what we know about SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID-19 disease) relating to food, and share with you 8steps to reducing risk of virus exposure or transmission while grocery shopping.
First of all, the Canada Food Inspection Agency reports “there is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of COVID-19”, and food safety authorities worldwide are closely monitoring this.
You may have heard about a recent study that analyzed how long the COVID virus remains viable on 4 surfaces - cardboard, plastic, stainless steel, and copper. It was found that at room temperature viruses were detectable for only 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and 72 hours on stainless steel and plastic. While this is interesting information, we still have no evidence of virus transmission through food.
We know that the virus is transmitted primarily through droplets from human to human while talking, sneezing, or coughing. A person becomes infected when the virus lands on their respiratory mucosa (mouth or nose) or conjunctiva (eyes). When it comes to protecting yourself and others, routine use of medical masks among healthy individuals is not mandatory at this time. However, wearing a mask in combination with other measures (ie. social distancing and handwishing) might help to protect those around you from possible presymptomatic transmission.
Based on best practice and what we know about our food supply, here are my 8 steps to support safer grocery shopping during the COVID-19 Pandemic:
1) Wash and wipe down before entering the store.
When you arrive at the store, wash or sanitize your hands (yes, even if you're wearning gloves!) and if possible find a store that is santizing carts regularly, or use a disinfectant wipe to clean the handle.
2) Maintain your distance from others or wear a mask.
The virus is primarily transmitted through droplets within a distance of ~1.8 meters (6 feet). Keep your distance from others while walking around the store, standing in line for the pharmacy, and waiting at the check-out. If you need to cough or sneeze, do so into your shoulder. Your best defence is to wear a mask.
3) Practice the one-touch rule.
If you touch it, it’s yours! No squeezing your fruit or veggies to assess for bruising, optimal ripeness, or ideal texture. Just eyeball it and make your best guess. And in case you forget about the one touch rule, refrain from touching your face (eyes, nose, mouth) while shopping.
4) Bag it yourself.
If it's possible, bag your own groceries and you might go to the extent of using the self check-out. During payment, use a card rather than exchanging cash.
5) Wash or sanitize again before leaving the store.
Before leaving the store, wash or sanitize your hands and try to refrain from touching your face between the store and home.
6) Unpack and wash your produce.
Wash your hands as soon as you enter the home, and unpack your groceries. Before putting your food away, wash all of your produce under running water and scrub those with tougher skins (e.g. melon or avocado). Do not use soap or bleach and do not soak your produce in a sink of water.
Health Canada does not currently recommend routine sanitation of your packaged foods. However, if you’re concerned, it certainly doesn’t hurt to wipe down products in cans, glass jars, cardboard, or plastic packaging using an approved disinfectant wipe.
7) Wipe down all your surfaces.
Once your food has been washed, wiped and put away, disinfect your countertops, cupboard handles, refrigerator handles, kitchen tap and handle, door knobs, and light switches, warm water and soap, or a bleach solution.
8) Wash your hands one last time with soap and warm water.
We are learning something new every day about how COVID-19 is affecting our communities and it is an uncertain and scary time. Continue to make careful and strategic efforts while grocery shopping to reduce risk of becoming infected and/or spreading the virus. Feel good knowing there is good evidence and ongoing research behind these best practices.