(The Canadian Press)

Experts weigh in on best handling of groceries during COVID-19 pandemic

Study suggests the virus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic

A routine trip to the grocery store can be complicated by a boatload of questions in the age of COVID-19.

The pandemic has left many shoppers wondering whether they need to sanitize their cardboard cereal boxes or plastic yogurt containers before unloading their grocery bags.

But several experts say washing your hands is more important than wiping down every item you put in the fridge.

Research published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests the virus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic.

Experts say the risk of consumers catching the novel coronavirus from picking up items in the grocery aisle appears to be quite low, but it’s too early to draw definitive conclusions.

They said it’s possible that someone with COVID-19 could cough, sneeze or touch an item with contaminated hands before it’s brought home by another shopper. But the chances of that scenario are pretty slim.

“I think the risk of actually having the coronavirus on your stuff is actually pretty low,” said Jeff Kwong, the associate director of the Centre for Vaccine Preventable Diseases at the University of Toronto.

“I think wiping it all down is just an extra precaution and then just washing your hands afterwards is probably sufficient.”

University of Guelph food science professor Keith Warriner agreed that the risk of the novel coronavirus lingering on your packaged groceries is low.

Since research on the virus is still emerging, Warriner said it may be wise to take some simple precautions.

“Washing your hands before you touch anything,” he said. “Wash anything before you eat it.”

READ MORE: B.C. bans ‘shameful black market’ of food, medical supplies; limits buying quantities

But how far should one go in sanitizing their foodstuffs? Should granola bar boxes be given a quick wipe? What about that plastic container of parmesan cheese?

Jennifer Ronholm, an assistant professor in the faculty of agricultural and environmental sciences at McGill University, felt grocery worries were of “minimal concern” from a public health perspective.

But if extra cleaning or disinfecting helps provide peace of mind — then go for it, she said.

“If you were very worried about it, it’s not going to hurt you to wipe your food down when you get home,” said Ronholm.

“But again, the chances are very minimal.”

Lawrence Goodridge, a food safety professor at the University of Guelph, said he doesn’t think the cleaning of plastic or cardboard items from the grocery store is really necessary.

“Research studies tend not to mimic what happens in everyday life,” he said. “I think the consumers and the general public are worried because there’s this image out there that those cereal boxes are literally just covered all over the surface with the virus. Well that’s not the case.”

When bringing groceries inside, other suggested precautions include disinfecting the countertop before and after unloading. One no-no, Goodridge said, was wearing gloves during the process.

“Gloves tend to give people a false sense of security,” he said. “Because they think that they’re wearing gloves that anything the virus can’t get on to their hands. But gloves themselves can become dirty and spread things.”

Once a product is brought home, consumers have control from there, he said. And if ever in doubt, grab the soap and turn on the tap.

“You wash your hands when you come in, you wash your hands after you’ve handled it, you wash your hands before you eat, prepare food, or do anything to your face that you want to do and I think you should be safe then.”

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusGroceries

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

School District 8 trustees vote in favour of raises

Six of the nine trustees backed the increase in pay

Snow expected to hit West Kootenay passes overnight on Thursday

Up to 15 cm of snow could fall on Highway 3 between Paulson summit to Kootenay Pass by Friday morning

Creston flour mills overwhelmed by COVID-19 demand

Flour shortage highlights region’s grain insecurity

Museum manager living her dream

By Lorne Eckersley For 22 years, Tammy Bradford has been doing “the… Continue reading

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Commercial rent relief applications open as feds encourage landlords to apply

Program would see government cover 50 per cent of the rent

COVID-19: B.C. park reservations surge as campgrounds reopen

Keep trying, many sites not reservable, George Heyman says

B.C. residents can now reserve a provincial campsite for a stay starting June 1

Campsite reservations will only be available to British Columbians

Cullen commission into money laundering in British Columbia resumes today

Inquiry was called amid growing concern that illegal cash was helping fuel real estate, luxury car and gambling

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Bike shops busier than ever, but owners worry about stock supply issues

Uptick in cyclists brings new challenges for shops

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

Most Read