How safe is grocery store food or takeout amid pandemic?

There are some precautions you can take

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Casandra Arroyo isn't taking any chances. With a baby on the way and another child already tucked in the car seat, she's just finished grocery shopping.

“I have my alcohol. I sprayed everything down, including the cart. I don’t touch much either, besides what I need.” That’s good advice for anyone making a grocery run these days.

Dr. Aileen Marty is an infectious disease professor at Florida International University.

While there is a risk from bringing in packages from the grocery store, Marty said the reality is that most of the goods and sundries are not going to be contaminated. “And most people are not infected,” she said.

“The real thing you’re worried about is touching something that’s contaminated and then immediately touching one of your mucus membranes — your mouth, your nose, your eyes,” advises Marty.

The doctor says the best thing to do is wash your hands as soon as you can after you've touched so many items at the grocery store.

Avoid contact with other shoppers and people at the store – practice social distancing.

Publix just announced plexiglass barriers are headed to its check-out lines — to shield cashiers and customers.

If you can, bag your own groceries and use reusable bags, but if you’re going to use your own totes, take precautions.

There is a growing argument about single-use plastic bags. In the age of COVID-19, plastic bags from the store may not be good for the environment, but may be better for our health.

A study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health found that the novel coronavirus can remain on plastics and stainless steel surfaces for up to three days, and on cardboard for up to one day.

Veronica Owen washes the bags she takes to the store in her washing machine as soon as she unpacks them from the grocery store. She had just removed her bags from the dryer that she had used in the morning.

The University of Arizona conducted a story on cross-contamination of food products from reusable bags as opposed to the plastic bags from the grocery store. A study of supermarkets in Arizona and California found large numbers of bacteria in almost all the reusable bags—and no contamination in any of the new single-use plastic bags.

Owen’s habit of washing the bags every time is something that needs to be done, otherwise the store’s bags are a better bet. Viruses and bacteria can survive in the tote bags up to nine days, according to one study of coronaviruses.

Also, as soon as she’s home, she uses disinfectant spray that she keeps at the entrance to her door.

Dr. Marty keeps disinfectant wipes by the front door of her house.

"I have wipes that I use to wipe down the items that I bring in," said Marty.

Another shopper, Jennifer Thompson, said she washes everything that she brings into the house. "I wash my fruit," Thompson said.

Marty advises to not "go crazy" and to remember: "You can wash this virus off very easy — a little soap and water will take it off of almost anything."

Still the best remedy is to remember to wash your hands as soon as you get home and after touching anything you’ve brought into the house; 20 seconds is the minimum.

If you want to err on the side of caution, here are some additional tips:

  • When you are in the store, decide before you buy. Only touch the items you are going to buy to help keep others safe. Hopefully, they will do the same.
  • Remove any exterior cardboard or boxes that may have been touched by someone else in the store. Remove the exterior cereal box, for instance, and just keep the interior bag. Same thing with a box of cookies. Use your own plastic bags at home to dump out chips and pretzels. Or, to save the environment, put them in a reusable container. Get rid of the exterior bags that have been in the store.
  • Split two sides of your counter or table. One side is for the items that you’ve just brought in and the others are for those you’ve wiped off and disinfected. Use a spray bottle with antibacterial disinfectant or a disinfectant wipe to disinfect jars, soda bottles, milk cartons. After they are cleaned and dried, put them on the side of the counter you are using for your “cleaned” items. Don’t forget to disinfect the side that had the just-brought-home items.
  • If delivering food to an elderly family member or friend, take the same precautions with their food, too.
  • Fast food is another story. The best defense is to immediately take any of the food out of the wrappers and put it on a plate, then throw away the wrappers. Those are what may contain the virus. Take any bags or wrappers immediately out of the kitchen and throw them away, preferably in garbage outside of the home.
  • Avoid cold foods from take out and bring home hot foods. That way you can microwave them. Heat can help to inactivate the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or Food and Drug Administration has not posted any guidelines on shopping during the pandemic, at least not yet.

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