Coronavirus: Should I disinfect or clean groceries?

Should I sanitize my mail? And other questions about keeping your home safe during COVID-19


Before my mom puts the groceries away, all the dry goods go into “quarantine” – aka the seldom-used enclosed living room – for three days. Refrigerated food or anything that needs to be used right away gets a thorough wipe down with a homemade diluted bleach spray, using a Health Canada-recommended formula. 

My mom’s new rigorous precautionary measures were spurred by a recent study from The New England Journal Of Medicine that researched how long COVID-19 survives on different kinds of surfaces. The study found that the virus was still detectable on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours and plastic and steel for up to 72 hours. 

When it comes to cleaning, there’s a fine line between being diligent and paranoid. Is it really necessary to quarantine food packages? Do you need to disinfect mail? Is it safe to order takeout food? We consulted with experts and pored over the available research to find out.   

Should you “quarantine” groceries or disinfect food packaging?

Gerald Audette, a chemistry professor at York University, says you can quarantine your non-refrigerated groceries, but it’s more important to take normal precautions, like washing your hands for 20 seconds after handling the packages.

If you’re concerned about the outer packaging spreading the virus, Audette recommends discarding the extra packaging.

“Take a box of cereal: it’s has been in the supply chain for months. If it’s going to have COVID or viral contagion on it, it would be fairly recent,” says Audette. “If you want to be really cautious, your box of Cheerios has a waxed bag on the inside that hasn’t seen the outside world, so throw the cardboard box away.” 

You could also transfer other foods into new containers, like bags of rice and dried beans into mason jars or plastic clamshells of cherry tomatoes into a bowl.

Do you need to wash produce with soap and water?

You may have seen videos on social media of people washing their fruits and vegetables in soapy water, but that is not recommended. It could actually make you more sick, since ingesting dish soap can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. Instead, continue to wash your fruits and vegetables only with water. And according to Health Canada, there’s no evidence to suggest that food is a likely source of the virus. 

Can the virus be transferred through takeout food? 

“I’ve been getting questions about pizza delivery,” says Audette. “The pizza itself is safe. But the box? Possibly not.” Again, Audette says your best line of defence is to wash your hands after handling the box and to regularly clean high-traffic surfaces, like kitchen tables and counters. Health Canada’s website lists common household cleaners that can kill the virus. 

To maintain physical distance, pay remotely or through an app if possible, and ask the delivery person to leave the order outside your door.

Could mail or other packages spread the virus? 

According to Health Canada, although parcels from within or outside Canada could be contaminated, packages generally take days or weeks to be delivered, so the risk is low. “There is no known risk of coronavirus entering Canada on parcels or packages,” Health Canada states. Canada Post has also introduced new safety measures like no longer requesting signatures for deliveries at the door. 

Should I keep my outdoor clothes separated?

For the most part, Audette says you don’t need to worry about your jackets or shoes picking up the virus and bringing it into your home. Instead, he stresses again that it’s more important for people to wash their hands when returning home. If you are concerned, throw the clothing in your washer and dryer. Regular detergent will do the trick. 

@SamEdwardsTO

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