In our heaps of social distancing spare time, many of us have become amateur germ exterminators. Any and every surface in our homes that once played host to microbes has been wiped clean (and then some). Food, however, presents its own special challenge, because… we’re literally putting it in our mouths. So to clear up any lingering confusion, we asked the experts how to smite the ration-dwelling germs (er, how to clean your groceries) as we’re all taking extra precautions surrounding COVID-19.
Jason Tetro, a microbiologist and author of The Germ Files, says that the first thing to remember is that—as of this week—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found no evidence of COVID-19 transmission via packaged or fresh foods. “The risk of coronavirus infection from foods is very low,” says Tetro, “and so you should not be afraid of food.”
Specifically, the FDA notes that: “Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. This virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.”
“This virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.” —US Food and Drug Administration
TL;DR: You’re not likely to run to Trader Joe’s and come back with COVID-19 (from the food at least). But, of course, now is a time when taking extra precautions doesn’t hurt one bit. When you get home from the supermarket, here’s how the FDA, along with Tetro and Max Teplitski, PhD, chief science officer with the Produce Marketing Association, want you to clean your healthy haul.
Experts offer how to clean your groceries right now (and always)
Tetro explains that everything you buy at the store nowadays falls into two general categories: Either it’s a piece of produce or it’s a packaged good (likely wrapped in plastic). Obviously, you wouldn’t clean a fresh carrot the same way you’d clean a contained bag of baby carrots, so first thing’s first: separate your haul into those two categories. Then get cleaning.
To clean your packaged goods, use a disinfectant wipe or soap and water
Because packaged foods come in plastic, tin cans, or cardboard, you don’t have to worry about your cashews being people-handled in the aisles the same way you would worry about, say, an apple. That said, you’ll still be touching the item’s shell every time you grab the bag or box, so take some time to clean it.
“As for packaged foods, as they have a barrier that protects the food from the environment, you can use a disinfectant wipe or if you are only concerned about the coronavirus, a cloth and soapy water. Just be sure to let it dry before you open it,” says Tetro. Done and done.
To clean your produce, warm running water will suffice
“The FDA and CDC continue to recommend cleaning fresh fruits and vegetables under running warm water immediately prior to consumption,” says Dr. Teplitski. “Produce with rinds should be scrubbed with a dedicated clean brush under running warm water. This cleaning routine applies even to the fruits and vegetables that will be peeled prior to consumption. After being washed, fruits and vegetables need to be dried with a clean paper towel. ”
One thing you really (really!) don’t want to use on fresh produce is bleach, handwashing soap, or dish detergent, says Teplitski. It may seem simple, but warm water goes a long way in your ongoing battle against germs.