Keeping Safe While Grocery Shopping During The Pandemic : NPR

What’s the safest way to shop for food during this pandemic? And what should people do once they’ve brought their haul home? Here are tips on safe grocery shopping while social distancing.



MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The vast majority of the country is under lockdown right now. But those stay-at-home orders do come with a few caveats, like grocery shopping. People can venture out to stock up on food and toiletries, which prompts the questions – how do we shop safely during this pandemic, and what should people do to stay safe once we’ve brought our haul home? Well, here to help with those questions is NPR senior science editor Maria Godoy. Hey, Maria.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So we’ve gotten lots and lots of questions from listeners on this topic, so many that I think I’m basically going to turn this over to them and let our listeners ask you most of the questions.

GODOY: (Laughter).

KELLY: Let’s dive right in. The first one comes from Patty Milich of Davis, Calif. She called in with this question.

PATTY MILICH: My question is, what is the best way to stay safe while grocery shopping? I wonder about the question of contamination at the bottoms of carts and hand-carried baskets.

KELLY: Germy, gunky bottoms of baskets and carts. Maria, what should we do?

GODOY: Look – I have talked to a lot of experts about this, and they all agree that, actually, the biggest risk when it comes to grocery shopping is being in the store itself with other people because you don’t know if they’re infected or not, and they might not know, either. But given that many people do have to go to the grocery store right now, our expert Donald Schaffner of Rutgers University says don’t make this a hang-out trip. Think of it like a surgical strike.

DONALD SCHAFFNER: One very important thing to do is to, you know, be as efficient as possible in the store, right? Have a list. Move through the store, you know, quickly and efficiently. You know, keep moving. Get out of the way. Be respectful of other people. Maintain social distance while you’re in the store.

GODOY: So another tip is look for a store that limits the number of shoppers allowed in at once. And that’ll make it easier to practice safe social distancing so you can stay six feet away from people all the time. And, you know, go alone if you can because bringing the whole family shopping is just going to add to crowding in the aisles.

KELLY: That makes sense. OK. But once I am there, what is the advice? Do I get my Clorox wipes? Do I wipe down the whole shopping cart and everything?

GODOY: Oh, yeah. Absolutely, do that. Although a lot of stores now do this for you. But, you know, bring your own wipes or hand sanitizer just in case. Be sure not to touch your eyes, nose, your face while you’re in the store or until you can wash your hands again. And that might be easier to remember now that the CDC is advising people to wear cloth face coverings out in public, in the store. In fact, some stores require shoppers to wear them now. So remember – that’s actually to protect other shoppers from you in case you’re infected with the coronavirus and you don’t know it.

KELLY: All right. I have made it home from the grocery store, where I behave perfectly and did everything right…

GODOY: (Laughter).

KELLY: …And wiped everything down and socially distanced. My food is home. What do I do with it?

GODOY: OK. So I think a lot of us have seen a viral video out there that shows this elaborate disinfection process for your groceries. You wipe down everything, every last box of cereal or packaged fruit. But Rachel Graham of the University of North Carolina, she studies coronaviruses, and she says wiping all that packaging might not be a great idea.

RACHEL GRAHAM: I would not necessarily do a lot of disinfecting of the packaging itself, particularly with groceries, because a lot of the packaging that groceries come in is really not meant to be sprayed with disinfectant. You could actually end up contaminating your food.

GODOY: You know, she says if wiping down the packages brings you peace of mind, then maybe just use soap and water. But all the experts I spoke with emphasize that the risk of getting infected with any virus particles that might be on your packages is really, really small. We know that very little virus is detectable on most surfaces after 24 hours and, really, none at all after three days. So the most important advice is wash your hands after you unpack your groceries and just wipe down your countertops.

KELLY: Next question – this one comes from Karen Adell from Roscoe, Ill.

KAREN ADELL: My question for the experts is this – will refrigerating or freezing food kill the coronavirus?

GODOY: OK. So you are home with all of the stuff. You should just know that putting your food in the freezer or refrigerator could actually – well, it will help the virus survive longer, but the good news is…

KELLY: Longer. Wow. OK.

GODOY: Well, freezing preserves virus. That’s what they do in labs to preserve samples. But the good news is that heating the virus will inactivate it. So if you heat your food to a temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit, you – that will do the trick.

KELLY: Wow. OK. So what about fresh produce, Maria? Some people are wondering whether they should wash theirs with more than just water. Should we use soap and water? Is that a good idea?

GODOY: No, not according to Don Schaffner of Rutgers. He actually says that could be a bad idea because it’s possible if you ingest soap residue, it could lead to diarrhea or vomiting, which is no fun. He actually says the best thing to do now is the advice prepandemic, which is rinse your produce in plain water.

KELLY: All right. Last question comes from Martin Negron of Annapolis, Md. He’s wondering this – what about people who have skipped the grocery store altogether? They’re just ordering online.

MARTIN NEGRON: Since I buy all my groceries online, my question is how should I process the items in terms of cleaning, washing after being delivered?

GODOY: Well, if you’re doing online delivery, that’s great. You can do no-contact delivery. Just make sure to tip your driver really well. And once those packages are there, treat them the same as you would food you brought home herself.

KELLY: Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands (laughter) is…

GODOY: Absolutely.

KELLY: …Is the headline again. That’s NPR’s Maria Godoy. Thank you, Maria.

GODOY: Thank you.

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