(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

Victoria fire crews quickly extinguished a multi-unit apartment building fire near Beacon Hill Park on Oct. 30. (Courtesy of Chief Paul Bruce)
Victoria fire crews extinguish multi-unit fire near Beacon Hill Park

Two people have suffered non-life-threatening injuries

Cat owners are being warned to keep their pets indoors after a threatening note was found posted in a North Saanich neighbourhood. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
ROAM warns Peninsula cat owners after threatening note posted in neighbourhood

Note writer doesn’t want cats pooping in their yard, threatens to trap them

Norm Scott, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch no. 91 in Lanford, pins the first poppy to launch the annual Poppy Campaign on George Baker, who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1953 to 1989. Baker said it was an honour to be chosen for something so significant for veterans everywhere. (Rick Stiebel/News Staff)
Poppy campaign launches in Langford with pinning ceremony

The poppy campaign is officially underway with the first of the pins… Continue reading

A sentencing hearing began for Joel Conway who was convicted of break and enter and sexual assault last year. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Sentencing begins for Saanich man convicted of sexual assault, break and enter

Crown is asking Joel Conway be sentenced to four years for both charges, to be served concurrent

A Sri Lankan cooking class from Ruwan Samarakoon-Amunugama, who authored the cookbook titled Milk, Spice and Curry Leaves: Hill Country, kicked off Food DIversity Week on Monday. (Photo by sailor first class Mike Goluboff)
CFB Esquimalt connecting workforce through diverse foods

Food Diversity Week runs until Friday

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa. on Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
POLL: How closely are you following the U.S. presidential election?

It may feel like it’s been going on forever but the U.S.… Continue reading

Victoria police are asking for help locating 14-year-old, high-risk missing youth, Anabella Lilly. (Victoria Police Department)
Victoria police seek help locating high-risk missing youth

Police say the circumstances under which 14-year-old Anabella Lilly went missing are “high-risk”

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Police service dog Herc helped RCMP locate and arrest suspects in the Ladysmith area on Oct. 23, 2020, related to a stolen vehicle. (Submitted)
RCMP nab prolific property offender in Ladysmith with assist from police dog Herc

Police attempted to stop the vehicle but it fled from the area towards Chemainus.

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

CBSA. (Black Press Media File)
4 sentenced in B.C. steroid smuggling, distribution ring that spilled into U.S.

Canadian Border Services Agency announced the results of a lengthy investigation it called ‘Project Trajectory’

Most Read