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How to Clean Your Food and Healthy Grocery Haul Properly

Kells McPhillips

Kells McPhillipsMarch 26, 2020

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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. It raises the question of whether you should be concerned about how to clean your food in order to stay safe.

So to clear up any lingering confusion, we asked the experts how to smite the ration-dwelling germs (er, how to clean your food) as we’re all taking extra precautions surrounding COVID-19.

Should you worry about getting COVID-19 from your groceries?

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 food right now (and always)

Regarding how to clean your food correctly, you can follow a general three-step guide:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Wash your groceries.
  3. Dry your groceries before handling items and eating.

But, depending on the item in question, step two might go a differently. 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 separate your haul into those two categories in order to clean your food best. Below, get directions for each type of food.

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.

Now that you have the 411, make sure to check out the canned goods a dietitian always keeps on hand. And if you’re out of dinner ideas, we’ve got you with this pantry puttanesca

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