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Should I wash my groceries to prevent catching the coronavirus?

Last Updated Jul 15, 2020 at 10:22 am PDT

A shopper leaves a grocery store carrying his groceries in plastic bags Tuesday, August 30, 2016 in Brossard, Que. In mid January the British Columbia government announced it was looking at a province-wide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags to put an end to a piece-meal, city-by-city approach to the problem of plastic pollution. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Summary

Surfaces play a smaller role in the spread of the novel coronavirus than person-to-person spread via droplets

Experts agree that you should rinse your produce but are split on whether it's worth cleaning packages

Study found coronavirus remained on plastic surface for three days

NEWS 1130 is working hard to get you the information you need about the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are responding to your questions in a segment we call NEWS 1130 Gets Answers.

Question:

Ray asked: “Do I need to disinfect products that I buy from groceries stores, such as cardboard and plastic boxed items?”

Answer:

NEWS 1130 put Ray’s question to three COVID-19 experts.

UBC medical geographer Ken Denike said the question is still up for debate among the experts.

He cited U.S. epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who recently told NPR that decades of data and research show “surfaces play a very, very little role” in the spread of respiratory illnesses such as the novel coronavirus.

But Denike also noted that other experts recommend rinsing packages and rinsing food.

He said he sides with the latter and wipes his own food down.

“A little extra effort and I feel safe,” he said.

He said some experts recommend wiping down foods with salt water, but notes “this kind of restricts what fruits you can eat.”

Dr. David White, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto, said “it’s possible that people could acquire the virus after touching contaminated objects.

He cited a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found the novel coronavirus could live on surfaces for as long as three days.

The study found SARS-CoV-2 remained on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard for 24 hours and as much as 72 hours on plastic.

But the researchers found only a fraction of the initial virus material remained after those stretches, posing a low threat of infecting someone.

“However, it appears that actual outbreaks associated with business have been related to those with close personal contact, such as nail salons, and not grocery stores,” he said.

White recommends washing your hands with soap and water after putting your groceries away, but says you don’t need to wash any item you don’t plan to use for a few days.

Dr. Anna Banerji, a professor of pediatrics and public health at the University of Toronto, agreed with White’s assessment and recommended washing produce but not other grocery items.

“The risk from transmission from boxes and cans etc. is minimal,” she said.

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