COVID-19: How to handle packaging and produce when you are back from your grocery run

When does caution become paranoia? We ask experts what the right way to clean groceries was, whether bought or delivered

Updated - May 05, 2020 07:04 pm IST

Published - May 04, 2020 04:41 pm IST

Vegetables and fruits can be simply rinsed with water

Vegetables and fruits can be simply rinsed with water

Weekly grocery runs are now characterised by masks, alcohol-based sanitiser bottles, and a pair of gloves, as people around the globe try to adhere to the norms of physical distancing while shopping for essentials. What do you do with groceries thereafter? On social media, we have seen some put veggies in the dishwasher; some scrub them down with alcohol-based wipes; and some soak them in potassium permanganate.

But when does caution become paranoia? We asked experts what the right way to clean groceries was, whether we were bringing them in or a delivery was. First though, “Remember that it is a respiratory virus we are dealing with: that it has to be inhaled to cause infection; and not ingested. So, that is what we need to safeguard against,” says Dr Ravi Santosham, Chennai-based pulmonologist. However, maintaining this level of cleanliness and hygiene can reduce the possibility of contracting any aerosol or droplet-related infections, such as tuberculosis.

While on grocery runs

Keep at least a three to six-metre distance from people around. “Wearing masks is mandatory; there are a lot of asymptomatic carriers who will be active and out and about. If everybody wears a mask, the safety is two-fold,” continues Dr Santosham. While shopping for groceries, one inevitably ends up touching many surfaces. Does a pair of gloves help? “It’s not foolproof, though it has its advantages. When you have a pair of gloves (you can get them at a chemist) and a mask, the tendency to take your hand to your face reduces. You are instantly reminded that you should not be doing it,” continues Dr Santosham.

In the car, keep a hand sanitiser handy during grocery runs, so you sanitise as soon as you get back in, before you touch surfaces in the car. “Even if you use it to the point of being obsessive, there is no harm. Hand sanitisers are very important,” says Dr Vinay.

Processing it

Once you are back from your grocery run, head straight to the kitchen. Ideally, before leaving for the market, place all your cleaning implements near the sink. When you are back, dump your mask and gloves into the dustbin. Gloves should be removed in such a way that your bare fingers don’t touch them. Wash/sun all the produce and bottles. Clean down the kitchen sink and area surrounding it like you usually would, with the regular wash you would use for your utensils. Head to the bathroom and wash your clothes immediately with detergent. Have a bath using soap and shampoo.

How to clean each item

Vegetables and fruits: Rinsing them with soap is not a good idea, as there’s the danger of ingesting soap, which can cause gastrointestinal distress leading to vomiting and diarrhoea when consumed in large quantities. Alcohol-based wipes have lab-made chemicals that are unsafe to ingest, and could have unknown long-term effects if used too often. If you’ve used it a couple of times in the past it won’t have done much damage. Simply run tap water on vegetables and fruits for about 20 seconds (the same duration you would wash hands for). Dumping veggies in a dishwasher is inadvisable.

“If you want to be doubly sure, lay out the vegetables in the sun for an hour or two before taking them into the house,” adds Dr Santhosham. There is no scientific proof that turmeric, rock salt vinegar or baking soda added to the water gets rid of a virus, but there is no harm doing it, since these are food items, so safe to ingest. Follow up by washing your hands with soap. Creating ‘dunk tanks’ where all vegetables are washed together in large quantities is also enough. “Potassium permanganate is an antiseptic and can be used, but there is no scientific backing to this,” says Dr Santosham.

Eggs: The best way to clean eggs is to rinse them with water thoroughly.

Packets and cardboard boxes: These can be wiped down with alcohol-based wipes since you will not be ingesting it.

Tins and water cans: “Before you remove the seal, wash the can with running tap water and use hand wash to clean the nooks and crannies. Use after allowing it to dry,” adds Dr Vinay D, Consultant and Head, Department of Infectious Diseases, Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru.

How to handle food deliveries

Opting for contact-less deliveries (an option which is now enabled by both Swiggy and Zomato), helps a great deal, as the packet is left at one’s doorstep, minimising contact with the delivery executive. According to Dr Santosham, once the item is taken in, immediately dispose of the extra packaging, including covers, bowls, and cardboard boxes, in a bin with a garbage bag. This can be taken outside and thrown into the main dump if accessible or left outside for the collection to take place. So try and plan deliveries for a time just before garbage collection happens. Transfer the cooked food to a clean container and heat the food before consumption.

Vegetable washes

Vegetable washes that are now being pushed have sodium oleate (fat-solvent soaps), salts of carbonate, ethanol, citric acid and food grade perfumes. However, doctors feel that when there is an option to clean them using running water, it’s best not to use alternatives, the ingredients of which we are not sure of. “There is no need to use such things without any benefit when we can get the same result in a regular way,” says Dr Basant Mahadevappa, Consultant for Liver Transplant and Hepato Pancreo Biliary (HPB).

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