Safely shop and store your groceries with these tips

Worried about how to safely shop and store your groceries? Follow these simple tips.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — A trip to the grocery store is still deemed an essential activity, but with fewer stores open and many people engaging in it at least every week or so, it is also fraught with a risk of contamination. 

Colleen Doak, an associate professor in the Masters in Public Health Program at St. Ambrose University, says there are things you can do before, during, and after your visit to keep the COVID-19 virus at bay, and your family safe. 

Doak has worked in nutritional epidemiology for 20 years. 

"A lot of nutrition-related chronic disease like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension are risk factors for COVID-10," she says.

Here are her tips:

- Wear a mask

You don’t know if you are infected, so if you always wear a mask, when you happen to cough or sneeze, you are not spreading the virus to other people. However, the fabric of non-medical grade masks will not entirely contain a virus, which is why health experts recommend everyone to keep a six-foot distance.

- Keep social distancing

The biggest risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus at the grocery store will be from interacting with other people, Doak says."When [people] get the virus at the grocery store it is from person to person contact, and touching something contaminated and then touching their eyes or nose or mucous membrane."

- Gloves don't always help

"If I’m going to wear them out of the store or if I touch my face with the gloves, that’s just as bad as touching my face with my hands," she says."Unless you can remove the gloves everytime you use them, which isn’t realistic." 

Another source of cross-contamination occurs when you use gloves to shop and then reach into your purse or use your phone.  

- Sanitize your shopping cart

Rather than wearing gloves and risking cross-contamination, "it’s better to go ahead, sanitize before you go in a store, sanitize everything you’re touching. and then afterwards do the same," Doak says.

- Don't touch your face

"Mainly you’re gonna get this virus by breathing it in. So you don’t want to touch your face, you don’t want to bring it close to your face, because if you breathe it in, it goes into the lungs. That’s where it really causes the damage."

- Don't worry about the products and produce so much

The virus receptors are specifically in the lungs, not in the digestive system. If you are going to cook your food, you will kill the virus. With fresh fruit and vegetables, wash them and cut them on a clean board, wash your hands before and after, and you'll be fine, Doak says. It is not recommended to wash fruits and vegetables in soap water, just water will do.

"Food is probably not going to be a source of this virus." Doak says.

- Be aware of contaminents on the product when you store them

The virus can survive on metal and hard plastic for 72 hours. For paper and cardboard it’s less than 24 hours.

If you are uncomfortable putting them directly into your cupboards because you might touch them later and then touch your face while the virus is still be on them, put them to the side or in a reserved corner of your house. Let the canned goods, products in hard plastic sit there for three days, and the ones in paper and cardboard for a day. There is no need to elaborately wipe every single item. 

"Take your fresh vegetables, put them in the refrigerator. Take your frozen vegetables, put them in the freezer. Set aside your canned food if you don’t need them right away and let them sit for three days. Set aside the plastic in and around the canned goods, let them sit for three days just to be sure," Doak says. 

"If you need to use them right away, and you are nervous about it, you can wash the cans with soap and water, rinse it off just like you're washing your hands." 

- Wash your hands before you cook or handle your food

"Or you can simply wash your hands every time you cook, before you handle your food and wash them thoroughly after you handle the food. So long as you practice normal handwashing behaviour around cooking, there’s no reason to expect that you’ll have contamination."

- Wash your hands before eat

Be sure to wash your hands, every time, before you eat, no matter what it is.

- Do eat fresh fruit and vegetables

Doak urges everyone to eat fresh fruits and vegetables to boost your immune system.

"Avoiding fresh fruits and vegetables, because you are afraid of the virus is really counterproductive to your immune system’s response."