- Senior citizens and people with pre-existing conditions should stay home and ask someone do shopping for them.
- The point is that there’s no way the coronavirus could penetrate into your body right through the skin.
- If you are concerned about the outside of food packages being contaminated, you should wash your hands and/or sanitize your hands before you sit down to eat any food that you might've taken out of those containers.
Respiratory droplets are the main way of transmission of the Covid-19 virus. For now, there is no scientifically confirmed and convincing evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted through food or other unanimated objects. However, the danger of getting infected while shopping still remains.
The highest risk of shopping relates to being among potentially infected people. However, the Internet is bursting with numerous tips on disinfecting all surfaces and purchases, avoiding cash and opting for online shopping. Which of these tips really work?
Online or offline?
Almost all health authorities recommend choosing online shopping. On the one hand, this is quite reasonable: staying home, you keep the necessary distance and avoid close contacts with potential carriers of infection. On the other hand, online shopping can be somehow inconvenient because of long delivery times, sold-out goods or Internet problems. For this reason, many people still have to go to the nearest store to provide themselves with the necessary supply of products and take a breath of fresh air along the way (remember to keep your distance!).
In fact, offline shopping is not so scary, says Dr. Jack Caravanos, a Certified Industrial Hygienist and a Clinical Professor of Environmental Public Health at NYU: “What we’re promoting is minimal contact of foreign objects between people”. He adds that senior citizens and people with pre-existing conditions should stay home and ask someone do shopping for them. At that, young and healthy people can visit nearest stores rather safely, provided that they follow “proper precautions”. Chances are you already know these rules: just keep the safe distance of 1 – 1.5 meters, avoid visiting stores during most popular hours, if possible, use your own car of taxis instead of public transport and, of course, wash your hands.
Cash or cashless?
The Internet offers various ways of disinfecting banknotes and coins, and others even suggest completely abandoning paper money. The main argument in this regard is the assumption that banknotes act as a vehicle for microbes and viruses, including the new coronavirus. There is a grain of truth in this: the virus can actually live on thick paper for up to a day. Does this mean that the banknotes you received in the store are a hazard? Actually not, if you treat them right. The point is that there’s no way the coronavirus could penetrate into your body right through the skin, says Michael Knight, assistant professor of medicine at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences: “Getting coronavirus, or other respiratory viruses like influenza, on your hands only leads to infection when it is transferred from your hand to places like your mouth, nose or eyes”.
Simply put, you just have to follow the basic rules, just like when using your credit card: do not touch your face and wash your hands as often as possible. The fact is that the virus lives much longer on the plastic, glass and metal from which bank cards, payment terminals and smartphones are made, and you can’t just hole up your card or your phone like you can do it with banknotes. Chances are, if you go out for a shopping, you will visit several stores or departments, which means you will have to take out your card of smartphone more than once. Even contactless payments as such cannot give you full protection: “It’s possible, theoretically, for this to live on a smartphone. If you had it out and someone sneezed or coughed on it and then you handled the phone, you could pick up infection that way,” says Daniel R. Kuritzkes, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
To wash or not to wash?
As mentioned above, we do not have confirmed scientific evidence that coronavirus is transmitted through food. Nevertheless, the Internet is full on tips on how to handle purchases – some even recommend washing vegetables and fruits with soap and wiping all packages with a disinfectant. The safety rules should not be neglected completely, but safe food handling should also be taken with a grain of salt (excuse the pun!).
Washing and scrubbing fruits and vegetables to get rid of dirt and bacteria was included in standard hygiene guidelines even before the coronavirus outbreak. Obviously, we should keep doing it now, but it is better not to use soap and strong disinfectants for this: “Consumers should not wash fruits and vegetables with detergent or soap,” warns the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “These products are not approved or labeled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on foods. You could ingest residues from soap or detergent absorbed on the produce.” And Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University adds that a thorough wash will be enough: “Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables with running cold water. That may remove 90 to 99% of what’s there.”
As for packages, it’s basically the same rules that apply to all unanimated objects: the virus cannot penetrate through your skin, and it can’t spring from a can right into your nose or mouth unless you first touch the contaminated surface and then – your face. “If you are concerned about the outside of food packages being contaminated, I suggest that you wash your hands and/or sanitize your hands before you sit down to eat any food that you might’ve taken out of those containers,” notes Dr. Donald W. Schaffner, Food Science Specialist and Professor at Rutgers University.
As we can see from the examples above, the whole essence of coronavirus prevention is to follow simple recommendations: avoid close contact with others and prevent the virus from entering the body through dirty hands. As for shopping, it remains one of the few entertainments that we still have now, so do not completely deny yourself this opportunity. All you have to do is to be careful enough not to abuse it and, of course, stay at home as long as you can.