How to Safely Unpack and Clean your Groceries in the Age of Coronavirus

By Megan Halpin

There has been a plethora of questions and concerns recently about how to correctly unpack and

clean your produce and food items during the COVID-19 pandemic. With a flurry of suggestions

being spread during this pandemic that may or may not be accurate, I want to help you stay safe

and keep your food safe, too.

First of all, I want to preface this by saying that, according to the CDC, there is no evidence to

support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. In general, because of poor survivability

of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or

packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen

temperatures. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object

that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is

not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. However, even if the chance of contracting the

virus through your groceries is slim, we still want to err on the side of caution to ensure that your

groceries are germ-free. Below are tips I’ve compiled on how to safely and effectively unpack and

clean your food!

The most important thing to note when unpacking and cleaning your groceries is that the virus

breaks down relatively easy with warm water and soap. So, as a general rule, start by

thoroughly rinsing all produce in warm water. Canned goods or items in plastic or glass containers

can be rinsed with warm water as well, although it’s also effective to use disinfecting wipes or a simple bleach solution on these items. Make sure to avoid getting any chemical cleaning agent

or bleach solution in your food if you do decide to use wipes or cleaner on packaged food items.

TIP: You can easily prepare a bleach solution by mixing 5 tablespoons bleach per gallon of water

or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water.

You don’t want to use dish soap, chemical cleaner, or bleach on any produce. Even though

soap is effective at preventing the spread of the virus, it’s designed for cleaning surfaces and

hands, and isn’t made with human consumption in mind – meaning scrubbing your apples with

soap isn’t a good idea, even if you’re worried about reducing virus transmission.

Another rule of thumb when unpacking/cleaning food: wash your hands often. This may sound

repetitive, but it really is super important as it will prevent germs from one item from spreading

around your home while you touch things. Avoid touching your face while unpacking and cleaning

food and wash your hands again when you’re done! In addition, before preparing or eating food,

it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food


If you want more details on washing fruits and vegetables, see below.

Lettuces and other leafy greens: Fill a large bowl with water and immerse the greens in it. Swish the greens around to loosen any grit, let stand for a minute so the grit can drop to the bottom of the bowl, then lift the greens out into a colander. Run the greens in the colander under cold water very thoroughly, using a sprayer if you have one.

Root vegetables: Scrub them under running water with a vegetable brush. If you don’t have one, you can use your fingers to scrub off any caked-on dirt. Sturdy vegetables and fruits: For items such as green beans, asparagus, cucumbers, and grapes, rinse well under a high-pressure stream of water while rubbing with your hands. Let dry in a clean colander if needed.

Delicate vegetables and fruits: For soft stuff such as tomatoes, ripe stone fruit and berries,

rinse under a steady but low-pressure stream of water, turning the items gently with your hands

to ensure all sides are rinsed but not bruised. Spread on a clean kitchen towel or paper towels

to dry so they don’t get crushed. Cooking fruits and vegetables kills germs, so if you’re worried about eating raw produce, here are 10 yummy cooked vegetable dishes:




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