When Should I Worry About...

Coronavirus: Do I Need to Disinfect My Groceries?

April 21, 2020 - Katie McCallum

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the way we do a lot of things these days — including how we shop for our groceries. After just five minutes of being in the grocery store, if you're anything like me, you may already be planning on how to disinfect your groceries when you get home.

But, do you need to?

In reality, the most likely way to get COVID-19 is through close contact with sick individuals via infectious respiratory droplets. This means that you're more likely to get sick from the people in the grocery store than from your actual groceries.

But while the risk of getting sick from contaminated groceries is low, it never hurts to understand why.

How long can coronavirus survive on food packaging and produce?

Experts are still learning about the length of time the new coronavirus can survive on surfaces. Early evidence indicates that the virus can live on plastic surfaces for up to three days and on cardboard for about 24 hours.

But, the evidence also shows that the virus degrades rapidly during this time. For instance, the amount of virus detectable on plastic drops greatly after just 24 hours. And, in as little as four hours, only trace amounts of the virus could be identified on cardboard.

The study didn't examine how long coronavirus can survive on food, but keep the following in mind:


Overall, the risk of getting COVID-19 from food packaging is probably very low — especially if you're taking precautions while unpacking your groceries and washing your hands before preparing and eating your food. Plus, it's not your groceries that you should be most worried about.

Tips for staying safe while grocery shopping

Staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic is less about disinfecting your grocery items and more about making sure that you're grocery shopping safely.

Before you set up an elaborate grocery-disinfection protocol, first make sure your grocery-shopping protocol itself is as safe as possible by asking yourself these questions:

  • Are you planning ahead? Now is not the time to be making several trips to the store throughout the week. Thinking about what groceries you need and creating a grocery list can help limit how often you go to the grocery store — as well as how long you're there. For even speedier shopping, organize your list by aisle or section, if you know the layout of your store.

  • Are you making it a group activity? While it may be tempting to tackle the grocery shopping together, consider leaving your family members at home, if possible. Sending only one person per household to the store helps reduce crowds, as well as your whole family's risk of getting sick.

  • Are you keeping your distance? It's hard to maintain social distancing at the grocery store, but it's necessary. Give grocery staff and your fellow shoppers six feet of space as often as possible — even in crowded aisles and while checking out.

  • Are you wearing a cloth face mask? Not only can a cloth mask help keep you from getting sick, is also helps keep you from getting other people sick if you're presymptomatic or asymptomatic. Pro tip: Make sure you're wearing, washing and storing your mask correctly.

  • Are you planning to bring gloves? While wearing gloves to the store may make you feel safer, they could be doing more harm than good if you're not using and removing your gloves correctly.

  • Are you carrying hand sanitizer? Many stores are disinfecting carts and providing hand sanitizer, but you may want to bring your own alcohol-based hand sanitizer just in case. Don't touch your face unless you can first sanitize your hands, and consider also sanitizing your hands before touching personal items, like your purse or wallet.

  • Are you at high risk? If your age or chronic health conditions put you at higher risk for developing a serious case of COVID-19, you may want to take extra precautions. Some grocery chains are reserving shopping hours specifically for adults over the age of 60. If you want to avoid the store altogether, consider curbside pickup, having your groceries delivered to your doorstep or asking that good neighbor of yours to grab items for you when he or she visits the store.


How to safely unpack your groceries

Once you're home from the grocery store, take care while handling and unpacking your groceries.

After unpacking your groceries, be sure to:


If you're still concerned that your groceries may be contaminated, consider leaving non-perishable items out in an isolated space for 24 hours after you get home.


Concerned you may have COVID-19?

  • If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.


This article was updated on December 9, 2020 to reflect the current state of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.

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Categories: When Should I Worry About...