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Shoppers should wipe down grocery packaging, Maine expert says

Maine food safety expert changes tone, says new information indicates shoppers should wipe down food packaging and wash produce.

MAINE, USA — You probably should disinfect your grocery bags and grocery packaging. That’s the message from Celeste Poulin, the Director of the Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry. 

This is a change in tone for Poulin who initially said “it’s not necessary to disinfect” groceries or shopping bags as per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has not found evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

In an email statement on Friday, March 24, 2020, Poulin, whose role is to ensure a safe and high-quality food supply in Maine, wrote, “Some new information indicates shoppers perhaps should wipe down packaging. They should always wash produce. I have not yet seen anything from the FDA, but if they revise their guidance, it will be posted on their web site.”

A published report by WebMD also stresses it’s a good idea to wash fruits and vegetables with water before eating them. It also recommends that people with a weak immune system buy frozen or canned produce to be on the safe side. To keep your family safe click here for a list of the FDA’s best practices for safely handling food

Credit: NCN
Washing fruits and vegetables with water before eating them to prevent COVID-19.

During these uncertain times when the entire globe is on high alert due to the fast spread of coronavirus, the FDA states COVID-19 is a respiratory illness spread from person to person through tiny droplets from coughs or sneezes by infected people. That is unlike viruses such as norovirus and hepatitis A that make people sick through food contamination. 

Unfortunately, the FDA also said it may be possible for a person to contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes. Studies show COVID-19 can live on surfaces anywhere from several hours to days. For example, some studies have found that COVID-19 can survive up to 72 hours on hard surfaces and up to 24 hours on cardboard. While this is not the primary way this highly contagious virus is transmitted, it’s critical to take safety precautions when handling food, like washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. Click here for the EPA’s guidance on disinfectants in general. 

According to Poulin, there still so much to learn about this virus including how long it is viable on different surfaces. She said the best source of information on food safety and COVID-19 is the FDA’s website. Click here for a link to the article by FDA Deputy Commissioner Frank Yianni