Can you get COVID-19 by handling cardboard or plastic items from the grocery store? What about from the bag of fast food you picked up at the drive-thru window?
The Canadian Press asked a variety of experts to weigh in on these and other questions. Their answers have been condensed and edited for clarity.
CP: Do shoppers need to wipe or clean plastic containers or boxes they have purchased from the grocery store?
A: Jeff Kwong, associate director of the Centre for Vaccine Preventable Diseases at the University of Toronto: “Wiping things down I think will reduce the risk. But what the risk actually is at the baseline is not defined at this moment. We just don’t know.’’
Lawrence Goodridge, food safety professor at the University of Guelph: “While the virus may survive for some time on those surfaces, if one practises good hand hygiene, washing the hands and so forth and tries not to touch their face, all of those things that the public health officials have told us to do, any chance or risk of getting the disease from touching food containers or any such thing are greatly minimized.’’
CP: I’m trusting that people who handle food and beverage orders are practising good hygiene and hand-washing techniques, but who knows for sure? Should I be at all concerned when buying a coffee at a drive-thru window?
A: Jennifer Ronholm, assistant professor in faculty of agricultural and environmental sciences at McGill University: “I would say if you’re going to categorize risk, making your coffee at home is the safest way to get coffee. Going to the drive-thru is like one step a little more risky than that. But it’s still in that low, low-risk category. Going into the restaurant and having coffee with your friends is obviously a much more high-risk activity than ordering (in a drive-thru). You can do that spectrum of risk. Yes, a drive-thru is more risky than making it at home, but it’s still a low-risk category.’’
Keith Warriner, food science professor at the University of Guelph: “I will say it’s low risk. Unless the person who’s making the coffee had a sip of it, I think you’re fairly safe.’’
CP: Is giving fruits and vegetables a rinse in the kitchen sink still sufficient?
A: Kwong: “It’s theoretically possible that someone sneezed on your food or coughed on your fruit. But what’s the likelihood of that? Some people say we should be washing our fruit anyway of dirt and pesticides, so doing it is probably not a bad idea. How critical it is is really not known.’’
Ronholm: “I would say that any time you’re going to eat a fruit or a vegetable that you bought from the store, it’s a good idea to give it a wash. This is true also when there’s not a COVID-19 outbreak. There’s all sorts of viruses and bacteria that can cause illness on fresh fruits and vegetables, so it’s never a bad idea to give them a wash before you eat them.’’
CP: Should I be wearing gloves when unpacking and handling grocery items?
A: Goodridge: “Gloves tend to give people a false sense of security. Because they think that [since] they’re wearing gloves, that the virus can’t get on to their hands. But gloves themselves can become dirty and spread things. And it still doesn’t stop the problem of touching one’s face and stuff. So wearing gloves is not recommended.’’
Kwong: “Whether you need to wear gloves or not is really debatable. I don’t think it’s really necessary to wear gloves.’’
CP: I don’t know how many people may have touched the bottle of wine I purchased. Do I need to clean it when I get home?
A: Kwong: “I guess, to be on the safe side, you could just wipe it down. That will get rid of the coronavirus. It’s easy to wipe down a bottle of wine and then you could wash your hands after. I think that would be my recommendation, just to be on the safe side.’’
Goodridge: “You can’t control a lot of that stuff, so who knows how long a bottle of wine was in the liquor store? Who knows when it was last touched? Who knows all that stuff? I would say it comes down to washing your hands. That’s glass and we have no data about [COVID-19] survival on glass. But sure, wash your hands and, if there is concern, there’s certainly no harm in wiping down the side with a disinfecting wipe.’’