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10 Untold Truths About Sanitizing Your Groceries

It’s not surprising that a global pandemic would majorly impact every aspect of daily life. One of the biggest changes is that we find ourselves over-thinking things that we once did automatically. For example, grocery shopping. A once mundane task, buying groceries has become stressful, confusing, and, for some, scary. There’s a lot of different information swirling around out there, so we’re here to help you figure out the deal about sanitizing your groceries.

10. Strategize

Pre-coronavirus, you might have done your groceries mindlessly. The extent of planning was putting together a list, if that. These days, there’s no such thing as spontaneity when it comes to running those essential errands. If your food supply is running low, it’s time to put together a game plan for your next grocery trip. Make a detailed list of everything you need and, if possible, try to organize it aisle-by-aisle. Many supermarkets are asking customers to follow arrows on the floor, meaning that if you forget to pick up something in the bread section, you’ll have to go through the entire store all over again in order to get it. If you know exactly what you need and where to find it, you’ll be in and out as quickly as possible, minimizing your risk of exposure. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure you give yourself plenty of time – because of social distancing rules, everything takes longer than usual. It’s important to make sure you have all the necessary accessories on hand. A mask, gloves, Lysol wipes, hand sanitizer, all the big players. This way, you can make sure you’re protecting yourself, as well as others. Finally, if you plan on sanitizing your groceries, have everything ready to do so as soon as you get home.

9. Is it Really Necessary?

The question everyone’s asking is “do we have to clean our groceries?” And the answers have been very mixed. Some people recommend it, others say that it’s being overly cautious. Although, it could be argued that, if there were ever a time to be overly cautious, it’s now. There’s evidence that the novel coronavirus can survive on surfaces made of cardboard, metal, and plastic for varying, but significant, lengths of time. This means that, while it’s still unlikely that you could contract Covid-19 from a box of Cheerios, it’s still a good idea to wash things like cans, cardboard boxes, and plastic containers. It’s less clear, however, whether or not it can survive on produce. This is all so new, and everyone is still learning, so there are a lot of unanswered questions right now. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so if you feel more comfortable having washed all the groceries that enter your home, then you should absolutely go for it.

8. What Will You Need?

If you’re going to be cleaning your groceries, you might be wondering what you need. Like we said, it’s important to plan ahead. It’s a great idea to wear a mask while you’re out at the supermarket, but it’s not necessary to wear while you’re sanitizing your groceries. You can choose whether or not you want to wear gloves; a lot of people like them because they serve as a reminder not to touch their face. You should always wash your hands or change your gloves in between cleaning groceries and touching items that have already been cleaned, so, if you plan on wearing gloves, you should have several extra pairs on hand. You’ll need your disinfectant of choice, whether that’s a package of Lysol wipes or warm, soapy water. If you choose the latter, grab some paper towel or old rags to use to wipe everything down. You may also want to consider lying newspaper or paper towel on the floor for you to place your groceries on before cleaning. Additionally, it’s a good idea to have a garbage nearby so that you can easily dispose of gloves, paper towels, and wipes. If you plan on washing your fresh produce as well, it’s recommended that you have a veggie brush on hand. For produce, you’ll need access to a sink, or a basin of warm water – no soap here!

7. Sanitation Station

There’s not really any point to washing your groceries if all the surfaces of your home end up contaminated in the process, so it’s recommended that you set up a space for sanitizing your groceries. In cutesy terms, this is known as the “Sanitation Station”. Where you choose to set up is going to depend on a few variables, including the layout of your home and the size of your grocery haul. Some people like to set up in their garage or entrance way, while others prefer to take it into the kitchen, especially if they want to use the sink. Before setting up, you should wipe everything down. This is particularly important for the area where you’ll be setting your freshly cleaned groceries. Make sure there’s a clear distinction between where you’ll be keeping to-be-cleaned and already-cleaned groceries. You really want to avoid mix-ups here! For example, un-cleaned products can be kept on the floor and cleaned products can be placed on the kitchen counter. Or, you can divide the sections with a piece of tape. It’s up to you, just make sure you know what goes where. Before you get started, make sure you’ve got everything you need. Ideally, you’ll clean everything in one shot, so that you’re not going back and forth from the sanitation station to other parts of your home. Keep in mind that the job’s not done when you’ve finished washing the groceries; it’s key that you wipe down every surface you or your un-sanitized groceries have touched!

6. Fresh Produce

As we mentioned before, fresh produce is a little different because we don’t actually know if the virus can survive on it. That being said, you should be washing your produce anyways, so why not be safe and do it right when you get home? The procedure is the same as usual: wash your fruits and veggies in cool water and dry them off with a paper towel or fresh cloth. Root vegetables, fruits with a rind, or particularly solid produce, such as apples, can be further scrubbed with a vegetable brush. Of course, make sure the brush is clean before using it. It kind of defeats the purpose if you don’t clean it between uses. If you purchased greens that are not pre-washed and packaged in plastic containers, like a head of lettuce or cabbage, pull off the outer layer of leaves and throw them out. Then, take the rest apart and carefully clean each leaf. It’s good to do this all the time, because there tends to be dirt stuck in the base of the head of lettuce. Before you start washing your fruits and veggies, wash your hands. It’s always recommended to wash your hands before handling food but, these days, it never hurts to put the reminder out there.

5. Scrub-A-Dub-Dub

You’ll notice that we said to clean your fresh produce with cold water and that’s all. It’s understandable that people want to be extra cautious, but it’s important to keep things within reason. Washing fruits and vegetables with water, as we always have, is the best way to clean them. You shouldn’t use soap and you definitely shouldn’t use harsher disinfectants, like bleach, while cleaning them. Ingesting these kinds of cleaners is dangerous, and the last thing you want is for your efforts to stay healthy to lead to a trip to the ER. That being said, soapy water is perfectly safe for cleaning the jars, cans, cardboard boxes, and plastic containers you bring home. It’s also perfectly safe to use other cleaning products or sanitizing wipes on them if you prefer. But you really don’t want to use those products directly on food. We recommend washing your fresh produce separately from your other groceries, just to keep things from getting too chaotic.

4. You’re in for a Surprise

With the exception of fruit and vegetables, washing our groceries is a new experience for most of us. If you haven’t sanitized your groceries yet, you might be in for a bit of a nasty surprise. If you’re already an old hand at the whole cleaning your groceries thing, well, you know the truth. Groceries are surprisingly, and uncomfortably, dirty. Now this may not be the case for every supermarket all the time, but many of you have probably noticed the water in your sink gradually turning brown as you wash your groceries. It’s just a little dust and nothing to really be concerned about, but it can be kind of alarming the first time you wipe down a box of granola bars and the rag comes away dirty. Grocery store employees do their best to dust the shelves, but it’s tough to get everything perfectly clean and, even then, dust accumulates throughout the day. It’s not a big deal, but it’s something you might not expect. It’s good to have a heads up before you embark on your first grocery washing adventure.

3. Outer Packaging

Cleaning groceries is a hassle, especially since most people are doing bigger hauls than usual, so as to limit the number of times they have to go out in public. A great way to cut back on the work is to simply throw away your groceries’ outer packaging whenever possible. Because the packages are sealed, you don’t have to worry about what’s inside being contaminated, so it doesn’t need sanitizing. For example, take the bag of cereal out of the box, throw away the box, and put the bag of cereal in your pantry. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even transfer it into a Tupperware for more effective storage. Things like granola bars, which come individually wrapped inside a box are even easier to store. Just dump them out, and you’re good to go. As always, be sure to wash your hands before touching the clean products, like the granola bars or bag of cereal. You also want to avoid touching the outer packaging and then touching what’s inside. This leads to cross-contamination, which means you’ll have to wash the clean products inside the box anyways.

2. What About Grocery Bags?

To bring reusable bags, or to not bring reusable bags, that is the question. We’ve learned to be environmentally conscious, so it feels wrong to switch back to plastic, or even paper, bags. However, a lot of people are worried about carrying the virus back into their home on their reusable bags. It’s way more likely to catch the virus through person-to-person contact than from the surface of an object, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no risk. Luckily, experts say that you don’t have to stop using reusable bags. If you’re worried, there are a couple things you can do to ensure that your reusable grocery bags are clean and safe to use. You can always wash them when you return home from your trip to the grocery store. How you go about doing that will depend on what the bag’s made of and the instructions from the manufacturer. You might be able to throw it in the washing machine or you may have to wash it by hand, either in a sink or by wiping it down with some sort of disinfectant. Your other option is to leave the bag in a closet or in your garage, basically, anywhere you won’t touch it, until your next trip to the supermarket. Since the virus can only survive on its surface for a few days at most, it’ll be safe to use by then. Avoid touching your face while handling the bags and, after you’ve brought your groceries inside, remember to clean any surfaces your bags might have touched. For those of you using disposable bags, transfer your groceries into your sanitation station, then throw the bag into the garbage immediately (washing your hands after touching it, of course).

1. As Always, Wash Your Hands

Everyone’s saying it. Just in this list, we’ve said it at least seventy-two times. But it really can’t be said enough. Washing your hands is the best way to keep healthy. It’s also a key step in sanitizing your groceries. During the process of washing your recently purchased food, you’ll probably end up washing your hands so many times that your skin starts to burn. When exactly should you be washing or sanitizing your hands? Well, you should do so before you leave to go grocery shopping, when you’re leaving the grocery store, and when you return home. You should also wash your hands after you’ve brought all your groceries into your sanitation station, before you start the cleaning process. While you’re cleaning your groceries, you should sanitize your hands before touching cleaned groceries or before leaving the designated sanitation area for other parts of your home. You should also wash your hands before and after putting your freshly sanitized groceries away. Definitely avoid touching your face without washing your hands. Finally, for good measure, give your hands a final scrub after you’ve finished wiping down your sanitation station. If you choose to wear gloves, the same rules apply. You should either replace them with a new pair or wash your hands with your gloves on at all of these time points. Is it a hassle? Absolutely. But is your health worth it? Absolutely.

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