Fritzie, I understand your concern. Dr. VanWingen seems to be a reliable source. I liked his list of Grocery Shopping Tips — all of those make sense.

Where I would differ with him, and where the doctors who collaborated with me on this article also differ, is on the concept of groceries being a meaningful vector of coronavirus infection. The research he mentions is a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, where researchers tried to replicate the spray of virions from a cough or a sneeze by using synthetic aerosols, and then tested the surfaces for the presence of virions. They determined that active virus can be detected on cardboard for up to 24 hours. (https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/new-coronavirus-stable-hours-surfaces)

The things to keep in mind about this study are:

  1. It took place in a lab, under controlled conditions. Virions in real-world environments are exposed to UV, to outside air, to heat and cold, and are likely to degrade faster than they would in a lab. In fact, the scientists who conducted this study want to use the results to inform intubation procedures at hospitals — they do not intend to make claims about what happens to the virus in the “wild.”
  2. The study used a high concentration of virus, as could emanate from a forceful direct cough or sneeze. In order for the experiment’s results to be relevant in the real world, that package of frozen fruit that you bought would have had to have been literally sneezed on by a grocery store employee within a few hours of your purchase, not just touched.

This is why, for me, it just doesn’t add up that groceries are a significant vector to be concerned about. Dr. VanWingen references the CDC often in this video, but he fails to mention that the CDC itself has said that there is no evidence that food or groceries are a source of infection. (https://www.livescience.com/coronavirus-food-risk.html)

From the moment the virus leaves a body, it begins to degrade and deactivate. Additionally, viral infection requires a critical mass of virions to come in contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth. You’re not going to put the packaging of your groceries in your eyes, nose or mouth, so what needs to be washed isn’t your groceries — it’s your hands and the surfaces in your home.

Transferring what are likely to be very small amounts of virions from your groceries to your home, where they will continue to degrade rapidly until they deactivate, is not something I spend my time and energy worrying about, because I am already disinfecting the surfaces I touch, and frequently washing my hands.

I wash my hands when I come home from grocery shopping, and I wash them again after putting away my groceries. I also wash them after opening mail, after I’ve tossed the packaging. I focus on the hand-washing, because my hands are the things that touch my eyes, nose and mouth.

I hope this helps to put things into perspective. For further reading, this is a dense (but helpful) article that explains the basis for everything I’ve said here in more detail: https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/16/coronavirus-can-become-aerosol-doesnt-mean-doomed/

A.M. Carter earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. She writes about philosophy, science, politics and current events.

A.M. Carter earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. She writes about philosophy, science, politics and current events.