Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.
The slight silver lining of quarantine is the additional time we have now to spend with our families, sort things (i.e. cabinets) out, and attempt new cooking projects. But, with home cooking comes grocery shopping, which, amid coronavirus, is not absent of food safety-related concerns and questions.
For example: Do we need to be cleaning or disinfecting our groceries in a special way? In a time when exercising an overabundance of caution has become the norm, it can be difficult to know if you’re doing too much (or not enough) to maintain a clean kitchen, let alone home. So, to get to the bottom of things, I spoke with Kimberly Baker, PhD, RD, LD, a Food Systems and Safety Program director at Clemson University. Here are five things we should be doing to keep our kitchen, food, and selves safe while quarantining.
1. Keep up your regular cleaning routine.
Ideally, you already clean your kitchen, meaning you wipe down and disinfect your work surfaces, sink, and cooking equipment regularly. The Cornell University Institute for Food Safety notes that it's important to give any disinfectants adequate time to take effect, so use them as instructed.
Along with that, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends washing your hands for 20 seconds before and after handling a single food item—this rule is especially important when you're switching between handling raw meat and fresh produce. While these measures may feel a bit excessive (especially while quarantined), Dr. Baker says it's crucial we maintain them while quarantined, as they'll mitigate the risk of the virus spreading to you or anyone you're co-isolating with.
2. Don’t forget overlooked touchpoints.
Additionally, Dr. Baker says to be extra-cognizant of areas you repeatedly touch while preparing a meal, such as handles and knobs on your cabinets, oven, refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave, and faucet.
“These items do not get cleaned frequently enough and these areas are very important to think of in a time like this,” she explains, adding that these points are also often touched by people just passing through the kitchen, who likely don’t have freshly washed hands.
3. Wash your produce thoroughly (No soap necessary).
Despite our good intentions and best efforts to be extra-cleanly, there is no need to wash produce with soap. According to the USDA, cleaning fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent, or disinfectant is, in fact, dangerous and could make you sick.
What you should do is wash each type of produce separately, in order to avoid cross-contamination. Dr. Baker also suggests setting aside a scrubbing brush just for produce. Foods that are wrapped or will be cooked through, like meat and eggs, don’t need to be washed before using.
4. You can clean food packaging, if you want.
“At this time, there are no reports that the virus has spread through food packaging,” Dr. Baker says. However, she also points out that studies have shown the virus can remain viable (though in diminishing concentrations over time, as Live Science reported) for up to three days on plastic and metal, and for up to 24 hours on cardboard.
So, if you have good reason to believe there could be virus on your groceries, you can wipe down packages of food with a paper towel and disinfectant spray. Dr. Baker says you can also wipe down and “quarantine” non-perishable items in low-traffic areas of your home (say, your garage or back porch) for 24 hours if you wish—just make sure they're out of direct heat or light for their longevity's sake. But, perishable items should go in the fridge or freezer as soon as they arrive home.
5. Watch for food safety updates.
As we continue to learn more about how COVID-19 spreads, official food safety guidelines and recommendations may change. You can follow coronavirus-related news from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) here, and you can even submit your own questions about the virus to the FDA here.