Over the last few weeks, while we have enjoyed the clear blue sky, the birds and even the dolphins sighted on the shores of the Ganga, one cannot deny some of the overwhelming everyday challenges. Grocery shopping is one such challenge.
Videos circulating on WhatsApp have advised washing down and sterilising every item bought from the store. This has added to the anxiety and to the effort. Conflicting reports about how long the virus survives on different surfaces have added to the confusion.
The truth is that some surfaces can harbour the coronavirus for up to 72 hours but the virus becomes largely inactive (non-infectious) after 24 hours. There is also very little evidence to suggest that these virus particles can transmit disease.
While it is possible to contract the virus from boxes of food and other surfaces, this is a small risk. The biggest risk is from the respiratory droplets of infected persons.
Food is the least of all the infectious agents. So, when it comes to the groceries, it’s the shopping and washing practices that we really need to focus on. Here are some tips:
Shop at a time when the store is likely to be least crowded. Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from the people around.
Shop solo. Shopping with others only increases the risk of spread.
Wear a mask when you step out to shop. A cloth mask will do.
Walk into the store with a list in hand, so that you do not linger and shop swiftly.
Disinfect the handle of the shopping basket or cart before holding it.
Don’t use your phone while shopping. Using it gets your hands close to your face, which is a risk.
Make no-touch transactions, if possible. If you must use cash, sanitise your hands with an alcohol-based rub immediately.
Wearing gloves while shopping is not of much use. It’s the handwashing that is critical.
Once you get home, wash your hands first thing. Also wash your hands after you unpack your groceries, before you cook, and before you eat.
Fruits and vegetables provide the protective nutrients to fight the virus. But many videos circulating online have people concerned about the washing procedure, which is why they’re eating less of these. Thoroughly rinsing the fruits and vegetables with plain water is good enough. For rough surfaces like that of muskmelon or yam, one could use a vegetable brush for cleansing.
When using frozen food, remember to cook it well and wash your hands after handling the packaging of the frozen food.
Using soap and water to clean produce is not advisable. The soap residue can linger on the porous skin of the produce and lead to vomiting and diarrhoea. Wash only tough, non-porous plastic food coverings with soap and water. Don’t wash or disinfect cardboard food boxes to prevent seepage into food.
Once you have emptied out the contents of your grocery bag, cleaned the produce and stored it safely, make sure to also disinfect the surface on which you had handled the groceries. Discard any disposable bags that you may have used.
Changing your clothes and showering after returning from the store is not necessary. But for families with small children (who put all kinds of things in their mouth) and senior citizens, this practice may be a good precautionary measure.
Shopping for groceries isn’t as cumbersome as it’s being made out to be. As long as you follow the recommended hygiene practices and shop for wholesome and nutritious foods, there is little to worry about.