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FDA offers tips for grocery shopping during the pandemic

The agency says there’s no need to wipe down food packaging

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In an effort to clear up any confusion consumers may have on the topic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a list of guidance on grocery shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Recent studies have suggested that the novel coronavirus can live on certain surfaces for hours and or even days. However, the federal agency said that there’s no need to wipe down food packaging after returning from the grocery store. That’s because there is no evidence of food packaging being associated with transmission of this virus. 

“We want to reassure consumers that there is currently no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19,” the agency said in a statement posted to its website on Thursday.

“This particular coronavirus causes respiratory illness and is spread from person-to-person, unlike foodborne gastrointestinal or GI viruses, such as norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food.” 

Safety tips to keep in mind

To stay safe and protect other shoppers while at the grocery store, the agency recommends: 

  • Preparing a shopping list in advance. Buy 1 to 2 weeks’ worth of groceries at a time, and avoid buying more than you need. Buying more than necessary can create unnecessary demand and shortages.

  • Wearing a face covering or mask. The CDC has recommended wearing a face covering or mask when taking care of an essential task outside of the home, such as grocery shopping. The FDA noted in its guidance that some grocery stores may require shoppers to wear a mask.

  • Wiping down handles. Bring your own wipes or use one provided by the store to wipe down the handles of the shopping cart or basket. Make sure reusable shopping bags are cleaned or washed prior to each use.

  • Practicing social distancing while shopping. Keep a distance of at least 6 feet between you, other shoppers, and store employees. Health experts also strongly recommend keeping your hands away from your face.

  • Washing your hands thoroughly. You should wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds when you get home, and then again after you put away your groceries. 

While the FDA noted that wiping down packaging is unnecessary, it says that consumers who do so to create peace of mind can follow certain steps.

“Again, there is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, if you wish, you can wipe down product packaging and allow it to air dry, as an extra precaution,” the agency said.

Officials noted that many stores have modified their operating hours during the pandemic to allow workers more time to clean and restock. Some stores -- including Costco, Walmart, Publix, BJ’s Wholesale Club, among others -- have also set aside special shopping windows for seniors or other high-risk individuals. 

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