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FAQ on Food and COVID-19: Answers From a Nutritionist

wiping groceries
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD - Blogs
By Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RDRegistered dietitianMay 4, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

As much as people are feeling worry and fear about COVID-19, they’re also experiencing  confusion – particularly over what’s safe and what’s not and how to navigate this new-normal. That goes for food too. Here are some of the biggest questions I’m hearing about food and some science-backed answers:

Do I need to wipe down my groceries?

No. I’ve heard stories of people spending 45 minutes after each grocery trip thoroughly wiping down every single package, but that’s actually not necessary. Yes, one study did find that the virus can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours, but according to the FDA, there’s no evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted via food packaging (and in the study, the amount of virus on cardboard diminished significantly after just eight hours). Wash your hands well after unloading groceries. Still feeling iffy? You could let non-perishables stay put overnight and put them away the next day. And you could still wipe down packages if it makes you feel safer (just be sure to not get any of the disinfectants on the food itself).

What’s the best way to wash produce?

Under plain running water. Despite what viral online videos suggest, there’s no need to use soap – and please don’t use bleach either, as some people are suggesting. The USDA advises against using any kind of detergent (much less bleach!) to wash produce, as some residues may remain and some fruit and veggie skins may absorb some of the cleaners. Water does the trick just fine. Gently rub firmer produce (not berries!) while rinsing and use a vegetable brush for thick-skinned produce like melons and avocados, even though you won’t be eating the skin.

Can I make food for other people?

Yes. With more time to bake and cook, it seems like the perfect time to drop off a batch of muffins to a neighbor or a pot of soup to a friend who’s under the weather. And it’s safe. The CDC says COVID-19 is not spread through food. Just be sure to practice good hand washing before preparing food (as you always should!) and avoid direct contact when doing the hand-off.

Is getting take-out safe?

Yes. Since the virus isn’t spread through food or food packaging, it’s perfectly safe to get take-out. Transfer food to your own dishes instead of handling the cartons and wash hands well before eating.

What should I stock my pantry with right now?

It depends on what’s available in your community, but some nutritious, versatile staples include rice, canned beans and vegetables, canned or pouch tuna or salmon, nut butters, oats, shelf-stable dairy and non-dairy milks, whole grain cereal, pasta, dry beans or lentils, and snacks like popcorn kernels, whole grain crackers, applesauce, and canned and dried fruit. And don’t forget that some fresh produce actually lasts a long time too, particularly potatoes and sweet potatoes, apples, oranges, onions, cabbage, and carrots.

How can I keep from snacking all day?

For people who are used to working outside the home, being surrounded by a kitchen full of food all day is a big change. You may also simply be bored and find yourself reaching for food more often. That’s natural and expected – so cut yourself some slack. But if you want to scale back a bit, move your workspace out of the kitchen, make sure your meals and snacks are filling (protein, fat, and fiber all help) so you’re not hungry soon after, and make healthy foods easy and visible, like a bowl of washed fruit on the counter.



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About the Author
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD

Sally Kuzemchak is a registered dietitian in Columbus, Ohio. An award-winning reporter and writer, Sally has been published in magazines such as Health, Family Circle, and Eating Well and is a Contributing Editor to Parents magazine. She is the author of the book The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She blogs at Real Mom Nutrition, a "no-judgments" zone all about feeding families.

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