Still wiping down your grocery store purchases? Here's what experts say about the risk for coronavirus

Marcia Greenwood

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many people cleaned grocery-store purchases with disinfecting wipes before putting them away at home.

At that point, it was recommended as a best practice to avoid contagion. The thinking was that because the virus can survive on surfaces for short periods of time, someone could touch a contaminated item and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth and possibly infect themselves.

Now, however, a lot more is known about how COVID-19 spreads – primarily from person to person through droplets in the air. The risk of getting it from surfaces, including grocery packaging, is “exceedingly small,” said Melissa Bronstein, senior director of infection prevention for Rochester Regional Health and a registered nurse.

The most up-to-date information on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “because of the poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely a very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.” In fact, it goes on to say that no cases of COVID-19 have been linked to people touching food or food packaging and then touching their faces.

“Some people are really scared, so if it makes them feel safer to wipe things down, then it’s important for them to do that,” said Katrina Korfmacher, a director at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Environmental Health Sciences Center. (She noted that it should be done safely, so that people don’t end up ingesting disinfectants.)

But in general, there is little to be gained from the practice.

Likewise, as more has been learned about how people become infected, other early-pandemic rituals have gone by the wayside – for instance, wiping down or immediately discarding takeout food containers.

“Takeout containers don’t pose any special risk,” Bronstein said.

And if someone with the virus coughs or sneezes on your takeout food and you eat it, could you get sick?