[EXPERT REACTION] How to clean your groceries and stay safe when food shopping?

Photo by Chantal Garnier on Unsplash

Supermarkets and grocery stores which are still allowed to operate during the Movement Control Order (MCO) are probably places where the products are touched by a large number of people. While we may practice precaution such as washing hands regularly and practising social distancing, how about the handling of the groceries? We ask experts:

How to clean your groceries and stay safe when food shopping??


Associate Prof. Dr Chan Yoke Fun, Virologist, Department of Medical Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, said:

“If you are concerned about anything being contaminated, I suggest that you wash your hands with soap and/or sanitise your hands (alcohol rub with >60% alcohol). If you’re concerned that your bags might have coronavirus on them, you can wash them. Wash your hands after you have finished putting all your groceries away. But don’t wash your ready to eat food in soap.. soap is not edible.” 

Dr Thaigarajan Parumasivam, Senior Lecturer at School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), said:

“To my understanding, no transmission has been reported related to groceries and food packaging. It is low risk. Yet, it is better to avoid touching your face, mouth and eyes while shopping and shower after returning home from shopping. Also, it is a good practice to wash the fruits and vegetables prior to eating or cooking them.” 

Fatimah Salim, Chemist & Senior Lecturer at the Centre of Foundation Studies, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), said:

“Currently, the recommendation by the FDA is to wash fresh fruits and vegetables in cold water. Household disinfectant and soap absolutely shouldn’t directly be used on foods. They can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea if ingested. 

The biggest threat is actually facing someone else in the store who has COVID-19. Thus wear a mask, practice appropriate social distancing and wash your hand frequently. Take advantage of the hand sanitiser provided by the grocery stores as well. Use them. 

Other advice to reduce risk when grocery shopping is making a list (know what you want), move quickly and efficiently through the store, and pick out only the items on your list. 

As a precaution, especially if there are vulnerable people in the household, wiping down or washing the groceries might not be a bad idea. I recommend using veggie wash and water, vinegar solution, or lemon solution.”

WHO on washing fruits and vegetables in times of COVID-19

Dr Khayriyyah Mohd Hanafiah, Microbiologist & Senior Lecturer at Medical Microbiology, Universiti Sains Malaysia, said:

“This is a tricky one, because the possibility is certainly there given that the COVID-19 causes asymptomatic infections in estimated 17-30% of people. If the items are prepackaged, the risk would be less, but for open fresh produce, I do try to wash and cook thoroughly. 

There is no data I know (for coronavirus) to support this, but I personally sun-dry some grocery items for a few hours when I can, because sunlight has UV rays which inactivates the virus as well. However, we don’t know how long it would actually take to properly disinfect. This doesn’t mean we should use UV rays to disinfect ourselves because that would kill us along with the virus.”

Bionotes of experts

Associate Professor Dr Chan Yoke Fun is a virologist focused on the epidemiology and pathogenesis of enterovirus A71, an emerging virus that causes severe neurological disease. She leads a laboratory with research interests in epidemiology and pathogenesis of emerging viruses such as enterovirus A71, chikungunya, and respiratory viruses. With more than 20 years of research experience, she has over 80 publications, and has been involved in many research programs and grants at both national and international levels. Dr. Chan also served as an Associate Editor of BMC Infectious Diseases and guest editor in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. She has multiple joint publications with collaborators from Asia, Europe, and the USA. Her studies have led to a better understanding of how viruses spread and infect humans. 

Fatimah Salim, PhD (Chemistry) is currently a senior lecturer of chemistry at the Centre of Foundation Studies, UiTM. She is also a research fellow at Atta-ur-Rahman Institute for Natural Product Discovery (AuRIns), UiTM. She is a registered chemist and has been appointed as a committee member of Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry Section, Malaysian Institute of Chemistry (IKM). She is an active member of Young Scientist Network- Academy of Science Malaysia (YSN-ASM) and a lifetime member of Malaysian Natural Product Society (MNPS). She is an editor for Suara Saintis Muda of YSN Science Communication Working Group. While her research interest covers a broad spectrum of chemistry, she is trained in structure identification, isolation, elucidation of secondary metabolites from plants and microbes. She is also into quantum mechanics calculation in modelling spectroscopic characteristics of chiral molecules predicted through DFT and TD-DFT methods. 

Dr Khayriyyah Mohd Hanafiah is senior lecturer in Medical Microbiology at Universiti Sains Malaysia, and an affiliate of Young Scientists Network-Academy of Sciences Malaysia. She is active in science communication and infectious disease biomedical research. She was the first female Asian champion of FameLab, the world’s longest running science communication competition, in 2018. 

Dr Thaigarajan Parumasivam is a senior lecturer at School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia. He is an affiliate of Young Scientist Network – Academy of Sciences Malaysia (YSN-ASM) and an executive member of the Malaysian Society of Pharmaceutical Technology (MSPT). He is also a recipient of Global Young Scientist Summit, Singapore 2019 and 2019 ASEAN Fellowship. 

**All previous posts about COVID-19 here: https://sciencemediacentremalaysia.com/tag/covid-19/

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