Food safety principles are always important to keep in mind while shopping and preparing food, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the need for extra food safety precautions to the forefront. The following practical tips can be used to help reduce the spread of coronavirus and #flattenthecurve. As we do our part by participating in physical distancing measures, grocery shopping is one of the few, but necessary, times that we must come into contact with the public. It is imperative that we do our part to keep our practices hygienic to protect ourselves and those around us.
According to Health Canada, there have been no reports of COVID-19 linked to food or food packaging. Like other viruses, it is possible that the coronavirus can survive on surfaces, with lifespan estimates ranging from of 1-3 days depending on the medium (cardboard versus plastic or steel). Transmission from an infected surface to an individual is deemed much lower risk than direct transmission from an infected person. As a result, the majority of focus should be placed on reducing contact with other members of the community and engaging in regular and thorough hand hygiene practices.
Shopping and preparing food these days can be an anxiety-provoking endeavor! The following tips will help to take some of the guesswork out of the process and allow for a smoother experience.
Prior to hitting the store, take time to evaluate your shopping goals and route in order to streamline the process and reduce unnecessary touch points.
- Make a list of what to buy to avoid extra time spent browsing the aisles.
- Plan your route and organize your list systematically to avoid doubling back to the same aisle or section.
- Plan to buy groceries for the week to avoid more frequent trips.
- Choose stores that are taking physical distancing seriously!
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for a minimum of 20 seconds before leaving the house.
- Do not go to the store if you are sick or immuno-compromised.
At the grocery store
The most important strategy for reducing viral exposure through the shopping and food prep process is to minimize contact with potential carriers and reduce touch points.
- Aim to go at off-peak times to avoid crowds. Many stores have implemented a dedicated time slot for seniors.
- Bring hand sanitizer with you. Alternatively, many stores also have a hand sanitizer station.
- Many stores offer wipes for disinfecting baskets and carts. Use them!
- Avoid touching products unnecessarily. Adopt a “you touch it, you buy it!” policy.
- Keep hands away from your face, eyes, mouth, and nose. No nail biting!
- Consider wearing a homemade face mask. While wearing a non-medical face mask has not been proven to protect the person wearing it from the virus, it may be another tool for protecting those in your vicinity if you are an unwitting carrier.
- Stay 6 feet (2 metres) away from other shoppers.
- Many stores are controlling the number of shoppers allowed in the store at any given time, have marked appropriate places to stand in line, and have created a one-way flow plan to reduce contact between customers.
- Many stores have installed shields to protect cashiers. In stores where they have not added this extra precaution, aim to leave 6 feet (2 metres) if possible.
- Aim to pay by tap credit card or Apple Pay to avoid touching the credit card terminal or passing cash back and forth.
- The BC Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended not using reusable bags at this time.
- Use hand sanitizer on your way out of the store.
Once home, continue to be vigilant about touch points and make hand hygiene a priority.
- Place grocery bags on the floor, rather than on counter-tops that may be used as an eating or food prep surface.
- Wash hands once home and practice regular hand hygiene before preparing or handling food and before eating.
- Those in higher risk groups (immuno-compromised, elderly) may wish to take an additional precaution by wiping down product packaging with a disinfectant wipe or bleach solution. Allow wiped down grocery items time to air dry before placing them in the cupboard or refrigerator. This is not an essential step, as washing hands before and after putting groceries away and before eating should be sufficient.
- Use disinfectant to wipe down surfaces where groceries have been.
Food safety tips
When preparing food, it is important to follow regular food safety principles to reduce risk of pathogen transmission.
- Sanitize surfaces with disinfectant: soap and water, bleach solution, alcohol solution, or household cleaner. Allow to properly air dry.
- Wash hands before handling, preparing, and eating food.
- According to the BC CDC, normal cooking temperatures for foods will kill COVID-19 and other microbes in food. Best practice is to use a thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the food has reached 74°C.
- Keep hot food above 60°C, otherwise refrigerate if not eaten within 2 hours.
- Meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs should be refrigerated after no longer than 2 hours. Refrigerate at temperatures below 4°.
- Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other components.
- Thaw frozen foods in the fridge rather than out on the counter.
- Wash produce thoroughly with cold running water, you can also use a veggie brush. There is no need to use soap or chemicals, as remaining residue can cause gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Choose produce that can be washed thoroughly, has a skin that can be removed, can be cooked, or is already washed and packaged.
- Continue to clean hands throughout the prep process, especially if touching packaging/surfaces in kitchen or other parts of the house.
- If you are sick, do not handle or prepare food for others.
Take-out and delivery
Our local businesses have done an impressive job of adjusting regular practices to benefit the health and safety of our community members. To compliment in-person grocery shopping, many companies, including businesses like restaurants, bakeries, and breweries, have expanded their ordering and delivery options. This can be a great way to support local business and reduce face-to-face contact. While there is some risk of an infected individual preparing or delivering the food, the risk of transmission can be reduced by transferring food to clean household plates and using your own cutlery, washing hands after receiving the delivery and before eating, and by heating and storing the food using the food safety principles we discussed earlier.
For those who cannot travel to the store
Finally, it is important that sick individuals do not go to the grocery store or prepare food for others. It is ideal if high-risk groups can use grocery or meal delivery services, meal prep programs, or groceries delivered by neighbours, friends, or family members to avoid populated grocery stores. For those who are able, this is an opportunity to step up and assist our neighbours or loved ones who cannot shop for themselves at this time.
If you have further questions about food safety, or how to eat well during COVID-19, please reach out to your Copeman dietitian for a phone consultation. For additional information on food safety, check out Copeman Healthcare’s video Food safety tips for grocery and delivery shown below. For more live and recorded video content featuring kinesiologist approved at-home workouts, dietitian tips, and recipes, see our Copeman TV schedule.
Links and Resources
- 5 Tips for Grocery Shopping During COVID-19
- BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC)
- Food and Drug Administration: Food Safety and COVID-19
- Health Canada: Food Safety, Industry Food Inspection
- Healthy Ways to Prep Your Pantry for Self-Isolation