Should You Be Disinfecting Your Groceries During COVID-19?

Germ expert Jason Tetro answers this frequently asked question, and shares tips on how to stay safe from coronavirus when grocery shopping and receiving packages at your door.

Should you be disinfecting your groceries during COVID-19Photo: Anna Fedorova_it /

Ask An Expert: Should I Be Disinfecting My Groceries During COVID-19?

Reader’s Digest Canada: I wear a DIY face mask when I’m shopping, but what about when I get home? What should I do with my groceries—and the bags—to make sure they’re safe?

Germ expert Jason Tetro: As far as the bags go, if you’re using cloth bags, there’s nothing to worry about because the virus will get stuck inside them. Just let them sit for a few days after you use them. If you’ve brought groceries home in plastic bags, open those up just as you would remove protective gloves from your hands—peeling so they’re turned inside out.

The food packages inside the bags likely won’t have been contaminated, but if they were, the virus would be absorbed into the cardboard. If it’s plastic packaging, you can always have a soapy cloth on hand to wipe it down and that’ll take care of any viruses that happen to be on the surface. And that goes for any object and any kind of packaging. The coronavirus is an envelope virus, which means that it has a coating of fat around it—we call it a lipid—which is just like the grease you’d see on a plate. With a little bit of soap and water, and some friction, it goes away. You can go beyond that and use alcohol or bleach in water, but soap works fine.

I’d read about a study showing that the virus can survive on cardboard for 24 hours, but you seem to be saying something different.

The thing most news reports didn’t tell you is that in that study they had to scrub very hard to find even small traces of the virus in the cardboard.

Ah, okay. I imagine deliveries arriving in cardboard boxes, or envelopes in the mail, are in the same boat?

Yes. And also, realize that you’re going to be washing your hands after you touch any of those things, right? And you can be very focussed on not touching your face after you touch any of these things. Of course, if you are very worried, you can always let non-perishable items sit for three days, and then you’ll know for sure there’s no virus on it.

Next, we ask: can you catch coronavirus from your clothes?

Jason Tetro is host of the Super Awesome Science Show podcast, and author of The Germ Files.