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Qs people asked me on science and my replies to them - Part 189 How to handle or shop for food and other essentials during the pandemic

Q: Can carona virus be transmitted through food we buy outside, packages, fruits, vegetables etc? How should we handle them, Dr. krishna? I get scared.

Krishna: I don't want to say " there is no evidence" like others do. Yes, there is no evidence, mostly because this is a new virus and studies have not been done extensively to establish facts. 

So if you handle these things outside while buying, don't touch your face with your hands and use hand sanitisers immediately or wash your hands thoroughly by using soap and water after reaching home.

The main transmission is through saliva droplets suspended in air or through touching surfaces. 

The work on surfaces was done in controlled conditions in labs so we cannot say the same would happen outside too. The level of infectious virus – virus capable of causing disease – decreases even after a few hours, indicating that the virus does not survive well on the surfaces.

Wear a good mask while going out to buy food. That is a must. Keep atleast 6 feet distance from others. If you are a senior citizen, or have co-morbidities,  try not to go out. Just order on line, if possible. 

Yes, you have to touch things in shops or supermarkets or malls. But I ask the vendors themselves to put things in my bag to avoid touching while shopping. 

The highest risk is close contact with other people who may be shedding virus in droplets as they sneeze, cough, breathe or talk nearby.

Next would be high-touch surfaces, like door handles, where someone not practicing good hand hygiene might have transferred the virus to the surface. In this scenario, you would have to touch this surface and then touch your eyes, nose mouth or ears immediately  – to contract the illness. It is better to avoid touching them if you can. Use hand sanitisers as soon as you touch them if you must. If you don't have hand sanitisers, I have a trick. I use folded paper to touch lift buttons, door knobs and things like that people use frequently and immediately throw them into thrash cans as soon as the work is over without touching the surface that touched the contaminated surfaces.

How can you clean the fruits and vegetables? I read one or two research papers that say (and even some doctors confirmed this) you should use salt water to do this. Mix one table spoon of salt  in four litres of water and two table spoons for 8 litres.  Stir well. First put fruits in the water and wait for 15-30 minutes. Wash thoroughly again with running tap water. Then use the same solution for vegetables and repeat the process.  Dry them before keeping them in the fridge or consuming them. That is enough.

Chemicals and soaps are not labeled for use on food. This means we do not know if they are safe or even effective when directly applied to food.

Moreover, some of these practices might create food safety hazards. For example, if you filled a sink with water and then submerged your vegetables in it, pathogenic microorganisms in your sink – say, trapped in the drain from the raw chicken you cut up the night before – might contaminate your products. Don't use soap and other chemicals on fruits and vegetables.

Wash your hands thoroughly after handling these things.

If you don't want to use the packaged grocery products immediately, just keep them for three days in a corner. After that period, you can empty them into  your cans or jars and use them. 

If you have raw produce and you are still concerned that it might be coming in with some virus, you could let it sit around in your house a couple of days prior to consumption” in order to let the virus die off. Cooking any ingredients at 140 F will also neutralize the virus, based on studies done with previous coronavirus strains. 

If you want to use them immediately, unpack, pour or put without touching food with hands into tins and bowels by directly emptying the products into them. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after the work of emptying is completed.

Washing your hands frequently, using soap and water and drying with a clean towel, is really the best defense for protecting yourself from this virus and many other infectious diseases that might be on a surface or package.

Throw away the disposable bags into thrash cans.  If you are using a reusable nylon or plastic bag, clean inside and outside of the bag with soapy water and rinse. Spray or wipe down the bag inside and out with diluted bleach solution or disinfectant, then allow the bag to air dry completely. For cloth bags, wash the bag in warm water with normal laundry detergent, then dry it on the warmest setting possible.

Many restaurants are still preparing food for delivery or takeout. And with a few precautions, you can stay safe with ordered or outside food ....

  • Use contact-free delivery: ask the driver to leave your food at your door.
  • Use gloves to get your delivery or takeout, or be sure to wash your hands after handling the package.
  • Put your food on a plate carefully and discard any packaging.
  • Use your own utensils.
  • Re-warm the food to kill any germs in the food itself.
  • Sanitize any surfaces on which you placed the delivery package.

If you want to wear gloves, use disposable ones and you should throw them out after you are done shopping. To take off gloves, grab the band at the wrist on one hand, making sure not to have gloved fingers touch your skin, and pull the glove up over your hand and fingers turning it inside out as you remove. Best practice is to wash your hands after the gloves are removed. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer.

The risk of infection indoors is almost 19 times higher than outdoors (1). So I prefer buying outdoor items from push carts and roadside vendors than shops and malls.   I stand outside even if I have to buy from shops and avoid going inside, especially if they are crowded. 

You can shop, handle food, surfaces and can still be safe if you follow these methods. Use science, and the knowledge you gained through it. There is no need to worry.

Q: How can we disinfect things we put in refrigerator?

Krishna: Follow these steps doctors and virologists prescribe (2) every time you bring home groceries:

  • Prepare a bowl or bucket of disinfectant, preferably with an alcohol base. "There are two things that can dissolve the membrane of the cornavirus. You can use alcohol to do that, or soap and water."
  • If you don't have access to a kitchen disinfectant  you can also create your own with diluted household bleach. He recommends combining 1/3 cup of bleach with a gallon of water. Otherwise, add some soap to warm water.
  • Next, soak a towel in the cleaning solution and wring it out.
  • Use the damp towel to thoroughly wipe down the surfaces of every food container -- bags, boxes, bottles, cans. Make sure you're doing so on a clean surface, like a disinfected countertop or table.
  • Don't stop at the refrigerator! Decontaminate food containers before they go in the pantry or cabinets, too.
  • Clean produce the same way you always do. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a helpful guide.
  • Wash your hands when your're done -- every time!
  • Wash your reusable grocery bags. Make sure they're machine-washable before you add them to the laundry.

All these things I mentioned above 're based on preliminary research done at the beginning of the pandemic. However, recent research says you need not worry much about fomites (objects or materials which are likely to carry infection, such as clothes, utensils, and furniture). Because aerosols are the major contaminants and aerial route is is the prominent one. 

 https://www.sciencealert.com/these-6-coronavirus-precautions-probab...

Footnotes:

1. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/05/why-do-some-covid-19-patien...

2. https://www.nbcbayarea.com/investigations/consumer/can-coronavirus-...

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