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Wash your hands AND your fruit: How to shop safely in the time of COVID-19.

By now, we’re all across the physical distancing and hygiene recommendations necessary to minimise the risk of COVID-19: stay home; wash hands regularly; limit public gatherings to two people; avoid hard, frequently touched surfaces, and so on.

Tricky, though, when you need groceries. You know, given that the supermarket is… elsewhere, full of people and has many, many hard, frequently touched surfaces.

So what can you do to help keep yourself and the community healthy when you eventually have to head out for supplies?

Watch: Simple things you can do to protect yourself from COVID-19.

Video by World Health Organisation

What should I do before I leave the house?

Most importantly, clean your hands. That means scrub them thoroughly for at least 20 seconds using soap, or use a sanitiser gel with 60-80 per cent alcohol content.

Also, pack santiser gel or wipes, if you have them.

“Grocery shopping requires touching surfaces and items, including trolleys and baskets,” virologists Associate Professor Ian Mackay and Dr Katherine Arden explained via The Conversation. “Sometimes sanitiser or antibacterial wipes are available for hands and handles at the store entrance — but they’re often not, so bring your own.”

What shopping bags should I take?

As far as which bags to use, the jury’s still out.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro has publicly called for single-use bags to be brought back for the duration of the pandemic to minimise transmission of the virus.

But it’s unclear what level of risk is posed by reusable ones.

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Research has shown, though, that porous surfaces are much less likely to hold viable amounts of the virus: “On fibrous and absorbent surfaces such as cardboard, paper, fabric and hessian, it becomes inactive more quickly,” Assoc. Prof. Mackay and Dr Arden explained.

How can I minimise risk while at the supermarket?

Major supermarkets have dedicated staff to regularly sanitising returned trolleys and baskets. But if you’re particularly concerned, wipe down handles before and after use.

Cathy Moir, Chair of the Food Safety Information Council, also advises that you don’t put unpackaged fresh fruit and veg directly into your trolley or basket. “Use the plastic bags provided for your fresh produce. Don’t handle produce items and put them back for others or taste test the grapes, as you touch your mouth with your hands,” she said.

As with any public outing, maintain physical distancing. That means at least 1.5 metres between yourself and other shoppers and supermarket staff. Most major supermarkets have markings on the floor at the checkout to help guide you.

Pay with card, if possible. “Cards and cash could transfer the virus to your hands. That said, card payment is probably lower risk because you retain the card and don’t have to touch other people,” Assoc. Prof. Mackay and Dr Arden advised.

Be as efficient as possible. As nice as it may feel to be out of your home and around people who, well, aren’t your family, don’t be tempted to linger in-store or hang around for a chat. Get what you need to, and head home.

Can I catch the coronavirus from my groceries?

According to food virologist Dr Hayriye Bozkurt of the Australian Research Council’s Training Centre for Food Safety in the Fresh Produce Industry, there is currently no evidence for foodborne transmission of COVID-19. In other words, it’s not believed you can contract the virus by ingesting a contaminated piece of food.

“There is a risk in touching fresh produce that has COVID-19 on its surface and then touching your face,” she wrote in the latest ARC TCFSFPI guidelines. “However, it will be your hands that will become the carrier, not fresh produce.

“Therefore, washing your hands before and after touching or handling fresh produce, and maintaining good personal hygiene, are the key messages.”

Dr Bozkurt advised that you should wash your fruit and veg thoroughly under clean, cold water only. She stressed not to use soap.

“We know that detergents such as dishwashing liquid and hand soap are not designed or registered for use on food,” she wrote. “Any soap residues on fruit and vegetables, if ingested, can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.”

As for packaged food, the advice for minimising your risk of infection is pretty simple: “Wash your hands immediately when you return home from shopping and again after putting away groceries,” Cathy Moir said.

“Shopping bags should not be placed on any food preparation benches to prevent contamination.”

And as always, avoid touching your face.

Read more about COVID-19:

The current situation around COVID-19 might be making you feel scared or uncertain. It’s okay to feel this way, but it’s also important to learn how to manage feelings of anxiety during this time. To download the free PDF: Anxiety & Coronavirus – How to Manage Feelings of Anxiety click here.

Feature image: Getty.

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