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Here’s How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Health + Wellness
Here’s How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak
A worker with nonprofit organization Martha's Table loads bags of fresh produce to distribute to people in need during the novel coronavirus outbreak on April 1, 2020 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

By Shawn Radcliffe

The CDC recommends that all people wear cloth face masks in public places where it's difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance from others. This will help slow the spread of the virus from people without symptoms or people who do not know they have contracted the virus. Cloth face masks should be worn while continuing to practice social distancing. Instructions for making masks at home can be found here. Note: It's critical to reserve surgical masks and N95 respirators for healthcare workers.


The new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has many people staying at home except for essential activities like seeking medical care, exercising, walking their dog, or shopping for groceries.

You can reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19 whenever you leave your house by taking precautions such as practicing social distancing and washing your hands thoroughly and often.

Shopping for groceries, though, carries extra risk.

Not only are you near other people, but many of the products you're buying have probably been handled by others — and possibly sneezed or coughed on.

This doesn't mean you should give up on trips to the supermarket. That's not really a viable option for most of us.

But you can take a little extra care when handling your groceries to avoid spreading the virus to other people and surfaces in your house.

How Big of a Risk Are Groceries?

Charlotte Baker, DrPH, MPH, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia, said your biggest risk at the supermarket is coming into close contact with another person who's sick.

That's why it's important to stay at least 6 feet from other people at all times.

"Do not be afraid to ask others to step back if they are too close to you in line," said Baker. "Or wait a few moments to grab something if others are already by the item you want."

It's not clear, though, how much of a role produce and food packaging plays in transmitting the virus that causes COVID-19.

Still, the World Health Organization says that in addition to close person-to-person contact, people can pick up the virus by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.

Some surfaces may pose a bigger risk than others.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus was detectable on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, and on cardboard for up to 24 hours.

Baker said when you're at the supermarket, you should "assume all surfaces everywhere have been touched by someone who is sick."

This includes produce and packaged foods.

"Touch just the items you intend to buy, wipe down the cart or basket handles with disinfectant wipes, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when you're done," she said.

Baker added that many people are also reducing their potential exposure by using curbside pick-up or at-home delivery. Even local food producers are offering these services.

"Some farmers markets are allowing customers to preorder foods so they are already packaged when you come pick them up," she said, "reducing the amount of time that you need to be near other people and reducing the amount of items that you can touch."

Cleaning Your Groceries at Home

Whichever way you get your groceries, you'll want to handle them carefully when you get them home. This will reduce the chance of spreading the virus to other people or surfaces in your house.

Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D., a professor of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia, said at the very least you should wash your hands after unpacking and putting away your groceries.

If you're concerned about potential contamination on your groceries, you can take additional steps to protect yourself.

"Some people may choose to wipe or wash cans and boxes of food before storing them to reduce possible virus content," said Andress. You can also throw out disposable packaging.

When you're done, she suggests that you wash any tables, countertops, or other surfaces that were touched by your groceries or grocery bags.

And wash your hands again.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers advice for cleaning and disinfecting your home during the pandemic, including which cleaners work best against SARS-CoV-2.

If you're using cloth bags, wash them with laundry soap in a washing machine and dry them thoroughly before reusing them.

Cleaning Food Like a Surgeon

If you or someone in your household is at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, you might want to adopt the modified "sterile technique" recommended by Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, a family physician practicing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in this YouTube video.

VanWingen said that one option is to leave your groceries in your garage or porch for at least 72 hours to allow the virus to become inactive.

This isn't possible for many people. For them, he suggests the "sterile technique." You can also do this after letting your groceries sit outside for 72 hours.

A key part of VanWingen's method is setting up a cleaning station to avoid contaminating your food or other surfaces in your house.

After that, it involves wiping down all packaging with a disinfectant before putting your groceries away. You can also discard packaging and transfer the food to a clean bag or container.

For fruits and vegetables, VanWingen suggests scrubbing them for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.

Andress cautions that the Food and Drug Administration doesn't recommend using soap when cleaning produce because of the risk of ingestion.

So if you choose to use soap and water on your fruits and vegetables, rinse them completely with clean water before storing.

Taking these precautions with your groceries can help you lower your chance of being exposed to the virus.

If you do get sick, you'll need to take extra care in order to protect your family.

"If someone in your household is confirmed positive with COVID-19, showing symptoms of the disease, or awaiting the results of a test, they should take extra cleaning and disinfection steps around the home," said Andress.

Reposted with permission from Healthline.

For detailed source information, please see the original story at Healthline.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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