Health officials have been giving the public a crash course on avoiding the coronavirus with recommendations on social distancing (six feet), washing hands (20 seconds), and avoiding touching the face. But one very important measure that is often overlooked involves sanitizing surfaces that potentially could be contaminated, such as the grocery items you just hauled in from the store.

Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, a family physician in Grand Rapids, Michigan, offers some sound advice on his YouTube channel about the precautions you should be taking to sanitize items you recently brought home from the store.

Virologists, infectious disease experts, and public health officials continue to study Covid-19 and there is still much to learn, but there is sound evidence that the virus can live on certain surfaces for days.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the coronavirus can live on cardboard for one hour and on plastic, metal, and glass for three days. This of course means that anything you buy in the supermarket could be contaminated with the virus as the pandemic continues to grow.

Plan ahead with a list before you head to the store and try to buy enough groceries to last you a couple of weeks. Also do the shopping for your elderly or immune-compromised loved ones. Try to minimize your time at the store. Commit to buying items before you pick them up. This will lessen your chances of touching a contaminated surface or spreading it to others if you are unknowingly infected.

Most supermarkets have ramped up efforts to sanitize their stores, but it would be impossible to keep every product in the store germ-free. Thoroughly wipe down the handle of your shopping cart before you push it around.

It’s a good idea to assume that everything you touch and come into contact with is contaminated, and act accordingly.

So when you bring home the groceries, Dr. VanWingen suggests using what doctors call the “sterile technique” for sanitizing surfaces.

Working with any standard disinfectant, sanitize a counter or tabletop. Place your bags of groceries on the non-sanitized side of the counter. Methodically and safely wipe down the surfaces of your grocery items, moving them to the other side of the counter when clean.

Some products, such as cereals and crackers that are sealed in an inner bag, can be removed from the box. Bread can be removed from the bag and placed in a clean container. Produce can either be unwrapped and washed with soap if possible or transferred to a clean bag or container. Be sure to avoid touching the food with your hands while putting it in another container.

Another option for nonperishable items is to leave them in the garage or other space for 72 hours, the time it takes for the coronavirus to die on plastic, metal, and glass surfaces.

Dr. VanWingen says that the same technique can be used for restaurant take-out orders. Unpack and place the food on one side of the counter and carefully transfer the food to clean dishes on the other side without touching the food.

When getting takeout, order food that is hot and avoid cold items. Coronavirus doesn’t fare well in hot food. To be extra safe, microwave or reheat your food on the stove until hot.

Lastly, remember that some strains of coronavirus can live in frozen environments for up to two years. Be sure everything you buy is cleaned or transferred to clean containers before placing it in the freezer or refrigerator.

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