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Coronavirus Q&A: Can I get COVID-19 from my groceries?

A viral video of a doctor sterilizing groceries has us wondering if that’s necessary. The science, so far, says no.

Curious and cautious consumers want to know: Can I catch the coronavirus through food delivered to me or purchased at the grocery store?

“There is no evidence that I’m aware of that indicates the spread of COVID-19 infection via contaminated food,” said Michael J. Buchmeier, a professor of medicine and biology at UC Irvine.

Buchmeier, backed by 40 years of experience working on coronaviruses, reminds us to “think about where the contamination is coming from.”

COVID-19, for the most part, is passed person-to-person through tiny respiratory droplets. So, you’re more likely to contract the virus by being in close contact with a person, not a bag of Cheetos or raw chicken thighs.

If you’re worried about packaging, say from a delivery, those risks are minimal, too.

“In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Center for Disease Control’s Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in February.

Meatpacking plants are closing down because workers are infected with the coronavirus. Can they pass the virus to me through my bacon?

“I don’t think so,” Buchmeier said. “Remember that meat has to be aged before it leaves. The virus doesn’t bore into meat. The virus can sit on the surface as long as it can last, but the thing is it doesn’t last indefinitely. Meat would also have surface proteolytic enzymes, which are likely to digest the coat proteins of the virus; and then you cook it.”

Coronaviruses are “thermolabile,” meaning they’re destroyed when subject to cooking temperatures above 131 degrees Fahrenheit. So, practice safe handling and cook the food thoroughly.

Should I sanitize my purchases?

A Michigan doctor’s video of how to sterilize groceries went viral in late March with some 434,000 views at YouTube, prompting many shoppers to begin similar protocols at home.

While most experts say that’s not necessary Buchmeier said, “If it gives you confidence in this very emotional time, if it makes you feel safer, then do it, by all means.

“Take things out of the bag, throw that bag away, and rely on the care of the preparation and cooking to make sure the food is safe,” he said. “And if you have concerns about your vegetables, get a vegetable wash or dilute a few drops of chlorine bleach per gallon of water and wash them with that.