CLEMSON – In times like these, many people are wondering what they can do to minimize transmission of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. This includes shopping for, ordering and preparing food.

Sidi Limehouse, 2019 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year, sells produce he grows on his farm, as well as other merchandise from a roadside stand on Bohicket Road on Johns Island.

Practice safety and support local producers when shopping for food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Image Credit: Clemson Public Service and Agriculture

While foodborne exposure to COVID-19 is not a known route of transmission, research from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) shows the coronavirus can remain viable on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to three days and on cardboard for up to 24 hours. To help ensure personal safety from this disease, a Clemson Cooperative Extension Service food safety expert says people should start with the basics.

“People should wash their hands frequently,” said Kimberly Baker, Clemson Extension Food Systems and Safety Program director. “People who shop for food should purchase food from reputable sources and thoroughly wash their hands after touching food packaging. Everyone should practice proper food safety and personal hygiene practices.”

Below are a few safety practices Baker suggests people use when purchasing and/or preparing food:

  • Bring a disinfecting wipe (or paper towel soaked in sanitizer) to the store to wipe down shopping carts or baskets. Bring clean re-usable shopping bags if possible and allowed by the store. Wash re-usable bags in hot soapy water or wipe down with sanitizer before each use.
  • Wash hands after touching food packaging. Store cardboard boxes in an area that does not have food contact surfaces or much interaction with people for at least 24 hours before handling or storing in the kitchen.
  • Proper handwashing begins with wetting hands with warm running water. Add enough soap to create a good lather and scrub hands and wrists for at least 20 seconds. Pay close attention to the areas between fingers and around fingernails. Rinse hands with warm running water and dry hands with single-use paper towels. Use the paper towel to turn off the water faucet and open the door if you are in a public restroom. Hand sanitizers should not be used in place of handwashing, but if there are no alternatives then a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used. Make sure hands are visibly clean and not greasy before applying the hand sanitizer, or it will not be effective.
  • Practice good personal hygiene in the kitchen – clean clothing and hair pulled back. Also, avoid touching hair, face, cell phone, or other potentially contaminated surfaces while cooking.
  • Clean and sanitize all food contact surfaces and equipment before and after food preparation, as well as all common touchpoints, such as: doorknobs, cabinet handles, faucet handles, refrigerator and freezer handles, and so on. Thoroughly clean before sanitizing.
    • Cleaning refers to removing all visible dirt and debris. Sanitizing refers to reducing pathogens to safe levels.
    • Use hot soapy water to remove debris and grease.
    • Effective sanitizing factors include:
      • When making your own sanitizer, such as with bleach, follow instructions on the proper amount of the sanitizer to mix with water. Using too much water can make the sanitizer ineffective and using too much cleaning solution could be toxic.
      • Read the manufacturer’s instructions on how long the sanitizer needs to be in contact with the surface in order to reduce pathogens. Some need as little at 30 seconds, and some may need up to 10 minutes of contact time. Know this amount of time and ensure the surface is wet with the sanitizer and allowed to air dry.
      • If bleach is used as a sanitizer, use 4 teaspoons of bleach with 1 quart of cool water. Bleach solutions should be kept covered and made fresh daily. Contact time for bleach is 5 minutes.
    • A list of EPA approved disinfectants and contact time can be found on the following website: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2.
  • Cook foods to their required minimal internal cooking temperature. If foods are not eaten immediately after being cooked, then hold hot foods above 135 degrees or chill to below 40 degrees as quickly as possible.
  • Keep all refrigerated foods below 40 degrees and all frozen food below 0 degrees.

Following these simple precautions can help contain the spread of COVID-19, Baker said. In addition, Baker said people should follow Food Safety and COVID-19 recommendations given by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Information on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“People should continue to purchase food they need,” she said. “This also is a good time to support local producers as many of them have seen a sharp decline in sales due to restaurant closures.”

Anyone with questions can contact their local Clemson Extension Food Systems and Safety agent at www.clemson.edu/extension/food.

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