Sanitize groceries, discard takeout containers immediately: Doctor demonstrates 'sterile technique'

Even when practicing necessary social distancing guidelines, shopping at a grocery store or ordering takeout and delivery food can be an anxiety-inducing endeavor for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

If you are one of the Americans who has been wondering how to safely handle and store food amid the COVID-19 pandemic, you may benefit from this Michigan doctor's grocery shopping and eating techniques.

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In a YouTube video, Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen demonstrated how to purchase and handle food safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"People are moving, and with that movement comes risk," VanWingen said, citing the growing death toll in Italy even after strict lockdown measures were put into effect by the country's government. "We have a dilemma in society that we need to eat to live, but we also need to get that food, but that getting of food is now risky," he said.

VanWingen, a family physician who has practiced for 20 years in Grand Rapids, Michigan, described something known as "sterile technique," a practice that he says physicians like him use to reduce risk while they perform surgeries and conduct other medical tasks so they do not give infections to their patients. 

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VanWingen said many grocery stores are doing better about keeping things clean, "but they are not sanitizing every canned good and every plastic-wrapped item."

When it comes to grocery shopping, VanWingen said it's not as simple as wiping down the handle of your cart. There are additional measures that shoppers should be taking in the supermarket to prevent spreading or contracting COVID-19.

Grocery shopping safety

  • Wipe down your cart
  • Commit to buying items before touching them or picking them up
  • Don't go to the market if you have respiratory symptoms or you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19
  • Plan ahead to buy what you will need for two weeks, to minimize the time you must spend at the market
  • Don't allow family members or loved ones over the age of 60 to go to the market themselves

According to VanWingen, the safest method for ensuring that newly purchased or delivered groceries do not have residual COVID-19 contamination is to leave them in the garage or on a porch for three days before bringing them inside a home, but if you need the things you bought immediately, you can clean and disinfect your newly purchased provisions.

In an update to his video, VanWingen noted that COVID-19 lives on cardboard for one day, citing data from the National Institute of Health.

RELATED: COVID-19 more contagious than SARS or MERS, can live on surfaces for up to 9 days, studies say

Don't assume that the items you've brought home are COVID-19 free just because you can't see the virus on them. VanWingen said it is helpful for consumers to picture their groceries being covered with something visible.

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"Imagine that the groceries that you have are covered with some glitter," VanWingen said. "And your goal at the end of this is to not have any glitter in your house, on your hands, or especially on your face. And imagine that disinfectants and soap, they have the power to dissolve that glitter."

Grocery cleaning and disinfecting

  • Sanitize your counter or workspace with a standard disinfectant
  • Section your surface into two sides, designating one side as "clean" and one as "dirty" for your unsanitized groceries
  • Wipe down all plastics, including packaging
  • Get rid of unnecessary external packaging that could be contaminated
  • If you use cloth bags for your shopping, consider them "dirty" and place them outside or wash them immediately after use
  • Move packaged items like bread to other clean containers
  • Spray down impermeable packaging with disinfectant
  • Wash fruits in soapy water vigorously for 20 seconds
  • Your freezer will not kill coronavirus -- thoroughly disinfect all freezer items before placing them inside

According to VanWingen, research shows that coronaviruses do not survive well in food if it is hot. There isn't much to worry about in terms of COVID-19 being inside the hot takeout or delivery food you're about to eat, but it could very well be on the outer packaging or containers.

Takeout and delivery food safety

  • Wash hands immediately with soap and water for 20 seconds after touching packaging and before handling food
  • Keeping food free of contact with outside wrappers or packaging, place onto clean plate
  • Microwave or heat food whenever possible, and choose hot foods over cold
  • Empty any sauces onto a clean plate or into a clean container without exposing them to outer packaging

VanWingen said the extra careful food handling and disinfecting measures it may seem like a lot of work, but they can keep people from getting sick and potentially sickening others.

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"In these unprecedented times, safety out in the marketplace can literally save lives," VanWingen said.