How to Decontaminate Packages and Reduce the Risk of Bringing the Coronavirus Home
Written by: the Editors of goop
Published on: April 6, 2020
Updated on: November 14, 2022
Social distancing remains the most important thing we can do right now. The CDC has reported that the virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person and that touching objects is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. The CDC also says that it does not have evidence that coronavirus is transmitted via food. And still: Some of us want more information about how to bring groceries and packages inside without bringing along the novel coronavirus. So we asked Ron Kopito, PhD, a professor of biology at Stanford University, what he’s doing at home. These are not protocols that have been tested with coronavirus, and they are not endorsed by Stanford or any medical institution. They are just suggestions for doing the best we can based on current knowledge, from someone who knows about keeping microorganisms in check. And if you have additional precautions you use, so much the better.
We also liked a video from Jeffrey VanWingen, MD, who asks you to visualize glitter all over your packages, grocery bags, and food items. Do you know how glitter is sometimes sticky and sometimes flyaway? It ends up everywhere. You want to dissolve that glitter and wash it away before bringing items from a staging area into your clean home. (VanWingen had good ideas, but we thought we still saw glitter getting into his clean area. It’s hard!)
There is still much we don’t know about the novel coronavirus, but the following suggestions are based on what we do know. From controlled experiments, we know that infectious SARS-CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus) may last up to four hours on copper, up to twenty-four hours on cardboard, and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. (The CDC reported that viral RNA was detected on ships seventeen days after people got off, but we do not know about how infectious this RNA was.) We also know that many people who test positive for COVID-19 are asymptomatic. This means that grocery store, restaurant, and delivery workers may not know that they are shedding the virus, so items could be contaminated before arrival at your home.
In general, Kopito suggests treating anything that comes from outside your home as if it is contaminated: “Of course, everything is not contaminated, but because you can’t tell what is and what isn’t, it is prudent to assume that things are.” There are so many kinds of foods and packages that it’s not realistic to cover each one in detail. If you want to be very vigilant, Kopito recommends segregating and decontaminating whatever you bring in.
How to Disinfect Packages and Groceries:
• Create a decontamination zone in your garage, porch, or somewhere else that is separate from where you go about your daily life, if possible. This is where you will leave any items that you do not need to use or refrigerate immediately for the three days necessary for any possible traces of SARS-CoV-2 that may be on them to die.
• Before shopping: Create a cleaning area, separate from the decontamination zone, where items will be decontaminated for immediate use or refrigeration. Have scissors and a waste basket handy.
• Sanitize your hands after shopping so that you don’t contaminate your front door. Prop open the front door and any doors to your decontamination zone and to your cleaning area.
• Bring all nonperishable groceries and packages to your decontamination zone and leave them there for three days or one day for cardboard boxes.
• Bring produce, meats, and other perishables to your cleaning area. Your hands could now be contaminated. Wash them before touching anything (e.g. closing the front door).
For fresh produce or anything else you can soak in soapy water:
• With clean hands (or a helper) run a sink full of soapy water.
• Dump the produce in. Your hands are now contaminated from the bags. Put the bags in the trash or the decontamination zone, then wash your hands. Soak the produce for fifteen minutes, then scrub, rinse under running water, and put it on a clean cloth to dry.
For perishables from the meat counter, wrapped in plastic bags and butcher paper:
• With clean hands (or a helper), outside of the cleaning area, lay out clean containers or bags to store the food in. Back in the cleaning area, unwrap the butcher paper and put it in the trash. Your hands are now contaminated. Empty the meat from the plastic bag into one of the clean containers placed outside of the cleaning area. Put the dirty bag in the trash. Wash your hands before closing the container and storing it in fridge.
• Foods handled at the meat counter could be contaminated—consider them uncontaminated only after they’ve been cooked.
For waterproof containers, like plastic bottles of juice or milk cartons:
• Spray with a disinfectant. Use EPA-registered disinfectants as directed on the product. Alternatively, make your own disinfectant by adding four teaspoons of bleach to a quart of water in a well-ventilated area. After application, allow at least one minute for the bleach solution to disinfect.
• Or wash thoroughly with soap and water as you would your hands.
• Our recommendations for the use of alcohol-based gel or wipes for this purpose are based on the CDC’s recommendations for hand sanitizing and on published research. It takes twenty to thirty seconds for 60 to 70 percent alcohol to be effective, so it’s recommended that you use a generous amount of product that takes at least twenty seconds to dry.
For cereal boxes:
• Open the box. Without touching it, dump out the inner bag of cereal onto a clean surface outside of cleaning area. Discard the box. Wash your hands.
And here’s an additional tip from Kopito: “If possible, buy a box of disposable gloves from Amazon or your local hardware store. Use them when shopping, buying gas, or handling goods that may be contaminated. Most important, remove and discard the gloves before entering your home, touching your doorknob, opening your car door, or driving. Once they’ve been used to touch contaminated materials, the gloves should be assumed to be contaminated. Remember, even if you use gloves, you should still wash your hands or use sanitizer when returning to your home.”
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.