We've been living in a pandemic for about five months now and have had to adjust to many new daily experiences. However, even after all this time, many people still feel uncomfortable and concerned carrying out activities such as grocery shopping and dining at reopened restaurants. While restaurants and supermarkets have added safety measures, including plexiglass dividers, mask requirements, and capacity limits, to make customers feel as comfortable as they can be, the ever-evolving narrative around food safety and the coronavirus can bring an added stress to these experiences.
Here are some of the latest tips on staying safe and having peace of mind, while you shop for groceries and eat out, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal:
Gloves: To Wear or Not to Wear?
Maybe you've seen someone in your supermarket wearing gloves as they select avocados, and it made you stop in your tracks and analyze every surface and product your bare hands had already touched in the store. It's easy to feel like you aren't doing enough, but experts agree that handwashing and wearing masks is enough to avoid picking up viruses from surfaces. Airborne transmission in enclosed, unventilated places is the most common path of transmission.
Wearing gloves, while well-intentioned, can actually give you a false sense of security and may lead you to contaminate yourself if you touch your face while wearing them, Dr. Shira Doron told The Wall Street Journal.
Paper, Plastic, or Reusable?
After years of converting people to the eco-friendlier option of bringing their own reusable bags for groceries, most grocery stores banned reusable bags during the pandemic in favor of single-use paper or plastic bags. However, according to The Wall Street Journal, reusable bags have little to no risk of spreading COVID-19, though you should wash them frequently.
What you should worry about is contact with others in the grocery store, including cashiers, baggers, and shoppers. Mitigate this risk by maximizing distance, washing or sanitizing your hands afterward, and wiping down your counter at home after unloading your groceries.
Do I need to wipe down every grocery item?
Because the virus is not foodborne, there's really no need to wipe down produce, fruit, or raw food products, The Wall Street Journal reports. The same goes for packaging and cash.
Instead, wash your hands after touching any raw food, separate raw meat from other food in the refrigerator, and keep food longer to limit trips out of your home.
Can I start having potlucks again?
It is safe to eat at a potluck, since stomach acids will break down and neutralize the virus, and there haven't been any reported cases of transmission through food. However, everything else about a potluck—common utensils, wait lines, close contact with other people—is risky. Technically, you could take lengths with single-use cups and no close contact among people at your potluck, but to maximize safety, it's probably better to postpone your gathering for another time.
If workers who packaged or shipped my food had the coronavirus, will I get infected?
Craig Hedberg, professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Minnesota, told The Wall Street Journal that the likelihood of becoming infected through plant workers is close to zero because the virus will die by the time the food is delivered to your home.
However, since the risk level depends on the time and proximity that you spent interacting with other people, it's better to avoid long interactions with grocery store or restaurant employees, for both your sakes.
Should I eat inside or outside at restaurants?
Because the risk of infection increases in indoor spaces with bad ventilation, it's better to dine outside. You should wear a mask when you aren't sitting at a table, and when you take it off, you should keep it clean and put it in a separate bag. Servers should wear masks whenever possible.
What are the risks of going to bars?
Bars have been closed in Louisiana, and it's not hard to see why. When people are moving around and standing rather than sitting at tables, its more challenging to regulate and keep track of social distancing. Alcohol consumption can also make people less concerned or looser with their safety practices, which can make bars riskier. Perhaps most of all, the yelling and shouting that goes on at bars can release droplets into the air that can infect people with the virus.
Should I avoid restaurant bathrooms?
While there haven't been any outbreaks linked to public restrooms, using shared restrooms can hypothetically increase risk of infection. Robert Amler, dean of health sciences and practice at New York Medical College, told The Wall Street Journal that flushing toilets and turning on hand dryers can cause air movement.
If you have to use the restroom at a restaurant, wear a mask, use paper towels rather than hand dryers, go in one at a time, wash your hands, and maintain distance from others.