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Wash your hands — and your produce

We’re all nervous about the virus, so turn on the faucet, grab the soap, and start singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice

Before using vegetables, even those you plan to peel, scrub them under water with a soft brush.
Before using vegetables, even those you plan to peel, scrub them under water with a soft brush.Alexey Nazarov/Alex67

We’re all nervous about the groceries coming into our homes during the coronavirus. What do you do once you’re in the kitchen with your shopping bags or your order has arrived at the door?

First, some information. The Food and Drug Administration website states: “Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”

The FDA goes on to say, “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. However, it’s always critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety — clean, separate, cook, and chill — to prevent foodborne illness.”

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USDA videos on food safety guidelines explain those four systems. Start by washing your hands with soap and water the minute you come into the house from the supermarket. Before using vegetables, even those you plan to peel, scrub them under water with a soft brush. Soak greens in cold water for 15 minutes. (From my own experience, I know that a salad spinner works well if the greens are torn up; for salads you’ll need to spin for a minute or two.)

To refrigerate food, keep meats separate from vegetables to avoid cross-contamination. (At the checkout, bag meats and vegetables separately.)

All cooked foods should reach the USDA safe temperatures listed here and then rest for five minutes to destroy any remaining bacteria.

Safe cooked food temperatures (USDA)

Beef, pork, veal, lamb: 145 degrees

Ground meats: 160 degrees

Ham (uncooked): 145 degrees

Ham (cooked): 140 degrees if plant is USDA-inspected, otherwise 165 degrees

Poultry: 165 degrees

Eggs: 160 degrees

Fish and shellfish: 145 degrees

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Casseroles and leftovers: 165 degrees

Thaw frozen meats and poultry in the refrigerator, which may take a day, or in a zipper bag in cold water, changing the water every half hour, which will take a few hours.

As for bottles and boxes of food that come into your home, the National Institutes of Health states on its website, “coronavirus is stable on surfaces for several hours to days.” The site says the virus is detectable for “up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.”

Jim Rogers, Consumer Reports’ director of food safety research and testing, suggests washing plastic, glass, and metal containers with dish soap and water before shelving them at home.

Wash hands before and after handling paper boxes and bags, and let the pasta boxes or other boxed foods sit for a few days before you open them.

And you’ve heard this again and again — and once more here: Wash hands before touching or preparing food, wash countertops, cutting boards, and knives. Wipe surfaces with a sponge dipped into a solution of 2 tablespoons household chlorine bleach mixed with 1 quart (4 cups) water; leave for 5 minutes, then wipe with a sponge and clean water. These practices should become routine in your kitchen, now and later.

It all takes longer, and yes, you will have dishpan hands. (Moisturize!) But you’ll be safer.


Sheryl Julian can be reached at sheryl.julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.