How do I deal with frozen food and coronavirus?
June 2, 2020 12:23 AM   Subscribe

Finally caved in and ordered groceries for the first time since it happened. I know to leave everything nonperishable by the door untouched for days on end, and not to wash the produce with soap. But what do I do with things that have to go into the freezer/fridge?

I've already read this and elected to get delivery. However, I read that coronavirus lives on for YEARS when frozen and I cannot find any advice really on how to deal with frozen food, ice cream, etc. I was going to freeze the bread I bought (I do NOT make my own bread) as well. I don't think I want to take all the packaging off since that's not always doable and that's where the instructions are. I assume some of it's cardboard, some of it's plastic bags, etc. What should I do?
posted by jenfullmoon to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You put it in your freezer or fridge and then you wash your hands.

Seriously. You don't need to leave your produce sitting out for days. There is currently no evidence of the coronavirus being transmitted on food or food packaging.

There was reason to believe it might be possible - and surface transmission is still plausible, say if someone touches the credit card pad right before you and then you rub your nose. But food and its packaging are really not high risk - the virus doesn't survive well outside of people, and people are the way it's been shown to spread.
posted by Lady Li at 12:38 AM on June 2 [102 favorites]

The odds that viruses have landed on your ice cream or other frozen food in the container to begin with are low (There's no easy way for them to get through the packaging.) Even if some did, ingesting them isn't necessarily going to cause infection--so far, it seems like food isn't a big vector for infection (there's explanations of why a few paragraphs down from that anchor link, and links out to CDC and European Food Safety Authority).

The amount of time that a virus can theoretically stay alive on a surface doesn't mean that it's waiting there to be infectious. Keep in mind that they need host cells to replicate; they're not going to grow like mold on the outside of cardboard; you're going to throw that away. And the number of viruses surviving on any surface drops quickly and keeps dropping with time--going faster with exposure to UV (like sunlight).
posted by pykrete jungle at 12:43 AM on June 2 [10 favorites]

you unpack your groceries and put them away as you would normally. you wash your hands afterwards. that's the whole thing.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:47 AM on June 2 [82 favorites]

Chiming in that this is not necessary. If the virus spread this way, cases would be exponentially higher than they already are.

Put things away as usual, don't touch your face while you're doing so, wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water afterward. Tip your delivery person well.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 3:26 AM on June 2 [19 favorites]

I wipe my packaged goods off with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. I worried a lot more after seeing a long video about sanitizing groceries, but then a host of articles from reputable sources came out saying that was anxiety-producing overkill, so I just saturate a towel and give stuff a quick wipe down before putting it away. That too might be overkill but it makes me feel like I’m doing *something* so....yeah.
posted by 41swans at 3:30 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]

I agree there's currently a lack of evidence supporting the surface transmission vector. However, I found the following facts about viruses interestingly counterintuitive. Depending on the type of surface material, viruses can survive for up to 7 days at 70 degrees F in room temperature, 28 days at 40 degrees F in the refrigerator, and up to 2 years at -4 degrees F in the freezer. As you can see by reading the links, there is a great deal of variability even in these studies, but if you wish to spend time on sanitizing any group of products, it would perhaps be best to spend it on those going into the freezer. After 2 years, we should have much better research on all of these vector variables.
posted by fairmettle at 3:35 AM on June 2

I'm immunocompromised and take extra precautions. I use a damp soapy rag and wipe down packaging that doesn't have holes in it, but I'm not precious about it. Some select stuff, like bread, I repackage into a new container. The risk of transmission from food packaging does seem to be low. Just wash your hands after preparing food and before eating like you would normally.
posted by k8lin at 3:42 AM on June 2 [4 favorites]

Echoing what others have said, and want to add that the video that came out early on about disinfecting all groceries was made by a (well-meaning) family physician, but most (perhaps every?) epidemiologist and virologist responded by saying they believed that was unnecessary.

Keep in mind that just because a virus might "survive" on a surface, that doesn't mean it has much of a chance of infecting you—in fact, from what I've read, it has little to no chance. Nearly every case is from air-borne respiratory droplets, so what you want to do is avoid having the delivery person cough in your face. And if they don't, please tell tip them as well as you can!
posted by wisekaren at 4:12 AM on June 2 [16 favorites]

We've been spraying everything with 70% alcohol, letting it sit a minute, and then wiping it off before putting away. We dispose excess packaging outside immediately and then we wash our hands.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:37 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]

My COO is a practicing physician who up until yesterday was overseeing a covid field hospital. His exact words when asked this at a staff meeting were “just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s likely.”

Just put your groceries away, wash the produce as you normally would, then wash your hands. Don’t let months-old advice issued when we knew less about transmission make life any more difficult.
posted by kimberussell at 4:44 AM on June 2 [18 favorites]

Back in the early days I went at my cold packaged perishables with two paper towels: one a little sudsy with normal soap and water, the other just damp. Suds suds suds, wipe wipe wipe.

I don't do that anymore.
posted by phunniemee at 5:16 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]

We have also settled on "just put everything away and wash your hands afterwards" at this point. That said, if your risk factors / risk tolerance are such that it isn't going to work for you, then maybe designate a shelf of your fridge / side of your freezer as the Grocery Time Out Corner and just put everything in that space and don't touch it for a few days. Or if you don't have the space for that, maybe put a red sticker on everything new and don't use anything with the sticker until a few days have passed. Something that's going to work for your space.
posted by Stacey at 6:00 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]

I wash anything watertight with soap and dry it off before putting it away. Everything else gets left alone for a few days, except for fresh fruit and vegetables where I follow the traveler rule: peel it, cook it, or forget it.

All of this is a leftover from before we understood how incredibly rare surface transmission is. At this point I do it because the ritual makes me feel better. If I had any sort of life I probably wouldn’t bother.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:06 AM on June 2 [2 favorites]

Put it away and wash your hands. You can do more than that if it makes your anxieties relax (but please be careful to not do things like soak your produce or other food in harsh chemicals, which you then eat), but it is not necessary per current epidemiological advice. Breathing the same air indoors is risky; licking doorknobs down at the hospital is risky; touching groceries is not risky.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:16 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]

While I think the above advice is correct, handling stuff from the fridge and freezer raises my paranoia. I tend to hold it with bits of paper towel or the like as a barrier. I try to dump/pour without the product touching the outside of the container.

Washing hands after is probably more important.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:28 AM on June 2

I live in Jackson Heights, Queens, the epicenter of the epicenter. My husband and I been ordering groceries from the very beginning of the quarantine, and except for the first week or so, right after I saw that video from the doctor, we don't wipe anything down at all. We unpack, put stuff in the fridge, put the rest of the stuff in the pantry, and wash our hands well. That’s it. We don’t even dispose of the delivery boxes immediately; we put them aside and take them out when we take out the rest of the trash. That’s it. We're both still healthy.
posted by holborne at 8:02 AM on June 2 [5 favorites]

I put it all away with my mask on and then wash my hands and take off the mask.
posted by Peach at 8:06 AM on June 2

If just putting them away and washing your hands doesn't feel like enough, get a sharpie and some masking tape and mark everything you stick in the freezer, as a reminder to wash your hands again after handling it when you take it out again. I don't believe it's necessary based on anything I've read, but if it gives you peace of mind, it certainly won't hurt.
posted by Mchelly at 8:36 AM on June 2

If you are stressed and concerned about the frozen stuff, you could wear gloves (regular winter gloves and then wash them, or dishwashing gloves, if you don't have medical gloves) or put something like an empty bread bag on one arm and use only that hand to touch the frozen food. Pick it up with the covered hand and wipe it down with a soapy rag or bleach wipe; give it a quick dry with a towel; and put it in the freezer.

I don't know if this will be safer, somehow, but if it makes you feel safer, it might not hurt.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:01 PM on June 2

Most of these responses seem to be more general than you're asking about. It seems that what you're mostly afraid of is that there will be some virus on the outside of the ice cream or other FROZEN food container and, as opposed to non-frozen food, where leaving it out will cause the virus to lose potency and "die" (I'm not a scientist- can you tell?), the virus on the container will remain viable in the freezer, so that, when you go to eat the ice cream in a month or something, it'll still be there in its original state (waiting to kill you).

Okay - so I would say that, if that's what you're afraid of (and I'm a little bit afraid of containers in the refrigerator too), and it's unreasonable to take the ice cream out of its container and put it in another container, then what you can do is use a wet paper towel WITH SOAP (don't forget the soap; it's what dissolves theh coating around the virus -- just water doesn't do it) and wash down those items. (I've also read that the water temperature doesn't matter.)

So that's what I do now -- I wash down the plastic packaging of things that go in the freezer or refrigerator. Washing your hands after you touch any of these things will also do the job but I understand that you're afraid that you (or someone else) will forget to do that after you've put the food away, every single time you go to get some, so it's better to clean them off now.

However, you can go nuts with this stuff - the first week, I washed down a bag of flour. This was NOT SMART, I realized, as the flour in the now-dissolved paper package came pouring out of the bag onto the floor!

Agree that it is highly unlikely that you'll get infected from the packaging, but I'm like you -- I want to make sure I'm okay, so that's what I do.
posted by DMelanogaster at 11:55 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]

Well, I ended up not ever figuring out how to handle the frozen food. The guy delivered after my "lunch hour" was over, so I had no choice but to immediately put the food in the freezer, and my brain is just so broken right now I can't figure out how to cope with the freezer thing now to stay "safe." I give up. I did wash off everything that went into the fridge and left the nonperishables out for days on end, at least. If the timing had been better I would have done what DMelanogaster said, though.

Thanks, folks.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:29 PM on June 9

Hi, since you mentioned me, here I am again. Why not take the frozen food out of the freezer for a minute, wash it down with cool water and soap (remember, it's the soap, not the water temperature, that matters), and put it right back into the freezer? That's what I would do. OR leave it there and when you want to eat it, take it out, wash it with soap and water, wash your hands, and eat the damn frozen food. It'll be fine. #NotAScientist #ButAmAPsychologistSoKnowAThingOrTwoAboutAnxiety
posted by DMelanogaster at 1:54 PM on June 12

I just tried that with a cardboard pizza box (removing only one pizza). We'll see how that goes holding up the cardboard and putting it back in the freezer!
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:47 PM on June 12

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