How can I shop for food safely?

What are the safest ways to go shopping for food or accept a delivery or takeaway at home? This is a guide from the BBC website.

What’s the risk in shops?

Coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs small droplets – packed with the virus – into the air. These can cause an infection if they are breathed in, or potentially if you touch a surface they have landed on.

So going shopping and mixing with other people does carry a risk. That is why social distancing – keeping at least 2m (about 6ft) from others – is so important, and many shops are enforcing it.

Supermarkets can provide an “ideal setting” for virus transfer, says Prof Sally Bloomfield, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “Many people are touching and replacing items, checkout belts, cash cards, car park ticket machine buttons, ATM payment buttons, paper receipts etc… Not to mention being in the proximity of several other people.”

There are ways to offset these risks:

  • Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, or with alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after shopping
  • Treat surfaces as if they may be contaminated, meaning you avoid touching your face after handling shopping trollies, baskets, packages and produce
  • Use contactless payment methods

What about the shopping itself?

There is no evidence of Covid-19 being transmitted through food, and thorough cooking will kill the virus. The UK Food Standards Agency website has advice on food safety at home.

But while there is no such thing as “zero risk”, says Prof Bloomfield, it is packaging – handled by other people – that is a chief concern.

Online advice for food businesses says: “Food packaging is not known to present a specific risk.” However, some independent experts have additional advice.

“For contained or packaged goods,” says Prof Bloomfield, “either store them for 72 hours before using them or spray and wipe plastic or glass containers with bleach [that is carefully diluted as directed on the bottle].

“For unwrapped fresh goods, which could have been handled by anyone – wash thoroughly under running water and leave to dry,” she adds.