Low danger of getting COVID-19 from grocery retailer surfaces: Guelph research

GUELPH — Disinfecting food packaging or wearing gloves while shopping is likely “overly cautious” as the risk of picking up COVID-19 on grocery store surfaces is very low, new Guelph research found.

A team of University of Guelph scientists swabbed hundreds of high-contact surfaces in grocery stores — starting with the carts and baskets to the final checkout — and none tested positive.

“People were very worried about that,” said food science Prof. Maria Corradini. “We didn’t find anything.”

The team led by Corradini and PhD student Maleeka Singh concluded there’s a low risk of exposure from a contaminated surface when stores follow recommended cleaning protocols.

“All the measures we have in place are working,” Corradini said.

Those measures include limiting the number of people in a store, wearing masks and sanitation protocols that either prevent the virus from getting onto surfaces or clean it off. Either way, a shopper doesn’t have to worry too much about the coronavirus ending up on their hands and then potentially making them sick.

“If you touch the surface, the virus isn’t there,” she said.

The study began last year shortly after the release of research that suggested the virus could survive for hours or even days on surfaces in hospitals. To find out if similar results would be found on surfaces in grocery stores, the team took 957 samples at four Ontario food retailers over a month during the pandemic’s second wave.

The team swabbed handles of carts and baskets, payment terminals and conveyor belts at checkouts, surfaces around deli counters and the handles in frozen food sections because other studies had shown these areas were most likely to harbour viruses and bacteria.

None of the samples tested positive for the virus, regardless of the store being in an urban or suburban area, the time of day the sampling was done or the location of the surface within the story or type of material.

At the start of the pandemic when so much was unknown and people were worried about where they might become infected, some wore disposable gloves while shopping and then fastidiously cleaned every food item brought into their home before it was eaten or put away.

“It was a little bit overly cautious,” Corradini said.

Findings of the study, recently published in the journal Current Research in Food, supports those of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention which concluded that transmission of COVID-19 through surfaces is feasible but very unlikely as the main route is through droplets or airborne transmission from infected people.

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