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What’s got you scratching your head about Milwaukee and the region? Bubbler Talk is a series that puts your curiosity front and center.

How Do You Safely Handle Grocery Deliveries Amid The Coronavirus?

If you're getting food delivered to your home during the coronavirus pandemic, can the coronavirus be on those items? We chatted with a health expert to help us find out.

For Bubbler Talk, Diane from West Allis asked us how she should handle food deliveries to her door during the COVID-19 pandemic. Can the coronavirus be on those items, and if so, what’s the best way to wipe them down? Diane resides in independent living and says the pandemic has sparked fear in her.

“The virus thing yes, has scared me to death because of my underlying chronic lung condition, which is under the umbrella of COPD,” she says.

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Despite her condition, Diane's able to get around, including going to the grocery store. But since the pandemic broke out and the governor's safer-at-home order was put in place, a friend has been grocery shopping for her and delivering the items. But Diane doesn’t want to burden her friend anymore, so she’s thinking about ordering groceries online for delivery.

“I like boxed greens because I like salads, and I get yogurt and cottage cheese and buttermilk. I just like the meat from this one particular store, so I’m going to order that online,” she explains.

The coronavirus lives on cardboard for about 24 hours.

So, how should Diane handle the delivered items when bags or boxes arrive at her door?

Dr. Jeff Pothof says if items come in cardboard boxes, let them sit outside for a while if possible. He's the chief quality and safety officer at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.

“We know that the virus only lives on cardboard for about 24 hours. So if you can leave that package out there for a day, two days and it’s not out in the rain or anything like that, at that point that package is safe to handle, you don’t have to worry about it at all,” he says.


If you can't let a cardboard package stay outside for 24 hours, Jeff says to grab it, bring it inside, set it down, wash your hands and then let it sit for a day. He shares a similar tip for handling the mail — bring it indoors, wash your hands, and let the mail sit for 24 hours before opening.

He says the coronavirus lives longer on some surfaces, so groceries packed in certain containers should sit out on the counter longer before being handled or put in the cupboard. For instance, he says items in glass, metal or hard plastic packaging should sit for three days. Jeff says once the package has sat long enough for the virus to expire, it’s safe to handle.

Items in glass, metal or hard plastic packaging should sit for three days.

But what if you want to use the groceries immediately or you have to put them away because they're perishable?

“Then the best thing to do is to have diligent hand hygiene, but wipe those off with a disinfecting wipe before you put them away and then make sure you wash your hands before and after you do those things. Once you take those bags out of your kitchen, make sure you wipe down the countertop that it was on,” Jeff says.

Jeff has found that some people still aren't washing their hands as frequently as they should, especially when handling packages. But he has a tip to help with that.

“When you’re bringing something into your house that could be contaminated, almost pretend like it has wet paint. And, then think about, ‘I’ve touched it so now I have wet paint on my hands’. And run that through your mind because now when I think I’ve got wet paint on my hands, I can’t go over here and touch the TV remote because I have to wash my hands before I put wet paint on the remote,” Jeff says.

So next time you bring something into your home during the coronavirus pandemic, just remember: think you've touched wet paint so you'll wash your hands.

During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.


Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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