Relax—you actually don’t need to sanitize your food

On Sunday, I posted an article about sanitizing your food after you return from grocery shopping. The thing is, the medical professional who posted the original clip went a bit overboard in terms of how sanitary he felt he needed to keep his food once retrieved from the grocery store. The truth is, not everything the doctor says in his video is strictly correct and he is no food safety expert, as has been pointed out to me. However, for the most part my textual commentary doesn’t contradict what I’m about to share and I am happy to give Dr. Don Schaffner his due:

Buckle up, readers, as it’s about to get serious! Thirty-two more tweets, seriously!

Unfortunately, the link above to my original article with take you to that video but if you haven’t hit play on the video, and just read my commentary, you should be fine. Please, trust Dr. Don!

Sometimes I roll my eyes at my fellow writers when they they try to come up with Science Fiction ideas, since I did study undergrad Physics and read a lot of science books. I feel you Dr. Don!

Here here! I already outlined most of what was right in the video in my original post. I think I may have misspoken on how to wash produce but I’ll save that commentary for later.

There’s a bit of nuance to this, but what the good Dr. Don is saying is there is a difference between a random but not yet denatured strand of viral RNA, which in itself isn’t particularly harmful—at least, not infectious—where as a live virus was not observed. As in, the crown-like outer shell of SARS-CoV-2, a.k.a. the Coronavirus, the “Crown Virus”. Without the outer shell and crown-like protrusions, the virus has no way of penetrating cells, be they eukarya, bacteria, or archaea. Note, this pathogen only infects eukaryotes, though most viruses are harmless, only infecting bacteria.

More fundamentally, though, Dr. Dan points out that the CDC Study that came up with the 17-day number for RNA was never published in a peer-review paper where the methodology and techniques used could be scrutinized and dissected. Without the process of peer review, the observation is as good as anecdotal.

This was one of my biggest beefs with the video too. I mean, it’s one thing in the winter in Lansing, MI, where the outside might already be the temperature of your freezer. But that won’t work in Florida, not by a long shot. So unless you’re gonna be like Thomas Jefferson and truck in ice from Canada to keep your food from spoiling, don’t leave your perishable food in the garage!

Exactly!

This is a very good point. One of the ways the SARS-CoV-2 deactivates is through desiccation. If the virus is in a medium that allows it to dry out, it will no longer be effective. This is why spittle from sneezing is the most dangerous.

The virus is highly communicable, to be sure, but its transmission with respect to someone with the virus touching an item on the shelf, putting it back, and then having you grab it is exceedingly unlikely. And by the time you get to it, it’s quite likely SARS-CoV-2 has already dried out and perished.

I have to agree, as different packaging materials will allow the virus to remain active long than others, and again, as state above, it’s unlikely by the time you pluck the item from the shelf that it would still have any active virus on it even if it had once.

Washing your hands before eating should be second nature anyway. As Dr, Don says, you can remove the item from the packaging, put it on a clean plate, and then wash your hands before eating and any contamination on the packaging will have been removed from the equation.

Wørd!

There are good reasons not to use soap to wash your produce and I will admit I got that wrong before. Soap dissolves cell membranes and while most produce is covered by dead epithelial cells—like those on the outer layers of your skin—and thus won’t likely cause cellular damage to your food, but if you slice the food it could spoil its flavor and if you fail to wash it all off and it gets in the nooks and crannies of your consumables, Dr. Don is right, you’re itching for a tummy ache. The oily residue soap normally removes isn’t a big issue on produce and thus a simple water bath should be sufficient for cleaning your produce.

Precisely!

Even the prescient Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis knew that hand washing wasn’t a panascia. It reduces the change of killing a mother giving birth, but even if done right, it isn’t perfect. Soap and water are great for removing both hydrophobic and hydrophilic substances from your person, but not every pathogen is removed by such reactions. SARS-CoV-2 is damaged because of its hydrophobic coating, but the same isn’t true for all toxic substances.

Indeed, human skin has many friendly microbes that help keep the skin clean and fresh. You wouldn’t want to boil those off anyway, even if you could. Love your friendly microbes. Just use soap and water to kill SARS-CoV-2. That M*th*r F*ck*r must die!

This is another good point. Not all handwashes are equal. I try to do a rather complex technique when washing my hands which I may document another day, but the long and short of it is, just rubbing your hands together isn’t enough, and even my technique isn’t one hundred percent effective.

Great point! Early food preservation in wine bottles with their tartaric acid may have worked for Napoleon’s army, but when we started using steel and aluminium cans, or even glass, we had to be very very sure everything was sterile. Watch any number of episodes from Comment C’est Fait (How It’s Made chez É-U.) to see how this is done.

Remember the words of François-Marie Arouet, a.k.a. Voltaire, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” (Perfection is the enemy of good.)

This is one point I did make in my original article. Glad to see my point is backed up by Dr. Don.

This one is simply a caveat emptor. Don’t assume a product can kill viruses. Indeed, there are many ways product makers can use language that makes it seem like it’s effective against pathogens, but unless there is peer reviewed literature to back it up, sorry, it’s not magic. It won’t protect you against SARS-CoV-2 any better than simply washing your hands.

There is something to be said for the security blanket of feeling better. But, yes, they won’t help and are no better than a simple cold-water bath.

Or for treating the fabric of your home made N95 mask.

I like using reusable bags and agree washing them like any fabric is a wise idea. If you must use disposable bags, please use ones that are recyclable or compostable.

In other words, keep your bags close but be more mindful of social distancing and that the bagger uses proper sanitary techniques. But again, the likelihood that someone with the virus has used that same checkout stand recent-enough for the virus to still be active is very likely, and most grocery stores, like Wegman’s will do their best to sanitize the checkout counter between each customer during Covidapolis.

Keeping them in your car is a good idea. I always keep my MOM’s Organic Market bag in my car so it’s ready whenever I go there.

Wash your hands!

I have indeed noticed Wegman’s doing just that. They are, IMHO, doing a great job!

Know what you want, like Low Acid Orange Juice, and head straight over. Keep those two meter buffers to keep safe!

If you can get hand sanitizer, then it’s great when there isn’t soap and water available. But when you have soap and water, always prefer that.

Done in the most complete way possible Dr. Don!

Shelter in place, y’all, and use Zoom to see a friendly face!

Much obliged Dr. Don! Happy to help promote good science, sound food handling, and how to weave a great yarn, and sew a great mask!

Bon appetit, mes amis!

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