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!


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.


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.


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!

Low Acid Orange Juice, Finally!

Grocery Shopping during Covidapolis

After a week unable to leave my house apart from a walk around the community, I was finally allowed to go grocery shopping. With the confirmation that Wegman’s, Dulles had Low Acid Orange Juice, I was able to go there at 08:00 this morning and pick up the OJ and a few other items I’d needed.

The thing is, in the age of Covidapolis, you can’t just bring groceries into your house. You need to assume all your groceries may be vectors for SARS-CoV-2 to enter your home! You need to have a staging area for your groceries, and an area you will consider sanitized.

Each item then must be sanitized either by washing with soap and water, like every fruit and vegetable, or wiped down with a cleaning sheet like Clorox wipes. Remove items from containers if the items inside also have wrapping. The idea is the outer container may be contaminated, but the inner container has probably been untouched long enough for any virus to have died. For items that don’t have inner containers, only outer containers, like bread, take the bread out of its packaging and place it in an adequate storage container from your cabinets, which should already be virus free.

Of course, nobody explains this better than Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, MD. He was kind enough to provide these and other instructions on his youtube channel, a video for which he’s received over two hundred thousand likes. Excellent work, doctor!

Finally, after the OJ was sufficiently cleaned, it was ready to be welcomed into my home and stored in my fridge. Mission accomplished, for real this time!

Low Acid Orange Juice, Finally!
I finally obtained some low acid orange juice. I had been over a week since I had been able to drink vitamin-C packed OJ so I’m so relieved to finally be able to partake again. But notice the sanatizing wipes next to it? It needs to be sanitized before it goes into the fridge. © 2020, Jeffrey C. Jacobs

Ah, the sweet taste of victory! Bon Appetit, mes amis!

Update 2020-04-03: It turns out most of what was said in the video is exaggerated; I posted an update with respect to handling your groceries. And please, don’t wash your produce with soap, only cold water. Please head on over there and let Dr. Don tell it like it is.

Poor Substitute for Low-Acid Orange Juice


Many people are trying to show off empty shelves to indicate the panic that is Covidapolis, what I’m calling the panic around COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-2. I personally think it’s bad form to post images of empty shelves of Sanitizers, Bottled Water, or Toilet Paper. I mean, it’s bad enough even the backup-backup-backup option from ancient times isn’t available.

Winter Forest, Still No Leaves
Not only is there no toilet paper in any local grocery store, even the trees can’t be used as backup! © 2020, Jeffrey C. Jacobs

Truth is, I already am good in that respect, and I have been since well before Covidapolis. From a Science point of view, though, the Economics of Hording is something I find fascinating.

Personally, I just wanted to stock up on some Orange Juice. So I get to the Tropicana section and as I approach, I am quite delighted to see the bounty. So many bottles ready to be purchased by me. I can just get my Low Acid Orange Juice and be on my way.

Wegmans Orange Juice, Covidapolis
The Tropicana Orange Juice Shelf at the Wegman’s in Dulles, VA on 14 March 2020, the first day of Covidapolis, © 2020, Jeffrey C. Jacobs

The thing is, I am a man with few ailments. But I do have one weakness, the acidity of citrus fruits. It’s a mild allergy. In small doses, I can tolerate even the most acidic fruits, but too much and my tongue starts to swell up and I start to sweat. Thus, I need my Low Acid Orange Juice.

Sadly, the Wegman’s in Dulles, VA has in the past be lax in stocking Low Acid. I have been there at least once where all Orange Juice was in stock except the Low Acid, and I had to drive all the way to Leesburg to get it. So, I knew even with all this Orange Juice, I may end up disappointed.

All Orange Juice in Abundance except Low Acid
As you can see, the there is for the most part plenty of Orange Juice, except Low Acid. As I have a mild an allergic reaction to Orange Juice acid, I can only safely drink Low Acid. Sadly, though this was taken during Covidapolis, everything but Low Acid is a common problem at the Dulles, VA Wegman’s. © 2020, Jeffrey C. Jacobs

Big surprise, they were again out. I really think this Wegmans need to keep better track of its inventory of Low Acid Orange Juice, especially since most of the other grocery stores don’t carry Low Acid. It seems to me if they’re often running out with all other stocks a plenty, they probably should be stocking more of it. There’s certainly the demand. It’s capitalism, 101.

In the end, I decided to go with something more like regular juice than Orange Juice since I know the mixed Orange Drinks typically have lower acidity. Fortunately, I found Orange-Pineapple to suit the bill.

Poor Substitute for Low-Acid Orange Juice
So much Orange Juice on the dawn of Covidapolis, but not a single container of Low Acid. So I had to settle for a Orange-Pineapple, which tends to be lower acid by virtue of being more like a juice drink than pure, pressed Orange Juice. © 2020, Jeffrey C. Jacobs

In the end, it was a successful trip to Wegmans. But, there was one Covidapolis shortage I was curious about…

Condoms on Covidapolis
Seems the Wegman’s is running out of Condoms on the dawn of Covidapolis. Guess folks are trying to figure what to do with a fortnight off. Wish I had a use for it. © 2020, Jeffrey C. Jacobs

Hunker down, my friends, and stay safe and sapiosexual!