Risk of getting COVID-19 from grocery store surfaces is low, University of Guelph study finds

A study by Guelph, Ont., scientists could make some shoppers feel a little more at ease when they head into the grocery store.

Researchers at the University of Guelph have found that the chances of getting infected with COVID-19 from grocery store surfaces are very low.

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The university said a team of scientists swabbed hundreds of high-contact surfaces in grocery stores and none of them tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The team was led by department of food science professor Maria Corradini and PhD student Maleeka Singh. They concluded that as long as recommended cleaning protocols are followed in stores, the risk of exposure from a contaminated surface at a grocery store is low.

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“We believe that cleaning and disinfecting contact surfaces along with wearing masks significantly minimize the risk of transmission from surfaces in grocery stores to humans,” said Corradini.

The university said the team began swabbing last year after it was reported that the virus could survive for hours or even days on surfaces in hospitals.

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Researchers took 957 samples from four Ontario grocery stores for about a month between mid-October and mid-November during the second wave of the pandemic in 2020.

They swabbed the handles of carts and baskets, payment terminals and conveyor belts at checkout, surfaces around deli counters, and the plastic and metal handles in frozen food sections.

No matter whether the store was in an urban or suburban area, the sampling day or time, or the location of the surface within the store or the surface material, none of the samples tested positive for the virus, the university said.

“These results suggest that if stores enforce regular sanitizing routines and monitor the health of store personnel, the risk of exposure from high-touch surfaces within a grocery store is low,” said Corradini.

The study was recently published in the journal Current Research in Food Science.

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The researchers noted that their findings support those of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also stated that while transmission of COVID-19 through surfaces is possible, it is very unlikely.

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The main transmission route is through droplet or airborne transmission through infected people, the researchers said.

The CDC guidelines say cleaning a high-touch surface with detergent or soap once a day is enough, if there hasn’t been a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case in the area within 24 hours.

The agency also stresses that transmission can be reduced by wearing masks consistently and correctly, practising hand hygiene, cleaning and taking other measures to maintain health facilities.

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