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VERIFY: The risk of contracting coronavirus from groceries, mail remains low

A Verify viewer reached out to the team wondering whether some less obvious surfaces like packaged food and letters, could transfer COVID-19.


Is there a high risk of contracting the novel coronavirus from your groceries or mail?


No, the risk of coming into contact from your groceries or mail remains low, according to health experts. After touching any surface, you should wash your hands before touching your face.


Dr. Sanjay Maggirwar- Chair of George Washington University's Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine

Dr. Robin Petal- Director of the Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory, Chair of the Division of Clinical Microbiology and Director of its Bacteriology Laboratory at Mayo Clinic.

World Health Organization

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

USPS spokesperson

UPS spokesperson

FedEx spokesperson


A lots been written about the necessity to avoid high-touched surfaces and emphasizing the need to wash your hands.

Health officials have underscored the need to disinfect tables, doorknobs, light switches, phones and sinks regularly. But what about surfaces that are less obvious like letters and packaged food from the grocery store?

A viewer reached out to Verify team and asked if she should be disinfecting things like packaged food or letters

So we’re verifying: Is there a high risk of catching coronavirus from your groceries or mail?

Our Verify researchers spoke with two microbiology experts Dr. Sanjay Maggirwar from the George Washington University and Dr. Robin Patel of Mayo Clinic.

"All the surfaces at this point, we should consider as ‘infected’ or ‘contaminated," Maggirwar said.

Dr. Sanjay Maggirwar leads George Washington's Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine.

He says compared to something like a public doorknob, groceries are a much lower risk.

“Most likely it was handled just once or twice by the person, and these days the person is probably wearing gloves," Maggirwar said. "So the level of the virus to an infectious state would be a lot less.”

Patel agreed that contracting the virus from packaged food or mail was "extraordinarily unlikely as a root of transmission."

"You don't become infected just by touching surfaces," Patel said. "You become infected because you touched a surface and the virus got on your hand and then you inoculated your mouth, your nose or eyes with that virus."

That's why it's crucial to avoid touching your face and practicing good hygiene, like washing your hands.

Right now neither the CDC nor WHO say anything about wiping down your groceries with disinfecting wipes.

What about touching mail?

Our Verify researchers spoke with the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx. They’re all looking to leaders like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization for guidance.

The WHO and CDC say coronaviruses don’t’ survive very long on objects, such as letters or packages.

"The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, traveled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low," WHO writes. 

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, addressed the question of packages specifically. 

She said, “In general, because of the poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, that’s in the range of hours, there’s likely a very, very, very low if any risk of spread from products or packaging that is shipped over a period of days or weeks in ambient temperatures.”

So we can Verify, no, there is a low risk of catching the virus through your mail or groceries.

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