Here's how to protect yourself when handling groceries and food

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In these new normal times, sometimes the greatest exposure to the coronavirus may be when you go to the grocery store or pick up food to go.

Sujata Sirsat, assistant professor in the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, offers some tips to keep you and your family safe.

Wash store-bought produce thoroughly with cool water, then dry the produce with a disposable paper towel. That enhances the removal of any pathogens that could be on the surface. Recommendations circulating on social media to wash produce with soap are inaccurate, and Sirsat notes that this could be harmful since soap is toxic when consumed.

There is some evidence the novel coronavirus can survive on a variety of surfaces including cardboard and stainless steel, even though the risk of transfer to hands and mouth is very low. Sirsat recommends transferring the contents of canned and boxed goods to a container in your home and discarding the original containers.

RELATED: How to stay safe when going out in public.

Get rid of plastic and paper bags from stores and restaurants, or recycle them. Clean and disinfect the surface that may have been in contact with bags, such as countertops. Both the CDC and Environmental Protection Agency have extensive lists and recommendations for approved disinfectants.

After every step, always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.

Sirsat points out that restaurants have food safety standards they are required to follow to avoid the transmission of food borne bacteria and viruses.

"I really think this is a great time for us to change our mindset and our habits. My hope is that when this is all over, good hygiene practices, such as effective handwashing, will become second nature for everyone," said Sirsat.

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