Food Safety Magazine

News | June 9, 2020

CDC: Washing Food with Bleach Among Unsafe Disinfection Methods on the Rise During Pandemic

By Staff

CDC: Washing Food with Bleach Among Unsafe Disinfection Methods on the Rise During Pandemic

A new report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that consumers have been unsafely using household chemicals and disinfectants since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CDC says that calls to poison centers regarding exposures to cleaners and disinfectants have experienced a sharp increase since the pandemic started. Since the data describing cleaning and disinfection practices within U.S. households was limited, particularly in relation to COVID-19, CDC conducted an online survey of 502 U.S. adults in May 2020. The survey’s goal was to characterize knowledge and practices regarding household cleaning and disinfection during the pandemic.

The survey reveals that respondents are “engaged in nonrecommended high-risk practices with the intent of preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission.” For 39 percent of survey respondents, those unsafe practices included:

  • Using bleach on food products (fruits and vegetables)
  • Applying household cleaning and disinfectant products to skin
  • Intentionally inhaling or ingesting cleaners and disinfectants

Respondents who engaged in high-risk practices more frequently reported an adverse health effect that they believed was a result of using cleaners or disinfectants than did those who did not report engaging in these practices. 

Despite the unsafe methods used, approximately half of the survey respondents strongly agreed that they knew how to clean and disinfect their home safely. Similarly, 42 percent strongly agreed that they knew how to clean and disinfect their home to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission. When asked who their most trusted sources of SARS-CoV-2-related cleaning and disinfection information were, the top three responses were CDC (65 percent), state or local health departments (49 percent), and doctors, nurses, or medical providers (48 percent).

CDC’s findings suggest that public messaging should continue to emphasize evidence-based, safe cleaning, and disinfection practices to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission in households, including hand hygiene and cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces. Messaging should also emphasize avoidance of high-risk practices such as unsafe preparation of cleaning and disinfectant solutions, use of bleach on food products, application of household cleaning and disinfectant products to skin, and inhalation or ingestion of cleaners and disinfectants.

See CDC’s entire report at CDC.gov. 

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