As states open up, should you sanitize your mail and packages? Here's your COVID-19 home delivery guide

NBC News health editor, Madelyn Fernstrom, lays out the best practices to keep you and your family safe and healthy during these stressful times.
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Gibson Mbedzi delivers vegetables to a restaurant opening for take out, in Providence, R.I. on May 9, 2020.David Goldman / AP file

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By Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are getting more home deliveries than ever before. Any many have questions about how to safely unpack newly arrived goods. Should you be wiping down every package with a Lysol wipe? Is it better to wait a few days before you open anything? Whether it’s mail, packages, prepared or fresh food, here are some basic tips for handling all of your deliverables.

It’s easy to optimize your own (and your family’s) protection by following the current national guidelines. Remember that everyone’s comfort level is different; as long as you follow at least the basic guidelines, you’re in good shape. Of course, you can always choose to take some extra steps if it makes you more comfortable.

Mail and packages

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization say the risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus in mail and packages is very low.

While the virus can stay on packages, for at least several hours or longer (24 hours on cardboard), it’s not currently identified as a risk factor by any reputable organizations. Delivery services like FedEx and UPS, as well as the U.S. Postal Service are providing gloves to their employees for their own protection. But it’s still important to use the same hand hygiene as for any other products coming into your home.

-Wash your hands thoroughly after handling all mail and packages

-Wipe down any table-top surfaces used for opening

-Remove contents and dispose of packaging immediately

If you have space available, as an extra precaution, you can leave your mail and packages untouched for 24 hours, but still follow the same hand-washing protocol after opening. You can also use gloves (disposed of immediately after) to open packages, and wipe down the packages before you open them, if you are still concerned.

Food deliveries (fresh and prepared)

The CDC also states that they are not aware of any reports at this time that COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. This includes prepared food deliveries. But like any other viruses, it’s possible that the virus can survive on surfaces or objects that other people have handled. They emphasize the importance of following good hygiene practices – washing hands and kitchen counters often, and following good food safety guidelines to minimize any potential risk.

-Wash your hands and countertops before and after handling any food or food containers

-Remove prepared foods from containers, and dispose of them immediately

-If reusable shopping bags are used, wipe the bag and handles completely after shopping

-Wash your hands after handling all foods

For extra peace of mind, as recommended by some health news organizations, wipe fresh food containers with a cleansing wipe, or paper towel sprayed with cleanser. And while all produce should be thoroughly washed under running water before eating, adding a mild soap solution can also be used if desired.

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. is NBC News’ Health Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.