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Protip: Please Don't Wash Your Food with Bleach to Stop Coronavirus

Ethen Kim Lieser

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More than one-third of Americans misused cleaners and disinfectants in their efforts to prevent COVID-19 infections, according to a May 4 online survey of 502 U.S. adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported.

Several of the commonly reported “high-risk” practices were washing foods with bleach, using household cleaning or disinfectant products on bare skin, and intentionally inhaling or ingesting these products.

“These practices pose a risk of severe tissue damage and corrosive injury and should be strictly avoided,” the CDC researchers wrote in the report.

More specifically, the CDC found that 4% of respondents consumed or gargled diluted bleach solutions, soapy water, and other disinfectants. Nearly 20% said they washed fruits and vegetables with bleach, and about the same percentage used household disinfectants on their skin.

Overall, about 40% of respondents reported using at least one method not recommended by the CDC.

The CDC admitted that the report has some limitations, such as the fact that it only shows responses at just one point in time—so it “might not reflect ongoing shifts in public opinion or cleaning and disinfection practices by the public throughout the national COVID-19 response.”

The report added that COVID-19 prevention messages are needed to “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.”

In late April, President Donald Trump asked scientists during one of his coronavirus task force briefings whether using disinfectants might help treat or cure the disease. Makers of household cleaners quickly responded by urging the public not to drink or inject their products.

Trump later said his comments were sarcastic, and the task force eventually stopped its regular briefings with the media.

Respondents also said they were cleaning more frequently because of the coronavirus, but only about 50% said they were confident in knowing how to disinfect their homes safely. The survey indeed showed people’s limited understanding about how to prepare cleaning solutions, as only 23% knew that room temperature water should be used to dilute bleach solutions.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. He currently resides in Minneapolis.

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