Can (Coronavirus) COVID-19 spread on through fresh produce?
Experts don’t have all of the answers about potential ways the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads but we can summarize some recommendations.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), consumers should follow the normal guidelines associated with food safety to clean produce in the context of the coronavirus.
There is a risk in touching fresh produce that has COVID-19 on its surface and then touching your face.
There is currently no scientific evidence to suggest that the virus can contaminate us through the digestive tract.
However, the possibility of the respiratory tract becoming infected when chewing contaminated food cannot be completely ruled out.
When shopping, sanitize hands often and avoid touching the face to reduce risk for transmission of the virus.
When you arrive home, one option is to transfer the food item to a container that is already washed and clean at home.
Boxes with individual packages may be emptied and left in the garbage can.
Some may choose to keep foods in a separate storage area for 24-72 hours, but keep in mind that high temperatures (such as the garage or trunk) may not be safe for storing all foods.
Fresh foods must be put away immediately to assure safe temperatures to prevent risk for food-borne illnesses.
Is white vinegar effective at destroying viruses on packaging?
Studies have shown that white vinegar is ineffective at destroying viruses on food or packaging.
Cut away any damaged or bruised areas, then rinse fruits and vegetables under running water without soap, bleach or commercial produce washes.
DO NOT wash your fresh produce in soap.
We know that detergents such as dishwashing liquid and hand soap are not designed or registered for use on food.
Any soap residues on fruit and vegetables, if ingested, can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
After washing the food with drinking water, wiping it with a single-use paper towel helps remove any viral particles.
Whenever possible, peel fruits and vegetables to be consumed raw.
Wash your hands with soap as recommended by WHO or use hand sanitizer, before and after handling your groceries including fresh produce.
Scrub firm produce (think melons, potatoes) with a clean produce brush.
Dry produce with a paper towel.
Do these hygiene rules also apply to packaging?
Food packaging may have been contaminated when handled by an infected person (touched with dirty hands, sneezed on, etc.).
Even though the virus causing the disease cannot survive for more than three hours on packaging surfaces, you can take additional precautions by wiping the packaging with a disinfecting wipe single-use paper towel.
For foods that need to be kept in the refrigerator, remove the outer packaging (e.g. the cardboard around pots of yoghurt) before storage whenever possible.
Obviously, hands must be washed thoroughly before and after handling this packaging.
Fore more information
The ARC Training Centre for Food Safety in the Fresh Produce Industry, funded by the Australian Government and industry partners, and administered by the University of Sydney.
COVID-19 on surface of fresh produce: Wash your produce with water NOT SOAP / March 27, 2020
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Shopping for Food During the COVID-19 Pandemic – Information for Consumers
French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety
COVID-19 – ANSES’s recommendations on food, shopping and cleaning
Can COVID-19 (coronavirus) spread through food, water, surfaces and pets?
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Food safety, nutrition, and wellness during COVID-19
The Johns Hopkins Medicine
Coronavirus and 5 Questions about Safe Snacking
The Cornell University
Institute for Food Safety at Cornell University
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