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How Should I Handle my Fruits and Veggies During Covid-19 Pandemic?

Apr 1, 2020

By Jen Ong Tone MHSc RD, #HalfYourPlate Registered Dietitian

Fruits and veggies are an important part of a healthy diet. With a lot of misinformation being circulated in the media today around food safety and COVID-19, it can be hard to distinguish between fact and fiction. As a registered dietitian, and in consultation with our food safety expert, Jeff Hall, at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA), I am hoping to provide you with credible information about fruits and veggies from official health authorities to help you stay safe and healthy during these uncertain times.

Can I get COVID-19 from food?

Current evidence shows that COVID-19 is not a foodborne illness, which is an illness caused by eating foods that have harmful organisms in them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. […] It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

In addition, to date, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has not reported any cases where COVID-19 was spread through eating or touching food.

What can I do to keep my fruits and veggies safe?

Food safety recommendations in the household are no different than everyday food safety principles when it comes to COVID-19. Health Canada recommends taking the following steps at the grocery store and at home when handling fruits and veggies:

At the grocery store: Shopping for produce

  • Choose fruits and veggies that aren’t bruised or damaged.
  • If buying pre-cut and ready-to-eat fruits and veggies, make sure they’re refrigerated.
  • Separate your fruits and veggies from meat, poultry, and seafood in your shopping cart and bags.
  • Wash your reusable grocery bags frequently.

At home: Chilling your produce

  • At home, refrigerate fruits and veggies that need to be refrigerated. This includes all pre-cut and ready-to-eat produce. Visit halfyourplate.ca to find out which fruits and veggies should be refrigerated.
  • Separate your fruits and veggies from meat, poultry, and seafood, in the fridge.
  • Keep your fridge at 4°C (40°F) or lower.

At home: Cleaning your produce

  • Clean and sanitize countertops, cutting boards, and utensils before and after preparing food.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Wash fruits and veggies under fresh, cool, running water, even if you plan to peel them.
  • You do not need to use produce cleansers to wash fruits and veggies.
  • Ready-to-eat, bagged, and pre-washed leafy greens do not need to be washed again.
  • Scrub fresh fruits and veggies with firm surfaces or rinds (i.e. carrots, melons, potatoes, squash, oranges, etc.), using a soft clean produce brush. This prevents anything living on the surface from entering the food when you cut it.
  • Use a separate cutting board for produce.
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fruits and veggies.

Should I clean my fruits and veggies with a household soap or detergent?

No. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not recommend you wash your fruits and veggies with soap or detergent. As fruits and veggies have porous surfaces, you risk consuming residues from soaps and detergents, which could cause harmful health effects.

Bottom line

The risk of contracting COVID-19 from fruits and veggies is very low. Enjoy your fruits and veggies and practice good food safety and personal hygiene practices to keep you and the food you eat safe.

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