Food & Fitness After 50: Answering Your Questions about Food Safety and COVID-19

Just Running Water, No Soap or Detergents on Your Produce

We are also seeing many reports regarding the use of hand soap, detergents and household cleaning wipes being used to sanitize fresh produce. DON’T! These products have not been approved for use on foods. In addition to the CDC and FDA’s clear advice above, Dr. Don Schaffner, Food Science Professor at Rutgers University explained to USA Today: “Those soaps and detergents are designed for washing hands or for washing dishes and they’re not designed for washing food.” The Alliance for Food and Farming, April 1, 2020

Food-Safety-Hygiene

Older adults and those with chronic diseases are in the high-risk category for COVID-19. Considering that 85% of older adults have at least one chronic disease and 60% have at least 2 chronic diseases, that is more reason to protect yourself by practicing good food safety. To be clear, these food safety practices aren’t anything new; we should have been doing them all along, but let’s face it, we get lazy and don’t emphasize prevention. That is changing!

Here are some answers to questions you’ve been asking. I’ve provided links to resources for more information when available.

Question: Should I leave my groceries in the car or garage for 3 days before bringing them in the house?

chc-final-250x327No! There is more danger of pathogens growing in foods that need refrigerating or freezing than from the COVID-19 virus. While the virus can remain on surfaces for several hours to a few days common sense precautions should prevail. Wash your hands after carrying your groceries to the house and use one counter or table as your “dirty” area for unpacking. Put groceries away and rewash hands and then wash and disinfect the counter. There is no harm in washing cans before opening them, but it is probably unnecessary.

Question: What about reusable shopping bags? Are they safe?

Reusable bags should be cleaned between uses. Bacteria from raw fruits and vegetables can get into the bags so they should always be tossed in the laundry and washed with hot, soapy water between uses. (This is not new advice, but probably not something most people do!)

Question: Should I use bleach or dish detergent to wash produce?

In a word, no. There is so much misinformation circulating online, leading people to do dangerous things thinking it will protect them from the virus…gargling with bleach, using disinfectant wipes to wash produce, or scrubbing potatoes with dish detergent are not only wrong, but dangerous! Bleach, soap, and disinfectants are not meant for consumption. They are great for cleaning hands and kitchen surfaces but are not for ingestion.

Wash-Your-Fruits-and-Vegetables-450x900Question: What is the best way to wash produce?

The Alliance for Food and Farming has some good resources on food safety, but the recommendations from all government organizations have been consistent in advising that we should continue to do the following; note the word “continue” because these are things we should be doing all of the time!

  • Wash produce under warm or cold running tap water to help remove any dirt, bacteria or residues that might be on the product. This goes for conventional and organic produce whether from the grocery store, farmer’s market, or CSA.
  • When preparing fresh produce, begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after preparation. (According to one study, 65% of consumer don’t wash their hands before meal preparation…let’s change that sad statistic!)
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with soap and hot water between preparing raw meat, poultry, and seafood and preparing produce that will not be cooked.
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing and/or eating. Throw away any produce that looks rotten.
  • Remove and discard the outer leaves of leafy vegetables, like lettuce and cabbage
  • Even if you do not plan to eat the skin, it is still important to wash produce first so dirt and bacteria are not transferred from the surface when peeling or cutting produce. I always scrub melons, cucumbers, avocado with a produce brush under running water before I slice into them. Dirt on the outside can be transferred to the inside through the knife.
  • According to the FDA: “Many pre-cut, bagged, or packaged produce items are pre-washed and ready-to-eat. If so, it will be stated on the packaging, and you can use the produce without further washing.”

Question: With disinfecting wipes in short supply, what is the best way to clean my counter tops?

An easy and inexpensive solution is mixing 4 teaspoons bleach in 1 quart (4 cups) of water and pour into a spray bottle. After cleaning with soap and water, spray the bleach and water mixture on all surfaces and let sit for about a minute before wiping dry with paper towels or a clean dish cloth. Don’t forget to disinfect the high touch surfaces like faucets, drawer pulls, appliance handles, tables, counters, and sinks. For more tips on disinfecting your kitchen click here.

Question: Are there any supplements that halt the virus?

Unfortunately, no. But that hasn’t stopped unscrupulous people from selling supplements that make unsubstantiated claims. The Food & Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission continue to issue warning letters to companies for selling fraudulent COVID-19 products that claim to prevent or treat the virus. The latest warning letter was to NeuroXPF selling a CBD product with misleading claims. The agency says beware of products claiming to prevent, treat, or cure those infected with the virus. Remember, if it sounds to good too be true, it probably is!

I welcome questions so email me at chrisrosenbloom@gmail.com and I’ll do my best to respond. There are still some people who think all of the hand washing and food safety practices are overkill, but I’m in that high risk over 65 age group and have a chronic disease….so, I am playing it safe!

For more information on food safety in the time of COVID-19, continue to check with these sources:

For the response  to the virus and the safety of your foods from the retail grocery sector, check out information from The Food Industry Association.

For food safety information, check the Partnership for Food Safety Education.

For information on produce safety check out The Alliance for Food and Farming.

For information on food and nutrition and COVID-19, check out this new resource page from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Dr. Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.