Is Fresh Produce Okay to Buy Right Now — And What’s the Best Way to Wash It?

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Credit: Joe Lingeman

In the past week, Kitchn editors (who live in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Idaho, California, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.) have been to dozens of different grocery stores. We’ve all seen the same patterns: The frozen and canned fruits and vegetables have been almost entirely cleared out, but fresh fruits and vegetables seem largely untouched.

We wanted to address some questions about fresh produce, because we understand that people want to buy stuff that will last and people are afraid to buy fresh food. Here’s what you should know.

Can the coronavirus live on fresh fruits and vegetables?

The risk of getting COVID-19 from fresh produce is very, very low. The FDA website says this: “Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.” It goes on to say: “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.” That’s why it’s always critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety — clean, separate, cook, and chill.

Let’s say, in a worst case scenario, an infected person coughed on those salad greens you’re eyeing. If any droplets from that person’s mouth land on the lettuce, it’s a limited amount of droplets that are actually viable, says Ben Chapman, Ph.D., a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. And even that subsides over time. To be safe, though, this is where washing comes in. Just like you’re supposed to be washing your hands (now and always), you should wash your produce. Yes even an avocado.

This is the best way to wash your fruits and vegetables.

First, wash everything with cool running water, says Amanda Deering, Ph.D., an extension specialist in Purdue University’s Department of Food Science. And actually, not with soap. “I see a lot of stuff out there saying to use soap and water because that’s how we advise people to wash their hands,” she said, “however the FDA has never advised that. The recommendation is to use a clean vegetable brush especially if it’s anything that has a harder surface like a cantaloupe, just brush it under cool running water. But make sure you clean that veggie brush with soap and water and rinse it [after each use].” 

Now back to the concern that someone who’s infected coughed on your lettuce greens before you picked them up. “Is washing 100 percent effective?” Chapman asks. “No. But what’s my likelihood with all these chances of the virus getting deposited on the lettuce and surviving over time? There is going to be a decline over time on that particular product, and I can rinse off stuff that has made its way to a place where the mucus droplets can hide. Again, it was a really, really, really low risk that the virus would transfer to me to begin with.”

More on Washing Fruits and Vegetables

Do you have any more questions about grocery shopping during this pandemic? Check out our bigger FAQ here but also post your questions below. We’ll try to answer them!