Joie Meissner, ND
Over a year of evidence has demonstrated that coronavirus is mainly spread person-to-person through droplets and also aerosols and not from touching surfaces. That said, it is not impossible that a person could get infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
CDC says that “Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with COVID-19.” As of April 26, 2021 there have been “…no cases of COVID-19 have been identified where infection was thought to have occurred by touching food, food packaging, or shopping bags.” But CDC still recommends that after handling packaging and before preparing food to do the 20-second soap and water handwashing (see below). And if someone in your household is infected with coronavirus, they also recommend disinfecting “high-touch” surfaces daily such as handles, kitchen countertops, faucets, light switches, and doorknobs.
Thus, the recommendations of the experts to avoid the use of anything other than water and a scrub brush on produce are ever more robust today than they were in May 2020. And the evidence that it’s unnecessary to use soap or 60-70% alcohol on food packaging is also stronger.
But it is still important to clean all fresh produce with water (see below) because there are other pathogens on fruits and vegetables that can sometimes cause food-borne illness that can be washed off.
AFTER TOUCHING THE BAGS OR OTHER FOOD PACKAGING, MAKE SURE YOU WASH YOUR HANDS—GLOVED OR NOT—BEFORE YOU TOUCH THE FOOD ITSELF (AS OPPOSED TO THE PACKAGING).
The webpage for Washington State Corona Response COVID-19 clearly states:
“Don’t disinfect your groceries. Wash your fruit and vegetables as you normally would.”
The FDA says
“…Again, there is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19.
And we already know there are health concerns about the packaging itself leaching into the food. Check out this review of Hazard Chemicals in Some Food Packaging Materials
That’s just one source – there are many sources of information on this topic. So yhy expose oneselft to the risk of using these harsh chemicals when they may contain solvents which can degrade the packaging itself or leach into the food?”
Here is what the CDC says about getting COVID from food:
“Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. …In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures.”
CDC recommendations about food and COVID:
- The CDC’s recs are the same as those of the FDA’s all-purpose food safety recs– in fact, they provide a link to FDA on their coronavirus page. The FDA gives this
Also realize that bleach is toxic to bodily tissues including lung tissue, so if you have a lung condition, spraying a bleach solution on your counters every day or worse yet multiple times a day might not be the best things to keep your lungs in tip top shape.
The FDA website goes on to say:
“Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before preparing and/or eating, including produce grown at home or bought from a grocery store or farmers’ market. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent, or commercial produce wash is not recommended.” (Emphasis added)
Thus, we can conclude that the FDA does not recommend soap and water directly on produce.
Some experts like Elizabeth L. Andress, PhD, a professor of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia, cites the Food and Drug AdministrationTrusted Source as support for her recommendations against the use of soap when cleaning fruits and veggies because she asserts there’s a risk of ingestion.
So, there appears to be authoritative support for the concept that washing produce with soap is generally NOT considered healthful; Andress recommends, and I concur, that:
“There is no published evidence, and we are not aware of unpublished evidence that people have developed COVID-19 illness from touching food or food packaging.”
Harvard goes on to emphasize that the primary way that folks contract COVID is via droplets emitted in a cough or sneeze, or from the mouth during speech. They state that:
“Most important, the primary method of transmitting COVID-19 is droplet spread from being close to an infected person (who may have no symptoms), thus social distancing is the most important way to reduce risk to you and others.”
But there are important reasons to thoroughly rinse fresh fruits & veggies. Fresh produce (fruits and vegetables) are a source of foodborne illness outbreaks implicating pathogens such as Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and human parasites (e.g. hepatitis A, Cyclospora). So I not only rinse my produce, I give these beauties a bath- multiple rinses and soaks in water and for tubers, roots, and the like I scrub my carrots, beets, potatoes etc.
Harvard School of Public Health does not recommend using other disinfectants on groceries but validates the efficacy of plain soap and water to disinfect your hands:
“Note that COVID-19 is an “enveloped virus,” meaning that it is covered in an oily membrane. Fortunately, plain soap is very effective at disrupting the oil on surfaces, and water is effective at removing and rinsing away the virus…” If you read this NYT’s article you will likely be convinced that plain soap and water is an effective disinfectant. To see why soap is so darn effective click this link to be convinced that soap works to inactivate viruses and other pathogens.
KEY TAKE-AWAY-PLAIN OLD SOAP AND WATER IS HIGHLY EFFECTIVE FOR ON CORONA VIRUS !!!!!
The handwashing guidelines :
- Use plain soap and water—skip the antibacterial soap.
- Avoid using antibacterial soap; many antibacterial chemicals make no difference to virus viability and generate antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria even when used only on hands or dishes.
- Make sure the soap covers the entire surface area of hands for at least 20 seconds— that’s the time it takes you to hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
Optimally use natural soaps with fewer ingredients that rinse off really well and don’t contain dyes, antibacterial chemicals or ingredients like these:
- DEA (diethanolamine)
- MEA (monoethanolamine)
- TEA (triethanolamine)
- SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate)/SLES (sodium laureth sulfate)
Here’s a list of ingredients for Dr. B’s unscented soap: Water, Organic Coconut Oil*, Potassium Hydroxide**, Organic Palm Kernel Oil*, Organic Olive Oil*, Mentha Arvensis, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Mentha Piperita, Citric Acid, Tocopherol.
*Certified Fair Trade Ingredients **None remains after saponifying oils into soap & glycerin.
The list of ingredients in Dr. Bronner’s castile soap sounds a whole lot safer to me than what is in your typical grocery store soaps for example, soaps that contain some of those nasty chemicals in the first list. Remember, you only need a small amount of soap to do the job.
A note on washing your hands; it’s tough on the virus, but also tough on your hands too.
With all the added hand washing that needs to be done in the kitchen during the pandemic I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the Harvard School of Public Health version of effective handwashing technique:
- Use plain soap and water—skip the antibacterial soap (my emphasis)—and scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails for at least 20 seconds.
- Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse hands, then dry with a clean towel
As a naturopath, I’m partial to Harvard’s version of hand washing because it cautions against the use of antibacterial soaps.
I would add to Harvard’s handwashing recommendation:
- If possible, wash hands in water that’s not super hot. Warm water is adequate and hot water is hard on your skin.
- Where ever possible, use soap and water and the above technique instead of Purell type products to clean your hands. Purell is harder on skin than soap and water. Your skin is actually part of the immune system. Skin protects you from invasion by microbes including viruses- so you don’t want to get dry, dehydrated, cracked skin during a pandemic. Sometimes, Purell is a necessity because you’re nowhere near a sink; it is better to use it if you have no access to soap and water than not to use it. Carry plenty moisturizer for such occasions.
- DON’T USE BLEACH, LYSOL, OR ANY SUCH DISINFECTANTS ON YOUR HANDS!!!
- And because we are doing a lot of hand washing- you need to moisturize your hands a lot, to replenish the oils lost due to the drying effect that soap and Purell on our skin.
- Waxy skin salves are good because the beeswax in them adds to the protective barrier function of skin, your body’s first line of defense against invasion of pathogens like viruses.
Because plants can wick in toxins and pathogens when heated, I do not use warm water when I wash any produce, I use cool water to wash fruits and veggies so that food borne pathogens and environmental contaminants (not coronavirus) remain on the surface to get rinsed away by the water.
I strongly recommend giving all plants a bath and rinsing the “bath water” 3 times before eating the them, especially if they won’t be cooked. In preparing fruits and veggies, many chefs recommend this step. But wait to give them a bath until you want to eat them. Storing them wet in plastic baggies can lead to rotting leafy greens.
Give the produce a bath- that’s true for all veggies even pre-COVID. Use cool water so that the produce does not wick in toxins or food borne pathogens.
A word about avoiding rotting produce when storing fruits & veggies in the fridge:
BEFORE YOU TOSS YOUR PRODUCE INTO THE CLEAN BAGGIES, PICK OUT ANY BAD LEAVES- BROWN OR YELLOW LEAVES OR ROTTING MATERIAL SO THAT THESE ROTTING PARTS DON’T CAUSE THE NICE, NON-ROTTING PARTS, TO TURN TO ROT. DO THAT EVERY TIME YOU EAT SOME OF THE VEGGIE AND BEFORE STORING IT.
When I get veggies from the CSA, the grocery store, or farmer’s market I put them on a plate and pick out all the bad leaves before I drop them into plastic or silicone baggies.
Another tip for avoiding rot is to put any fruit, especially stone fruits like apples and pears into a large glass jar before putting it in the fridge with the rest of your precious veggies. This will cut down the ethylene, the gas that fruits emit that causes produce to ripen but also to rot.
For enhanced freshness you can store herbs “planted” in glass jars placed inside baggies:
- I pick out the bad (yellow or rotting) leaves from parsley, cilantro, and basil
- put the herb into little glass containers
- bag the herb in its little glass jar up in a plastic baggie with a twisty tie
- And store it in the fridge door.
I am a life-long foodie. And I’m also experienced at working with a tight food budget. If you have limited food supplies and need ideas of how to make your groceries stretch while maintaining the best possible nutrition during the pandemic, and/or if you want some tips on how to prepare the food items you have access to so that you are eating not only highly nutritious but is also highly tasty dishes, just send me your questions. I’m glad to give advice on preparing delicious, nutritious meals and making your food dollar stretch.
If you have any questions, don’t be shy about leaving a reply on the Life Change Medicine website and I will respond to your questions.
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