MIT Medical answers your COVID-19 questions. Got a question about COVID-19? Send it to us at CovidQ@mit.edu, and we’ll do our best to provide an answer.
Given the current pandemic, how should I be cleaning my fruits and vegetables to reduce the risk of infection when consuming the produce?
In the last couple of weeks, social media — and our in-box — has been surprisingly obsessed with the proper care and handling of fruits and vegetables. We’ve read an astounding amount of advice and have gotten a number of questions on the subject of cleaning produce in the age of COVID-19. We’ve been asked about vinegar soaks. Some have asked us about using soap and dishwashing detergent. One person even wanted to know if they could kill the virus by pouring boiling water over their fruits and veggies.
We’re here today to put a stop to the madness. Please, do not follow produce-cleansing advice found in Facebook memes or YouTube videos. In particular:
- Do not use soap or any type of detergent to wash your fruits and veggie, unless you want to ingest the residues of soap and detergent that will be absorbed through their very porous skin. Spoiler alert: Ingesting soap residue is a very bad idea that could lead to a variety of less than optimal outcomes, including nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Do not soak your veggies in vinegar, unless you’re looking to add some zing to your zucchini. Unlike soap, it won’t hurt you to soak produce in vinegar, but there’s no evidence that it will kill the virus, and it’s unlikely to improve the taste.
- Do not pour boiling water over your produce, unless you are quick-blanching certain vegetables or otherwise following an actual recipe.
- Do rinse your produce in plain, running water. This advice comes straight from the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), which recommends gently rubbing fruits and veggies while holding them under plain, running water. Rinse produce before peeling or cutting, and use a clean vegetable brush on firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers. Wash your hands before and after, and dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel.
And, finally, do not worry about contracting COVID-19 from fruits and vegetables. There is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted through the consumption of produce or any other type of food. While it is important to wash fruits and vegetables properly, this has to do with avoiding various bacterial contaminants that cause food-borne illness rather than preventing the transmission of COVID-19 or any other virus. And keep eating those fresh fruits and vegetables; they’re an important part of a balanced diet, which is, in turn, an important part of maintaining a strong and healthy immune system.