- COVID-19 is generally thought to be spread from person to person
- Wash fruits, vegetables thoroughly with clean water: WHO
- Don’t use sanitiser, dish wash soap, any disinfectant to clean food: FSSAI
New Delhi: The outbreak of Novel Coronavirus, also known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has been a cause of concern and panic among people. The coronavirus lockdown and prevention requires one to stay indoors, maintain hand hygiene to prevent transmission of the virus through hands which touch numerous surfaces. In these times of social distancing and constantly being aware where the hands are going and what all is being touched, makes an otherwise mundane task of buying perishables like vegetables and fruits a cumbersome process. How many people might have touched the fruits and veggies? Will the virus come home along with vegetables and fruits?
Though it’s suggested to sanitise all the items one purchases from the market, but in the case of perishables, this might not be true. While the concerns are understandable, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through contact with food or food packaging.
COVID-19 is generally thought to spread from person to person. However, it’s always important to practice good hygiene when handling food to prevent any food-borne illnesses. For the same, WHO and FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) have been sharing basic hygiene tips.
How Should I Clean Fruits And Vegetables?
Answering the much asked question, how should one wash fruits and vegetables in the time of COVID-19, WHO stated,
Wash them the same way you would in any other circumstance. Before handling them, wash your hands with soap and water. Then, wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly with clean water, especially if you eat them raw.
Even if one is not eating fruits and vegetables raw, it should be washed before peeling. Giving out the reason for the same, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says,
Rinse produce before you peel it, so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
Explaining how to wash fruits and vegetables in order to keep it safe and free of germs, FSSAI suggests washing the fresh produce in clean and lukewarm water. While holding produce under water, one can gently rub the vegetables and fruits. FSSAI has clearly said no to using sanitiser, bleach, chemical, dish wash soap and any other kind of disinfectant to clean food.
— FSSAI (@fssaiindia) May 18, 2020
Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers. Dry the produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present. Also, remove the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage, says FDA.
However, if we look at the Indian food basket, not all vegetables can be washed; there are a lot of exceptions like onions, potatoes, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables. Talking about the same, Dr Anupa Siddhu, Director of Lady Irwin College and a nutritionist said,
Onion and potatoes are anyway not stored in fridge. So, before cooking, peel, wash and soak them in water for 20 minutes.
According to experts, there is no single method that can be applied to all perishables. There are multiple ways that can be used, depending on the type of vegetable, fruit and other edible items. For preserving greens, Dr Shweta Khandelwal, Head, Nutrition Research and Additional Professor at the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) suggests,
Wrap green veggies in a paper while refrigerating. The paper absorbs excess moisture, which keeps the vegetables from wilting and/or spoiling.
Should I Isolate Fruits And Vegetables For Few Hours?
According to experts, not all vegetables and fruits can be kept out or under direct sunlight for long hours. Therefore, the simplest way is to wash them thoroughly and let it dry naturally. Elaborating on the same, Dr Anupa said,
The idea is to not let the vegetables and fruits touch too many surfaces. Earlier whenever we used to bring home fresh produce, we would keep them either on the kitchen counter or some table and later shift to fridge. But now since hygiene is the key, I would suggest, wash whichever vegetables and fruits can be washed and let them dry before storing in the fridge. Don’t touch them too many times or use any kind of wipes.
How Should I Disinfect Other Perishable Items?
Considering the rising temperature, perishables like milk, cheese, butter cannot be kept out for long as they might go bad. In order to ensure they are not infected, simply discard the outer packaging and store the food in another container. For instance, each cheese slice is packed in plastic packaging and together they are packed in a bigger packet. The outer, bigger packaging can be removed. While handling it, remember to sanitise your hands.
In the case of milk, it’s important to soak the packet in a bowl of water, wash it thoroughly and boil the milk immediately. As far as other packed items like aerated drinks are concerned, you can isolate them for few hours and can even wash them with soapy water because they are packed and sealed so there is no way soap will enter the can or bottle. Wash it with soap or spray a disinfectant, isolate it for few hours and then refrigerate, said Dr Anupa.
Keys To Safer Food
WHO has shared five keys to safer food and they are as follows:
- Keep food clean to prevent contamination. Wash your hands with soap before touching food.
- Separate raw and cooked food to avoid cross-contamination between two kinds of food.
- Cook thoroughly to kill microorganisms.
- Keep food at safe temperature to prevent bacteria growth.
- Use safe water and safe raw materials to avoid contamination.
Similarly, FSSAI has shared 7 food safety tips to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that are – wash raw fruits and vegetables with clean, portable water; cook meat well; stay hydrated; avoid sharing food utensils, water bottles or cups; clean surfaces such as tables with antibacterial bleach wipes; use different chopping boards and knives for raw meat and cooked foods; eat foods rich in Vitamin C to boost your immune system.
— FSSAI (@fssaiindia) May 14, 2020
In general microorganisms can be destroyed or substantially reduced by heating techniques used in cooking. However, so far coronavirus has not exhibited resistance to heat and adequate cooking. It should be noted that in general, viruses resist freezing and can be found in food frozen for up to two years even at temperatures as low as at -20 degree Celsius, said Dr Shweta Khandelwal.