In this season of uncertainty, one of the most important things we can do is hear and respond to the needs of those we love.
As I’ve read your comments and emails in recent weeks, one thing caught my attention (besides how much I love this kind community!). It’s a question that keeps popping up:
What does healthy nourishment look like in a season of quarantine cooking?
If limited grocery trips or ingredient scarcity has thrown off your cooking mojo, you’re not alone, toots. We’re all struggling to redefine healthy habits during this strange new normal.
One area that seems to be particularly challenging is fresh produce. Sure, you can sanitize the heck out of your boxes and cartons. But what about those leafy greens and lovely fruits? Are they even safe to eat?
That question is especially important to the patients in our community—those facing cancer and other immune-compromising conditions. So I decided to call in some backup from a friend whose nutrition brilliance was a lifeline to me when I needed it most.
Allow me to introduce you to Lizabeth Gold of the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment (a magical, healing haven you’d have to see to believe). Liz is a Registered Dietitian and my go-to for reliable, medically-sound nutrition advice.
I’ve asked her to set our minds at ease about what smart shopping looks like during the coronavirus—especially when it comes to fresh produce.
Without further ado, I’ll let Liz guide us through.
Do we need to change the way we handle fresh produce during the coronavirus?
A question I’ve heard frequently since the onset of the coronavirus is this:
Do we need to change the way we handle fresh produce during the COVID-19 outbreak?
At a time like this, it’s normal to be worried about food safety or to wonder if utilizing more rigorous means of washing produce such as using detergents, soaps or other chemicals is necessary.
The simple answer is: No.
Experts agree that we do not need to make any drastic changes in the way we handle or prepare our fruits and veggies. Dr. Jennifer McEntire, VP of Food Safety for the United Fresh Produce Association, released this statement:
There is no evidence that consuming fresh produce (or any other food) can transmit the coronavirus/COVID-19. As consumers select their produce, adhering to food safety guidance is critical. We encourage consumers to wash their hands and wash their produce before consumption by following FDA recommendations.
While you don’t need to handle fresh produce differently right now, the normal food safety guidelines created by the USDA and FDA should always be followed when selecting, preparing or consuming food.
Below are the guidelines to follow when selecting and preparing fresh produce.
Guidelines for Smart Shopping
- Shop at grocery stores that have COVID-19 precautions in place. Some things to look for: Are they limiting the amount of shoppers in the store at one time? Are they putting social distancing measures in place (for their customers and to protect their employees)? Are they sanitizing shopping carts? Are employees wearing masks and gloves?
- Shop at small, local stores. This one is a win-win. Locally-owned stores tend to have less customer traffic and often source supplies locally. That means fewer people come in contact with your groceries, which lowers your risk of exposure. By shopping local, you also get to support a small business (and the local farms they buy from) to ensure they stay strong, serving your community long after the pandemic subsides.
- Shop during the “off” times. Whether you go really early or really late, you can minimize exposure by avoiding peak shopping times. Be aware that many stores are reserving early morning hours for elderly shoppers. If you find it difficult to predict the best times because everyone’s staying home, you can also just call the store and ask.
- Limit trips to the store. This protects both you AND our essential workers. Plan ahead so you can shop just once a week. And before you run back out for a forgotten item, remember you can likely substitute it for something you have on hand. When in doubt, just Google it!
- Wash hands before going out and carry hand sanitizer to use periodically as you shop.
- Wear a cloth mask. But don’t let that mask give you a false sense of confidence. You still need to practice social distancing and refrain from touching your face.
- Don’t manipulate or handle produce multiple times when selecting it at the store in order to avoid depositing or transferring a pathogen.
- Or you can skip all those previous tips and just shop online! Grocery delivery services like Instacart, AmazonFresh, Peapod, FreshDirect and Boxed make grocery shopping easy and convenient. Most orders can be processed and delivered to your doorstep within two hours—no contact required.
Tips to Prepare and Store Fresh Produce
- Wipe down produce packaging. When you first arrive home from the store, quickly wipe down the outside of any plastic produce containers to sanitize them. (Bonus Tip: This would apply outside of produce, too. You can quickly wipe down the outside of all cans and cartons or simply throw away the boxes that hold self-contained items like oatmeal packets or cups of applesauce.)
- Wash your hands before and after handling any produce.
- Wash all surfaces and utensils such as cutting boards, countertops, knives, etc. before and after cutting or preparing produce.
- Always remove the outermost leaves of the heads of cabbage and lettuce.
- Always keep a separate cutting board that is only used for fruits and veggies and is never used for animal products.
- Wash or scrub all fresh produce under running water BEFORE CUTTING. (Even if you’re not consuming the skins, they can harbor germs.) While water is running, rub the produce gently (for fruits or veggies that are easily bruised) or scrub using a clean vegetable brush (for root veggies, melons or celery).
- Avoid using dish towels or cloths to dry the produce. Instead, allow it to air dry or use a clean paper towel. To avoid excessive bruising, a salad spinner can be used to thoroughly dry the leaves of softer lettuces.
- Always keep fruits and veggies completely separate from any animal products including fish, seafood, meat or poultry when preparing or storing.
- Always prepare or store your fresh produce within 2 hours of cutting it and make sure to clean and sanitize all storage bins and containers on a regular basis. Also make sure the storage temperature is below 40 degrees.
Should You Use a Fresh Produce Wash?
Although experts say it is not necessary, if you would like to utilize a wash or spray, here are a few safe and natural washes that can be used to get those fruits and veggies squeaky clean:
- Veggie Wash
- Fit Organic
- Or make your own! Mix 1 cup of vinegar to 3 cups of water in a spray bottle. Spray fresh produce, let it sit for 5 minutes, and then rinse well under running water or scrub using a sanitized veggie brush.
The bottom line is that it is more important than ever to eat a clean, whole food diet in order to boost immunity and overall health! So don’t be afraid of those fruits and veggies!
Fresh produce is still safe—and immune boosting.
Isn’t Liz a gem? I love learning from her and I love her passion for helping patients through whatever challenges they’re facing—even these coronavirus times.
I hope that Liz has set your mind at ease about produce. But if you’re feeling anxious about anything else, check out my free Instant Stress Reduction meditation below. Meditation is one of the best ways I know to manage worry and this is an easy starter track, even if you’ve never meditated before.