Kris Carr

Kris Carr


Is Fresh Produce Safe During the Coronavirus?

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Hiya Gorgeous!

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.

If you’d like to continue learning from Liz, you can start with this lovely interview, What to Eat (and Avoid) if You Have Cancer. You can also visit her at the Block Center website.

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.

The major takeaway that I hope you’ve absorbed today is that it’s still safe to eat green (and red and orange and purple, too). So don’t avoid those produce aisles during your next grocery run. In fact, head straight for them.

Now more than ever, your body needs all of the immune-boosting, inflammation-reducing benefits that fresh produce can give. So load up on those scrumptious plants—just make sure to wash them well.

Your turn: What’s one healthy ingredient you’ll add to your cart this week?

Kindness & kale,

Add a comment
  1. Rita B. White says:

    Now it is important to adhere to all safety standards. Thank you very much for this great article. Fresh food is very important in this difficult time, but you need to be careful with them.

  2. murphy says:

    I have always used apple cider vinegar mixed with lemon juice to swish my greens and fruits in … something I learned a long time ago … I had a great, great aunt who traveled from Maine to Massachusetts to study nursing around 1895 … upon finishing her nurse’s training, she stayed in MA. and in 1900 she had a huge house built to be used as a sanitorium which she and a sister ran … so a lot of her knowledge and practices were passed down through generations … btw apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, water, and newspaper also did wonders on window washing … in 1950, as the sisters faded away, the house was converted to our family residence … my room was the original operating room … I loved exploring the attic, basement, and all the neat features … hitching posts for horse and buggy ambulances … dumbwaiters… etc. … I still have the ivory handle scalpel set … oh, the stories that house told … someday, as memories of my old house come up, I will write the most hilarious stories about it … at the time it was built, the house was surrounded by apple orchards … wow, I had better get going on those stories … my husband of 47 years and I are starting to cruise by our mid 70,s … so for this blog during this time of unrest, it’s still vinegar, lemon, and water for me … oh, I had a great-grandmother who died of the 1918 Spanish flu … my grandmother told me that her father gave each of her siblings and her a very , very small teaspoon of turpintine every night … weird, huh !

  3. Natalie says:

    Words are not enough to express my gratitude for sharing this. It has been on my mind since the beginning of February, before we had the stay at home order. I’ve continued to purchase fresh fruit and veggies. Washing them before eating. Always in the back of my mind worrying if I needed to switch to frozen or canned. Not my favorite to be sure. Now I can enjoy it all with a smile and sense of relief. Thank you so much!!!!

  4. Meghan Merker says:

    I don’t think that the statement “Wear a cloth mask, if you like” is at all ok. Remember please that you can be asymptomatic and a highly contagious carrier of the novel coronavirus. So the mask is not only for your protection, it is for the protection of others. I do not think you should make it sounds as if wearing a mask is just an optional thing.

    • Amy says:

      And, the thing with masks though is they leave areas around your nose for the virus to float right into. I have a friend who said a fly went down the opening of his mask and went right up his nose. He says he knows that won’t really protect us from the virus since he has proof. The clips on the nose bridge probably would help. I’m in Colorado and we are mandated to wear masks in public. It’s hot under those masks and hard to breathe and hear what someone is saying through the mask. I sure hope we won’t have to do this for very very long.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hey Meghan, thank you so much for your excellent point. We updated the blog thanks to you! (Jennifer, Wellness Team)

    • Ann says:

      On the topic of masks, please everyone remember if you wear a mask, you cannot touch it. If the mask is touched, it is just like putting your hands on your face. I see many wear a mask in public and then move it on and off their face either to talk or cool down. Masks should only be used once and then disposed of or washed.

  5. susan wright says:

    The unsung heroes ????‍♀️ in our world are the farmers. They totally connect us with our Mother Earth & I couldn’t feel more grateful during this time. I use hot water , a scrub brush for roots & old fashioned common sense. Peace & Collards ???? Kris

    • kris says:

      Absolutely, Susan! I agree completely, it’s time we give some love to our farmers. Sounds like you’ve got a great recipe for your fruits and veggies. Stay well and safe, sweetheart. Xo.

  6. Amy Kennedy says:

    My concern over produce is that the employee or the shopper before me sneezed on it just before I grabbed it and those droplets fell into the folds of that head of lettuce. Or maybe the assembly worker coughed on it before putting it in the sealed bag, sealed the bag and sent it on it’s way to us. It’s reported that vinegar doesn’t kill these zombie like germs. I’ve only been eating anything that can be cooked, heat does kill the germs. My husband thinks I’m a germaphobe but no one refutes this scenario is possible.

    • macro says:

      Yes, I’ve read that vinegar doesn’t kill the virus. however, I read that hydrogen peroxide does which can be used to wash produce mixed with water.

  7. Margo says:

    Thank you so much for this! One thing I’m adding this week is delivery from a local CSA box called Farm Fresh to You in Northern California. I can customize fruits and veggies AND add a variety of other products if I wish like bread or granola!
    Thanks for all you do!

  8. Ann says:

    I feel better after reading your post because I have a trip to the food store planned today and my cart is always filled with fresh produce. Luckily, I can find everything I want except for sprouts but that’s okay. I bought broccoli rabe the past two trips to the store and I sauté it with garlic and Bragg Organic Sprinkle and I’m craving it again. Yesterday, I made a recipe that I found on your blog a while back…the Lentil, Kale Detox salad and I had to make a substitution but that salad is really delicious and it makes a large bowl so I can enjoy it for a few days.

  9. Ana says:

    Aspargus!!! I’ve been looking for them for weeks, it’s been crazy. But finally they are on my way 🙂
    Even though I eat pretty clean, I’ve been craving green for days. Let’s accept the body knows what it needs haha

    • kris says:

      Wonderful! As the weather gets nicer in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re so lucky to have our options get even better. I’m with you about craving green! I hope you get your asparagus soon, toots. Xo.

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