Purdue University’s Department of Food Science has a message for consumers: Don’t let a fear of the coronavirus COVID-19 to keep you from eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
And as fear and misinformation spread about the virus, produce industry groups are stepping up to inform consumers and industry as well. The United Fresh Produce Association has an industry webpage and a consumer webpage and the Produce Marketing Association page includes links to government and grocery industry sites and a video message from CEO Cathy Burns.
United Fresh started a LinkedIn group, "Produce Industry Coronavirus Resource Share Group," where industry members are encouraged to share specific needs, from transportation to produce in need of a buyer.
The main focus of consumer messaging is that there is no research or cases that show COVID-19 is foodborne or transmitted by food, including fresh produce — whether packaged or bulk.
“There are no clinically confirmed cases of COVID-19 linked to the consumption of fresh produce or food sold through traditional retail outlets,” according to a joint statement from PMA and United Fresh. “As consumers select their produce, adhering to food safety guidance is critical. We encourage consumers to wash their hands, and wash and prepare their produce following FDA recommendations.”
Purdue University’s Amanda Deering, an Extension specialist in its Department of Food Science, said the virus causes COVID-19 appears to be transmitted like other viruses. In a news release, she urges consumers to wash fruits and vegetables, and their hands, before handling food.
Scott Monroe, a Purdue University Extension food safety educator, said produce growers incorporate good agricultural practices.
“While viruses may be transmitted from surfaces, most growers take steps to prevent contamination,” Monroe said in the release. “At this point in time, fear of COVID-19 should not be a reason to stop purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Monroe and Deering suggest consumers take these steps:
- Wash hands frequently, including after a trip to the grocery store;
- Resist the urge to “manipulate” produce items on bulk displays, despite touching different items being a typical part of the selection process;
- Avoid bulk produce if immune-compromised, choosing packaged produce as an added caution, or cook the produce before eating; and
- Wash produce thoroughly.
“The incorporation of fresh fruits and vegetables into one’s diet has consistently been shown to increase overall health, including the immune system,” according to the Purdue University release. “Staying healthy increases the body’s ability to fight infections.”
The Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, Salinas, also reminds consumers about the role of fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet.
“Fresh fruits and veggies are going to support your immune system and gut health through this challenging time,” according to a March 16 post on the group’s blog. “So, for your next delivered grocery store order or on your next trip to your neighborhood market, remember to stock up on fresh produce to keep your immune system strong and healthy.”