Coronavirus: Does washing fruit and vegetables with soap prevent infection?

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The coronavirus can last for between hours and days on several surfaces, which has prompted some to question whether they should be taking extra precautions when washing their fruit and vegetables, such as using soap, to prevent catching the deadly disease.

The coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has spread rapidly across the world and infected over 1.2 million people worldwide as of Monday. While the primary mode of transmission is by human-to-human contact, research has showed the virus can survive for several days on certain surfaces.

But despite COVID-19’s durability, experts say that there is currently no evidence that the disease is transmitted via food – and therefore washing fruit and vegetables with soap is unnecessary.

“So far, there is no evidence of any foodborne transmission of the disease. However, people handling fruits and vegetables should practice hand hygiene as a precaution,” said Dr Maher Balkis, associate staff physician of infectious diseases at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

Balkis added that it is important to always wash fruits and vegetables to protect from a wide range of food borne diseases, such as those that cause E.coli, salmonella or listeria.

“Before washing vegetables, it is important to wash your hands properly with warm soapy water in order to prevent transferring contaminants to the vegetables,” he said.

Even if produce is going to be peeled, it should be rinsed to prevent bacteria from spreading from the skin onto the inner fruit. A brush can be used for products with a tougher skin, such as melons or cucumbers.

“You do not need to use soap, simply rub the produce gently under running water, although it is safe to do so assuming you wash it off properly,” Balkis said.

Once the fruit and vegetables have been washed correctly, dry them with a clean towel or kitchen to roll to remove any remaining contaminants. In the case of leafy vegetables like lettuce or cabbage, remove the outermost leaves.

“Sanitize all the countertops, cutting boards and utensils before and after preparing food. This can be done using soap and water or alcohol-based disinfectant,” Balkis concluded.

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