How COVID19 Affects the Safety of Your Fresh Produce

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses whose members cause the common cold, but also more severe illnesses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), all of which can infect both humans and animals, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). COVID-19 is the new coronavirus that causes symptoms that include fever, coughing, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties and other, and range from mild to severe respiratory illness. Advanced age, or conditions such as various cancers, chronic pulmonary diseases, asthma, heart disease and even diabetes, are associated with an increased severity of COVID-19 infections and higher fatality rates.

COVID-19, like other coronaviruses, transmits person-to-person through droplets that are produced when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. Most often, the virus is transferred from an infected to a healthy individual when droplets carrying the virus directly reach their nose, mouth, or eyes, or through close contact such as a handshake. The virus can also transmit by touching an object or surface with the virus on it and then touching the mouth or eyes before washing the hands.

Studies with a bovine (an animal of the cattle group, which also includes buffaloes and bison) coronavirus have shown that the virus can be stable on the surface of lettuce in laboratory conditions. Coronaviral RNA was detectable on the lettuce surface for 30 days, and infectious bovine coronavirus was detected on the lettuce surface for at least 14 days after inoculation. However, from experience with previous outbreaks of SARS and MERS, the transmission through food consumption is not likely to occur. There is currently no information as to whether or not COVID-19 infected produce handlers could contaminate fresh produce that is not further treated.  Although COVID-19 transmissions from food has not been shown, growers should follow good hygiene practices when handling fresh produce pre- and post-harvest, and during end-point sales.

It’s important to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your consumers that may be at risk from the severe form of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone to wash their hands often, refrain from touching your mouth, nose and eyes.  If you or any workers are sick, do not handle produce. As with any food safety measures, you should always wash your hands before handling the produce. Use hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol. Remember hand sanitizer is only effective if your hands are clean (i.e. wash with soap and water first). Handwashing procedures must be enforced.

To ensure safety of the produce, cleaning and sanitation of the surfaces are critical. A recent study found that the coronaviruses can persist up to nine days on inanimate surfaces like metal or plastic. Coronaviruses persist longer at lower temperatures and when the humidity is higher. Surface disinfection with 0.1% sodium hypochlorite or 62-71% ethanol significantly reduces the infectivity of coronavirus on surfaces within one minute of contact.  In addition, everyone should avoid crowded spaces and any contact with people that may be infected. Farmers markets and produce auctions are crowed areas and growers may experience quiet time and difficult times selling the produce. When displaying the produce at the stand or a store, protect fresh produce from exposure to customers and workers by using barriers and closed displays. Post signage to prevent customers from touching produce.  It is recommended that samples not be provided to consumers until the COVID 19 pandemic is over.

For further questions contact:

Sanja Ilic, PhD
Assistant Professor and Food Safety State Specialist
Department of Human Sciences Human Nutrition
331B Campbell Hall, 1787 Neil Ave, Columbus, OH 43210
614-292-4076 Office / 614-216-5053 Mobile

  1. Choosing the right food safety training class

    Choosing the Right Food Safety Training Class

    Feb 5, 2019

    What Food Safety Class is Best for You? 

    This article describes some of the food safety trainings available in Ohio by The Ohio State University Fruit and Vegetable Safety Team.

  2. Collaborating with CropKing Inc to identify food safety hazards associated with growing hydroponic leafy greens

    Meet Our Team Members: Dr. Sanja Ilic

    Dec 19, 2018

    Sanja Ilic,PhD-Assistant Professor and Food Safety State Specialist at OSU. Sanja has been a member of the OSU Fruit and Vegetable Safety Team since 2007. Sanja is located in Columbus, and her focus in her research and extension work is on fresh produce food safety.  Sanja works with a diverse group of produce growers including small and medium farmers, plain growers, hydroponic, urban, and minimal processors. Sanja feels that consumption of produce is of critical importance for human health.

  3. Jerry Iles training growers in Fairfiled County

    Meet Our Team Members: Jerry Iles

    Oct 31, 2018

    Jerry Iles-Extension Educator Fairfield County

    Jerry has been a member of the OSU Fruit and Vegetable Safety Team since 2014.  Jerry focuses on local foods and serves produce growers in Farifield County that sell directly to the public via farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) as well as a small Plain (Amish) community that sells at the weekly Bremen Produce Auction produce auction.  Jerry says that being a member of the OSU Fruit and Vegetable Safety Team is important in his role as a county Extension Educator so that he can offer Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) training for local producers that wish to sell at area farmers markets and produce auctions.  In addition to providing support for local foods and CSA's Jerry specializes in watershed management and water quality issues and land use planning issues.

  4. OSU Fruit and Vegetable Safety Team Awarded OSU Connect and Collaborate Grant

    May 15, 2018

    Development of an Education and Outreach Program to Assist Fresh Produce Growers with Meeting Food Safety Requirements
    Dr. Melanie Lewis Ivey, Dr. Sanja Ilic, Ivory Harlow and members of the fruit and vegetable safety team were awarded a  OSU Conenct and Collaborate grant to develop food safety plan writing workshops and on-farm audit readiness programming for growers in Ohio and bordering counties in West Virginia and Kentucky.  In addition pre-harvest food safety knowledge and awareness training for new and underserved produce growers in the community wil be delivered.  Project partners include The Wallace Center, North Central Region Center for FSMA Training, Extension, and Technical Service (NCRFSE), National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association (OEFFA), The Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC)-Outlying Branches, and The Ohio State University’s Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT). For more information on the project contact Dr. Lewis Ivey or Dr. Sanja Ilic.

    Project Summary
    Fresh produce is the leading cause of foodborne illnesses in the country and Ohio growers must meet federal food safety standards to ensure that their produce is safe. Understanding regulatory requirements, awareness of safe agricultural practices, and developing and following written food safety plans (FSP) are critical steps toward minimizing the risk of on farm produce contamination. OSU lags behind other land grant universities in providing fresh produce safety education and training programs. In addition, stakeholder awareness of fresh produce safety programming available at OSU is low compared to their awareness of programming in other states. We have formed a team of Food Safety State Specialists, Extension educators, and community organizations to provide a diverse group of Ohio growers with the tools and resources needed to supply consumers with a safe product.  To address these needs, we will provide:  i) pre-harvest food safety knowledge and awareness training to new and underserved produce growers in the community; ii) farm food safety plan writing workshops and on-farm audit readiness programs; and iii) a roadmap for an OSU food safety training program for FSMA equivalence. In order to achieve our goal in improving fresh produce safety and sustaining the fresh produce industry, we will form a fresh produce safety education and training cooperative with participating food safety experts from Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.

  5. OSU Awarded Food Safety Education Grant

    Dec 17, 2017

    Food Safety Education and Outreach Programming for Plain Growers

    Dr. Sanja Ilic and Dr. Melanie Lewis Ivey were awarded a  $200 000 USDA-NIFA grant to develop food safety programming for Plain produce growers in Ohio.  The programming will be extended to Plain communities in Michigan and Pennsylvania.  The grant includes a regional conference to be held in Ohio in 2019.  A summary of the project is provided below.

    Project Summary

    Food safety education continues to be a challenge for limited-resource populations. Although Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania are home to over half of the Amish population in the US, state educucational programs are often generic and don’t adequately address specific needs of the Amish.  A stakeholder roundtable meeting identified the need for GAPs training that is more relevant to farming practices utilized by Plain growers. While many Plain growers have participated in GAPs trainings in the past and are aware of on-farm food safety hazards, it is evident that program content and delivery methods should be modified to better meet the needs of Plain growers. The objectives of this proposals are to: 1) develop GAPs training adressing the unique farming and handling practices and communication requirements of Plain growers, 2) pilot Plain grower GAPs with distinct settlements in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan (tri-state), and 3) share materials with Plain grower populations through North Central Region Center for FSMA Training. Plain grower GAPs training will be culturally adapted, consider sociolinguistic characteristics and consist entirely of practices utilized by Plain growers. The materials will be designed for settings without electricity. User-friendly presentation materials and food safety plan and recordkeeping templates will be developed for Plain growers. The training will be piloted by Plain growers across the tristate and complement on-going food safety trainings in these states. Completion of this project will allow us to reach a larger number of Plain growers ensuring a greater impact on fresh produce safety in the tri-state region.

  6. OEFFA Publishes Article on Food Safety Planning Down on the Farm

    Dec 17, 2017

    Food Safety Planning Down on the Farm: Examples from Ohio Certified Organic Farms
    This report can help you understand what it means to develop a farm food safety plan and meet new federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety rules.  Food Safety Planning Down on the Farm: Examples from Ohio Certified Organic Farms features case studies of eight vegetable and fruit farms of various scales and serving diverse markets.  The publication identifies challenges that these farms faced in developing their own food safety plans and explores what changes they made to reduce their risk.  Whether or not you are certified organic, OEFFA hopes you'll see yourself in these profiles, be able to take away new ideas, and feel less intimidated by food safety planning and costs.

  7. Ohio Produce Network (previously OPGMA Congress)

    Dec 13, 2017

    January 15-17, 2018
    Kalahari Resort and Convention Center, Sandusky, Ohio

    Featured Speakers include Dr. Phil Tocco (Michigan State Univeristy), Matt Fout (Ohio Department of Agriculture), Mike Kauffman (The Ohio State University), Dr. Sanja Ilic (The Ohio State University), and Dr. Melanie Lewis Ivey (The Ohio State University).  For a list of our speaker's presentation topics and for information on Produce Safety Alliance Trainings that will be offered during the Ohio Produce Network click here.  To learn more about registration and programming click here.

  8. Covered by Food Safety Law or Exempt? How to Decide?

    Jan 11, 2017

    The FDA has created a helpful decision tree / flow chart to help farmers determine if their farm falls under an exemption or if it is regulated under the new Food Safety Modernization Act.  Click the image to find out more.

  9. PSA - Grower Training Course - MAY 31

    May 4, 2017

    GROWER TRAINING COURSE May 31, 2017OARDC Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering Building, Room 200
    1680 Madison Ave, Wooster, OH 44691
    Lead Trainer: Beth Scheckelhoff, The Ohio State University Trainers: Sanja Ilic and Melanie Lewis Ivey, The Ohio State University

    Who Should Attend

  10. New Infographics available

    Jan 26, 2017

    Infographics are a quick visual way to convey information.  Check out the new infographics for produce safety statistics and for determining if a farm qualifies for FSMA regulations or is exempt.  Available in both English and Spanish languages.