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. Food Safety Modernization Act Video

    Jan 11, 2017




  2. FDA Released the FSMA Produce Safety Rule

    Nov 25, 2015

    Click here to read the rule in PDF format and click here for the FDA factsheet, which summarizes the rule.

  3. 2015 GAPs Classes & NEW Agricultural Water Quality Workshop

    Jan 28, 2015

    Posted 1-28-15

  4. Produce Growers: Please Complete Brief FSMA Survey

    Jan 23, 2015

    Posted 1-23-15 on behalf of Erik Lichtenburg and Aaron Ashok Adalja from the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the Unviersity of Maryland.


  5. Last GAPs Class of the 2014 Season Plus Bonus Workshop

    Jul 17, 2014

    July 17, 2014 GALLIPOLIS, Ohio -- A session set for Aug.

  6. Intro to GAPs Video from Rural Action & OSU Extension

    Mar 12, 2014

    Not sure what an OSU good agricultural practices (GAPs) class is all about? Rural Action and OSU Extension created a short video to give growers an idea of the topics covered during a GAPs session. The clip is also a great refresher for growers and other produce industry stakeholders who have attended a class in the past. Check it out HERE!

  7. Growers: Voice Your Concerns

    Sep 3, 2013


  8. New York Times & Food Safety

    May 28, 2013

    Fruit and vegetable safety is a growing concern. Using proactive methods to reduce the risk of foodborne illness is the takeaway message of this article, recently published in The New York Times. 

  9. FDA Listening Session: Answers to Stakeholder Concerns

    May 15, 2013


    On April 30, stakeholders stood before a panel of government officials during a listening session to express their concerns about the Produce Rule in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). While most grower questions were answered during the session, some involving an establishment's total food sales and soil amendments required further research. Content below, from Cathy McDermott of the FDA, provides feedback to those unanswered questions: 

  10. FDA releases draft standards for safe production of fresh fruits and veg- Food Safety Modernization Act

    Jan 4, 2013

    The FDA has released the standards for the safe production of fresh fruits and vegetables for human consumption.

    This long awaited component of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) builds on the formerly voluntary guide to minimizing microbial contamination of produce.