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. FDA & FOOD FACILITIES: To register or not to register?

    Dec 17, 2012

    Hello All:

    We have received a number of questions related to FOOD FACILITY REGISTRATION under the new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act guidelines.  But who really needs to register?

    The rule says that any facility that manufactures, processes, packs, or holds food for human or animal consumption is required to register as a facility.  However, PRODUCE FARMS ARE EXEMPT from this requirement under MOST conditions, even if you are holding it for a period of time BEFORE sale.

  2. New Local Foods "Grocery Store", Knox County, looking for local suppliers

    Nov 9, 2012

    Knox County, Ohio, is preparing to open a local food "grocery" type store on Friday, November 23, 2012 called Harvest @ The Woodward.  The organizing committee is looking for food products (produce, fruit, dairy, meat, eggs, fish, baked goods, syrups, honey etc etc) made and/or produced within the State of Ohio to sell through this location.

  3. Ohio Produce Marketing Agreement: Voluntary Food Safety for Growers

    Sep 28, 2012

    From The Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association:

  4. Another Cantaloupe outbreak

    Aug 28, 2012

    FDA has named an Indiana Cantaloupe Farm in the Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak that has made 178 people in 21 states ill.  There have been 62 hospitalizations and 2 reported deaths.

    Chamberlain Farms in Southwestern Indiana has been linked to the outbreak.  They have recalled all their cantaloupe from the market.  The cantaloupes were sold in Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

    Click HERE for FDA official ongoing report.

  5. NC State's "Pack 'N Cool" Provides Farmers with Mobile Refrigeration Solution

    Aug 23, 2012

     N.C. State University's Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) has developed a new mobile cooling unit for farmers.  The five-by-eight-feet refrigerated trailer- called the "Pack 'N Cool" is designed to keep fruits and vegetables at ideal temperatures during transport to and from farmers markets or as they're harvested in farm fields.  The Pack 'N Cool is the program's latest postharvest quality and food safety project geared toward helping farmers...

  6. Food Safety: New law in Indiana addressing overheated food trucks, poor transport conditions

    Aug 13, 2012

     In an article in the Courier-Journal by Megan Banta (August 10, 2012), they describe a new law that has taken effect in Indiana.

  7. USDA Agricultural Marketing Service to host 2 FREE webinars for fresh produce

    Aug 10, 2012

    USDA AMS Fruit and Vegetable Program is hosting 2 webinars for fresh produce growers, marketers, and industry.  

    They are FREE, but space is limited.

  8. Study: Copper Kills Salmonella, Other Microbes by James Andrews, Food Safety News

    Jul 19, 2012

    Research conducted at the University of Arizona found COPPER can reduce microbial populations on surfaces.  Through oxidation, where copper reacts with oxygen, a toxic residue is formed that can kill some susceptible strains of bacteria.  The study looked at Salmonella, both susceptible and resistant strains. They found that bacteria, even those resistant to copper, could not survive long on copper surfaces.

  9. Growing food on asphalt? OSU researchers study unique "farmland" for urban farming

    May 24, 2012

    Ohio State Researcher Joe Kovach is studying the option of using abandon parking lots in urban areas as sites for growing fresh fruits and vegetables.  The research looks at potted plants on asphault, removing asphault and planting in the underlying soil, and making raised bed atop the pavement.  He is looking at, not only its potential, but how it affects the ecological communities compared to traditional agriculture.  It may be a new use of land for urban farming and local food enthusiasts.  

  10. New sensors for detecting ethylene may help supermarkets cut losses due to fresh produce spoilage

    May 14, 2012

     "Every year, U.S. supermarkets lose roughly 10 percent of their fruits and vegetables to spoilage, according to the Department of Agriculture.  To help combat those losses, MIT chemistry professor Timothy Swager and his students have built a new sensor that could help grocers and food distributors better monitor their produce" (Anne Trafton, MIT News Office, April 30, 2012).  Story at MIT news...