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. 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...

  2. Washington State University: Produce Fights Back! Compound from garlic fights against Campylobacter, common foodborne pathogen

    May 8, 2012

    From Washington State University:

    Researchers have found a compound in garlic that is 100 times more effective than some antibiotics against Campylobacter jejuni, a bacterium that is a common cause of foodborne illness.  While the research is in its early stages, the potential practical uses for the food industry are promising.  

    A word of caution, the research is NOT suggesting that eating mass amounts of garlic is a preventative measure for protecting the consumer from food poisoning.

  3. From Food Safety News: Key FSMA rules continue to languish at OMB, months after deadline- read more

    Apr 23, 2012

    From an article in the April 23, 2012 Food Safety News online.... FSMA's preventive controls for food facilities, preventive controls for animal feed facilities, foreign supplier verification program, and the produce safety rule- all past their due dates.  What's the hold up? Read more... 

    By Helena Bottemiller: Article

  4. OSU researchers awarded grant to study small farmers; farmer's market managers understanding & implementation of size-specific GAPs

    Apr 4, 2012

     Ohio State researchers have been awarded a grant through the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE).

  5. Perspectives from Pennsylvania Supermarkets

    Apr 2, 2012

    A survey of supermarkets in Pennsylvania, published in the Journal of Extension (, finds that supermarkets of PA will increasingly require fresh produce farms to receive GAP training or GAP audits before they will buy produce.  Of these, a percentage of stores also intends to buy an increased volume of fresh local produce locally, making GAP-trained or certified produce farms in a growing market demand.

    read full study here at the Journal of Extension.

  6. Fruit ripeness and Salmonella (Eurekalert March 25, 2012)

    Mar 26, 2012

     The ripeness of fruit could determine how food-poisoning bacteria grow on them, according to scientists presenting their work at the Society for General Microbiology's Spring Conference in Dublin this week... read more.

  7. GlobalGAPS endorses use of Harmonized Standards in US (The Packer 3/2/2012)

    Mar 12, 2012

    The Packer reported recently that GlobalGAP has approved the use of the Harmonized Standard for GAP audits that were developed by the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative Steering Committee, furthering industry efforts toward obtaining a Global Food Safety Initiative benchmarked standard.

    Read full article HERE

  8. Ohio Produce Marketing Agreement bill to new Director of Ag

    Mar 9, 2012

    The Ohio Produce Marketing Agreement has been sent to the Director of Agriculture this week for his consideration in creating an officially sanctioned "Voluntary food safety marketing agreement" for Ohio.

  9. Sizing Food Safety Regulations to Fit the Farm

    Feb 17, 2012

    February 16, 2012 article on Food Safety News discusses, "what exactly is a small farm" and how new regulations may impact them.  Read full article here.

  10. News website

    Aug 5, 2011

    Check out our new website and let us know what you think.

    Something about medical benefits going down because of this.