Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. Your local markets carry a wide variety of nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables. However, harmful bacteria that may be in the soil or water where produce grows can come in contact with fruits and vegetables and contaminate them. Fresh produce may also become contaminated after it is harvested, such as during storage or preparation.
Eating contaminated produce can lead to foodborne illness, often called “food poisoning.” So as you enjoy fresh produce, follow these safe handling tips to help protect you and your family.
What About Pre-Washed Produce?
Many pre-cut, bagged, or packaged produce items are pre-washed and ready-to-eat. If so, it will be stated on the packaging, and you can use the produce without further washing.
If you choose to wash produce marked as “pre-washed” or “ready-to-eat,” be sure that it does not come in contact with unclean surfaces or utensils. This will help to avoid cross contamination.
About Foodborne Illness
Consuming dangerous foodborne bacteria will usually cause illness within 1 to 3 days of eating the contaminated food. However, sickness can also occur within 20 minutes or up to 6 weeks later. Although most people will recover from a foodborne illness within a short period of time, some can develop chronic, severe, or even life-threatening health problems.
Foodborne illness can sometimes be confused with other illnesses that have similar symptoms. The symptoms of foodborne illness can include:
All components of the food industry are considered critical infrastructure and it is therefore vital that they continue to operate.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 that includes information on how a COVID-19 outbreak could affect workplaces and steps all employers can take to reduce workers’ risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).
Food production/processing facilities/farms need to follow protocols, including cleaning protocols, set by local and state health departments, which may vary depending on the amount of community spread of COVID-19 in a given area. These decisions will be based on public health risk of person-to-person transmission – not based on food safety.
If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality about individual employees’ identities. Sick employees should follow the CDC’s What to do if you are sick with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
CDC’s Interim US Guidance for Risk Assessment and Public Health Managements of Persons with Potential Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Exposures: Geographic Risk and Contacts of Laboratory-confirmed Cases, provides a framework for assessing and managing risks of potential exposures to SARS-CoV-2.
Workers in the Food and Agriculture sector – agricultural production, food processing, distribution, retail and food service and allied industries – are named as essential critical infrastructure workers. Promoting the ability of our workers within the food and agriculture industry to continue to work during periods of community restrictions, social distances, and closure orders, among others, is crucial to community continuity and community resilience.
Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. CDC notes that in general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures. It is more likely that a person will be exposed by person-to-person transmission involving close contact with someone who is ill or shedding the virus.
Consumers can follow CDC guidelines on how to protect yourself, especially the advice on frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; and frequent cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces.
If you are concerned about contamination of food and food packaging you have purchased from the grocery store, wash your hands after handling food and food packages when you return from the grocery store and after removing packaging from food. In addition, it’s always critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety—clean, separate, cook, and chill – to prevent foodborne illness. FDA also has advice about safely selecting and serving raw produce.
Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Therefore, we do not believe there is a need to conduct environmental testing in food settings for the virus that causes COVID 19 for the purpose of food safety. Cleaning and sanitizing the surfaces is a better use of resources than testing to see if the virus is present.
Facilities are required to use personnel practices that protect against contamination of food, food contact surfaces and packaging and to maintain clean and sanitized facilities and food contact surfaces. Although it is possible that the infected worker may have touched surfaces in your facility, FDA-regulated food manufacturers are required to follow Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs). Maintaining CGMPs in the facility should minimize the potential for surface contamination and eliminate contamination when it occurs. With the detection of the coronavirus in asymptomatic people and studies showing survival of coronavirus on surfaces for short periods of time, as an extra precaution, food facilities may want to consider a more frequent cleaning and sanitation schedule for high human contact surfaces.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants and food manufacturers may have food not labeled for retail sale that they wish to sell at retail. The FDA has released a guidance document to provide restaurants and other businesses with flexibility regarding nutrition labeling so that they can sell certain packaged food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To prevent spread of COVID-19, CDC is recommending individuals employ social distancing or maintaining approximately 6 feet from others, when possible. In food production/processing facilities and retail food establishments, an evaluation should be made to identify and implement operational changes that increase employee separation. However, social distancing to the full 6 feet will not be possible in some food facilities.
The risk of an employee transmitting COVID-19 to another is dependent on distance between employees, the duration of the exposure, and the effectiveness of employee hygiene practices and sanitation. When it’s impractical for employees in these settings to maintain social distancing, effective hygiene practices should be maintained to reduce the chance of spreading the virus.
IMPORTANT: Maintaining social distancing in the absence of effective hygiene practices may not prevent the spread of this virus. Food facilities should be vigilant in their hygiene practices, including frequent and proper hand-washing and routine cleaning of all surfaces.
Because the intensity of the COVID-19 outbreak may differ according to geographic location, coordination with state and local officials is strongly encouraged for all businesses so that timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where their operations reside.