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Much has changed, but safe produce washing has not

I don't imagine this place of social isolation, accompanied by major life disruptions is exactly what we envisioned spring would bring. But alas, here we are.

Rather than packing up camping gear for a weekend adventure in the desert, we're playing survival at home. S'mores will have to wait because right now I'm trying to figure out what to make with dried beans, canned tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and gummy bears. That's just breakfast! The remaining meals and snacks, of which my children seem to need many, have yet to be planned.

What I have learned in this game of survival, is that now is definitely not the time for a preventable trip to the hospital. Getting my girls ready for their mid-morning recess now entails a bike helmet and full body armor. Another preventable, which we can all relate to given more meals being prepared at home, is food-borne illness. I know what you're thinking – “not another article on food-borne illness!” However, it's time to dispel some misinformation and alleviate a bit of fear around one of our basic needs: food.

One important thing to know: Current evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says food is not a carrier for COVID-19. However, sharing food with someone who has been infected presents a different risk.

As you've noticed, there is a heightened awareness around handwashing; so mark off one positive for COVID! And then there is the question about washing produce. Yes, you should wash your fresh produce, but this is nothing new, nor is the technique for doing it.

What is the correct technique for washing produce? Let's start with what not to do and address some of the misinformation. You do not need to use soap or chemicals (bleach) on produce. There's a good reason for this. Food-borne illness can be a result of ingesting pathogens (certain living organisms that cause illness), but it can also be caused by chemical poisoning. When used, soap or chemicals (even when diluted) can remain on produce. Think about the surface area, and porousness, of many fruits and vegetables. Despite a good rinse, chemical residues become trapped, and then you consume them. It's a preventable trip to the hospital.

Safely wash produce with friction and clean, running water. Standing water can result in recontamination. Create friction by using your (clean) fingers to rub the produce, or use a scrub brush (also cleaned and sanitized). A scrub brush is ideal for produce with textured surfaces, such as melons, not great for delicate berries. Place delicate produce in a colander and rinse with cool water. Approved fruit and vegetable washes are safe, but not necessarily more effective than clean water.

More than ever, finances are tight and health is of utmost importance. Prioritize the purchase of fruits and veggies, either fresh, canned or frozen, over manufactured produce washes in the interest of saving money and boosting immunity.

From what I've seen at the grocery store, I think it's safe to assume consumption of canned food is on the rise. Don't forget to wash lids and the tops of cans before opening to prevent undesirable particles from falling in your food.

In recognition that correct produce washing may be less of an immediate concern than access to food, a list of resources has been made available from The Good Food Collective.

The list can be found at goodfoodcollective.org/food-resources.

Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at nicole.clark@colostate.edu or 382-6461.

Nicole Clark

If You Go

The Colorado State University Extension Office in La Plata County is offering two free webinars:

“Address the Stress to be Your Best,” noon-12:45 p.m. Friday, April 10.

“Emotional Eating as a Response to COVID-19,” 4-4:45 pm. Tuesday, April 14.

For registration information, email nicole.clark@colostate.edu.