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QUINN ON NUTRITION: The coronavirus and food

QUINN ON NUTRITION: The coronavirus and food


Two recent columns prompted these questions from readers:

"Dear Barbara, I was grateful that you addressed the farming food-safety issue in your column. I'm glad field workers are taking added precautions, but what if one of them DOES have the virus and packs lettuce or strawberries or any other produce? Will the consumer of these items get the virus from that? Do we need to wash all these items in soapy water? Or is the three-day rule in effect here, stipulating that the virus dies or is no longer effective after three days of touching? This is a real concern for me, especially since I feed my 100-year-old mom. Thanks in advance if you can respond to this issue." — Elaine M., Monterey, California

"I enjoy reading your articles. Thank you! I continue to strive to serve and enjoy more vegetables and fruits. Since COVID-19, I have started to avoid those pre-made salad bowls because I'm worried about how many hands have touched those. Am I overly concerned? I would love to go back to those. I do continue to need to add more vegetables to my diet, and those were wonderful. Thank you for your article, which continues to help us improve our health." — Barb S.

Great questions, ladies. Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus, an expert on food and viruses at North Carolina State University, and other scientists support statements from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the World Health Organization that there is currently no evidence that people can catch COVID-19 from food or food packaging, even if it has been touched by an infected person.

Experts say the main way this virus gets into our bodies is through the respiratory tract when we have direct contact with an infected person. In other words, the virus "sheds" onto us when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes our way.

Thus far, there is no indication that we can contract this virus in our digestive tract from eating infected food. It's also pretty unlikely that our lungs could get infected with COVID from chewing contaminated food, although this has not been completely ruled out.

Here's what we do know for sure: The very best way to prevent our food from being contaminated in the first place is for all of us to vigilantly wash our hands and utensils before, during and after handling food. That means everyone, from farm to packing to store to restaurant to home.

Wash fresh produce in cold running water, says the FDA. No soap or detergents required. Don't re-wash packaged salads that are "pre-washed," says the FDA. You could do more harm than good.

And remember, the COVID-causing virus is inactivated when we cook food for at least four minutes at 145 degrees F.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian. Email her at



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