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Why You Should Always Wash Your Produce (Especially During Flu Season)

A woman with a shopping cart watching a little girl pick produce from a bin at a grocery store.

We’re well into flu season, which means going the extra mile to stay safe (and healthy) and limit the spread of germs. One of those extra steps should be washing your fresh fruits and vegetables.

How Germs Spread

Illnesses spread from person to person in a variety of ways. Many of the most common and persistent ones, like flus and colds, are transmitted via airborne droplets. Whenever a sick person coughs or sneezes, they release tiny droplets into the air, and others inhale them.

Person-to-person contact is another way germs spread. Whenever you touch a door handle, stairway rail, or other frequently touched surfaces, the germs get on your hands. If you then rub your face, you put the germs right near your eyes, mouth, or nose, and they can enter your body.

The combination of flu season and coronavirus make this an even more critical time. The best way to protect yourself (and others) from germs is to properly wash your hands with soap and water.

Why Wash Fresh Produce?

Germs linger on surfaces, and that’s not limited to doorknobs and the like. Just like various germs can linger on a subway pole or countertop for hours (or even days), they can also linger on produce.

What’s even scarier is someone infected with the regular old flu virus might not show any symptoms for up to 24 hours. However, they still spread those germs, even though they don’t know they’re sick. The emerging information about the coronavirus indicates the incubation period can be anywhere from one day to two weeks. That means a lot of people who don’t yet realize they’re sick are out and about.

How often do you see people grab a fruit or vegetable, give it a good squeeze, and then put it back? What if you grab an apple someone with the flu handled right before you, and eat it on your way home?

While the flu is more likely to be transmitted from person to person rather than surface to person, it’s still a good practice to wash all your produce.

How to Protect and Wash Your Produce

If you know (or think) you might be sick, the best thing to do is stay home until you’re well and no longer contagious.

If you’re shopping for produce, use a produce plastic bag to choose which fruits and veggies you want. This will protect you and others.

You should always wash your produce before you eat it. Plain water works fine, but soaking your fruits and veggies in a solution that’s two-parts water and one-part vinegar more effectively kills bacteria.

Also, before you store your washed fruits and vegetables, make sure they’re completely dry so they won’t spoil from moisture.

While you’re at it, encourage your friends and family to keep their hands and produce clean this season to cut down on virus transmission.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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