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Can Coronavirus Be Transmitted via Fresh Fruits and Vegetables?

Here's what you need to know about the virus and whether or not it has the ability to survive in produce.
fruit and vegetables in supermarket

Most news outlets—and let's face it, people—are concerned about one thing right now: the coronavirus outbreak.

Among many of the precautions that should be taken during this time, handwashing is likely the most important of them all. But, as you're continuing to live your life, some questions may be popping up, like, "Is it safe to dine out at a restaurant right now?" (Psst, we've got the answer here.)  "Or buy fresh fruits and veggies at large grocery stores?"

Considering the fact that China is responsible for nearly one-fifth of global gross domestic product, that's not necessarily a far-off question.

According to a report from the "Minnesota Department of Agriculture," while the amount of U.S. agricultural exports to China well exceeds that of Chinese exports coming to the U.S., we still receive a substantial stream of agricultural products from the country. In 2017, for example, the U.S. imported $4.6 billion worth of Chinese crops, livestock, and even livestock byproduct.

Additionally, the coronavirus is no longer centralized to China—it's since spread to and has been ramping up in various surrounding countries, as well as in Europe, which the U.S. also trades with. And here in the U.S., 104 people currently have the virus, six of whom have died.

So, should you be worried about imported produce being tainted with the virus? Or catching it from eating fresh fruits or veggies?

The United Fresh Produce Association says that, while the CDC and FDA have yet to make a specific statement regarding whether the virus is transmittable in produce such as fruits and veggies, there is currently no evidence that suggests it can be transferred.

In fact, a research study from 2013 on coronavirus in strawberries and lettuce found that the virus only survives on produce between four and 10 days, which is much lower than other respiratory viruses. On the other hand, The Food Safety Authority of Ireland says that the coronavirus needs a host—either an animal or human—to grow so it's impossible for it to grow in food.

Until we have more unanimously definitive info, buying and consuming fruits and veggies right now is not of great concern.

That said, if you're nervous, one way to put your mind at ease is to thoroughly cook any fresh produce you buy. (Try boiling beets instead of eating them raw in a salad, or sautéeing mushrooms and broccoli for a homemade stir-fry.)

Most importantly, focus on the proven coronavirus precautions you must take in order to steer clear of the virus as best you can.

Eat This, Not That! is constantly monitoring the latest food news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed (and answer your most urgent questions). Here are the precautions you should be taking at the grocery store, the foods you should have on hand, the meal delivery services and restaurant chains offering takeout you need to know about, and ways you can help support those in need. We will continue to update these as new information develops. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.
Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the news editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in food and drink coverage, and breaking down the science behind the latest health studies and information. Read more
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