How to rid fruits and vegetables of coronavirus?

Fruits and vegetables have extremely porous skins that absorb the chemicals from soap


The most effective piece of advice health experts can give to eliminate all traces of the coronavirus on your hands is this: Wash your hands properly. It takes about as long as singing "Happy Birthday" twice, says WHO.

Yes, handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Now we also wash most of the things that we buy from shops. But what about vegetables? Haven't those edibles been touched by several hands? What if some of the veggies carry the virus? Should we wash them too with soap?

Social media posts may advise you to wash even vegetables with soap. A recent video made by a doctor in Michigan, USA, advised people to soak fruits in soapy water. Around 26 million people had already viewed it on YouTube. In the video the doc compared the fruit skins to human skin. Since we wash our skins with soap, so we can wash the fruits too—so went the argument.

Our dinnerware is made of non-porous material that does not absorb soap. In contrast, our skin is porous, having an outer primary layer of cells called the epidermis. These cells, which are in various stages of keratinization or hardening, form the outermost layer of skin, which acts as the body’s wall of protection. So the human skin can also be washed with soap.

Fruits and vegetables have extremely porous skins that absorb the chemicals from soap. When we eat these items, we may also ingest residues of soap or detergent absorbed by the vegetable. This intake could lead to a variety of health problems like nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain among many others. Some of these problems may even falsely look like COVID-19 symptoms causing panic.

Some people may advise you to wash your veggies in vinegar, salt, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or potassium permanganate (KMnO4). Many of these substances are age-old cleaning agents.

But none of these are recommended as washing agents in the case of vegetables and fruits. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that soaking veggeis in vinegar will kill the coronavirus. All the same, there is no harm in doing so as long as you’re looking for a tart-y zing in your scrumptious meal.

Salt, baking soda and potassium permanganate do remove pesticides from the surface of vegetables and fruits. However, there is no evidence to suggest that these can kill the Covid-19 causing coronavirus.

So, what should we do with our fruits and vegetables? The WHO recommends that we should simply wash them as we have always been doing—in plain water. But take care also to wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds before and after we wash the veggies and fruits. The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) also does not recommend using soap or detergents, and says clean running water is sufficient.

But then, won't the virus spread through vegetables if we don't remove them with soap? Not through food. There is no evidence to state that the coronavirus can spread through food.

So the ideal method is to wash the vegetables and fruits in clean water at room-temperature. Hot water can cause wilting or damage to the produce.

In short:

  • Wash fruits and vegetables with room temperature water as you always did; not in soap, detergent, disinfectant or any chemical solution.
  • Remember that coronavirus is not spread through intake of food.

Swati Rao is working with Niti Aayog, and Dr. Madhav Bhargava is working in the Dept. of Internal Medicine, Aster Medcity, Kochi