Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, who works in private practice as a family doctor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, posted a video on YouTube on March 24 that immediately went viral after he gave a less scientifically sound advice. He advises people to keep new groceries in a garage or porch for at least three days if possible and that containers bought at the store should be disinfected or discarded.
Washing fruits and groceries: is it safe?
In the said video, Dr. VanWingen suggests pre-soaking produce in soapy water and then washing it with soap for 20 seconds. Despite what Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen said in the viral video that garnered 16.5 million views, it is not a good idea to wash vegetables and fruits with soap and water, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
Doing this could lead to health problems like mild gastrointestinal irritation with vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain, according to Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University. That is because produce is porous and it can absorb soap.
Chapman said that they have known for 60 years that there are toxicity issues about consuming household dish soaps. Drinking dish soap or eating it can lead to an upset stomach, nausea, and vomiting. The chemicals found in dish soap are not compounds that our stomach can deal with.
What's a better alternative?
According to Chapman, people should wash produce as they normally would instead, which is using only cold water. As for Dr. VanWingen's disinfecting advice, Chapman said that it is not based on any science.
The best way to handle new groceries is to put them away and then wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer. Leaving them on the porch for three days will just result in spoilt foods.
According to Donald Schaffner, a specialist in food science and a distinguished professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, proper hygiene is the key. People should clean their hands after returning from the store, and if you are still worried after you put all of your groceries away, it is best to wash your hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer. It is also important to clean your hands before preparing a meal and before eating.
Can you get coronavirus from eating food?
Schaffner said that this habit should still continue even after the pandemic. As for those who are concerned about food packaging harboring the virus, Schaffner said that if it does harbor the virus, it is not on the food, and even if it is on the food, it is not going to make people sick from eating that food. The coronavirus does not survive well in the very acidic stomach.
Also, there is no concrete evidence that vegetable soaps can destroy COVID-19, or any other virus, as there have been no scientific studies saying as much. According to Chapman, it is best to rinse fresh fruits and vegetables with running cold water. That can help remove 90% to 99% of what is there.
However, the food scientists did agree with one thing that Dr. VanWingen pointed out. A person's biggest risk from groceries and coronavirus is the time that is spent in the grocery store around people who either are showing symptoms or asymptomatic people. As much as possible, avoid close contact with anyone and always wash your hands right after getting home.