loose fruit and veg

WHO’s Dr Margaret Harris said all food should be washed before consumption, whether loose or packaged 

Shoppers should wash all fruit and vegetables to reduce their risk of contracting coronavirus, the World Health Organisation has advised.

The UN agency has also recommended people avoid using banknotes and store PIN keypads where possible, to avoid coming into contact with the virus.

“All these things would be considered ‘low risk’ of transmission. But all food must be washed before consumption - whether packaged or selected by customers,” the WHO’s Dr Margaret Harris told The Grocer.

It is unlikely the virus can be passed on through eating food, particularly if it has been heated. Studies have shown thorough cooking is effective in killing similar viruses like Sars.

The biggest risk is in handling fresh produce and packaged goods that have been touched, or coughed and sneezed upon, by an infected person.

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“It is not certain how long the virus that causes Covid-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses - including preliminary information on the Covid-19 virus - may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days,” Harris added.

Previous studies of coronaviruses have shown they can survive on metal, glass and plastic surfaces for more than a week.

“Overall, everybody’s best protection against coronavirus is clean hands - thoroughly washed with soap and water or a hand sanitizer if out and about and no soap and water is available. Secondly, not touching the mouth, nose and eyes with your hands is also the best protection, but very hard to do. Hence the need to keep hands pristine,” Harris said.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland issued a warning this week that it was possible food workers “could introduce the virus to the food they are working on by coughing and sneezing, or through hand contact, unless they strictly follow good personal hygiene practices”.

NHS UK said it was “very unlikely” Covid-19 was being “spread through things like packages or food”.

The US Food and Drug Administration has said it was not aware of any reports to date “of human illnesses that suggest Covid-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging”.