It’s a tie! As we pass through spring and enter into summer many times the signature sign of this change is fresh produce. Farmers markets and community gardens. Barbecues and cookouts. This year these signs of summer are different. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, even if more slowly, I find myself grieving my typical Saturday tradition.

My tradition consisted of taking my two young daughters to our local Ashe County Farmer’s Market to browse what fresh produce is in season. I would usually visit our favorite coffee shop in West Jefferson and finish our outing at the park behind the library.

Unfortunately we can’t do most of my usual Saturday, or at least we can’t do it without a burden of concern. Luckily we are growing a garden this year. There will be many recipes and blogs to come that stem from this year’s garden. However, what about buying fresh produce at the grocery store? Locally I haven’t seen a significant decrease in the fresh fruits and vegetables stocked in our grocery stores.

However, as a Registered Dietitian I have had several questions about the safety of fresh produce in the time of COVID-19. According to the CDC, there is a very low risk of the coronavirus being transmitted on foods. While it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.

With this being said it’s more important than ever to follow proper food safety guidelines in the kitchen. The USDA publishes Choose My Plate: Food Safety Guidelines. These guidelines should be followed at all times, even without a pandemic.

So what can you do in your own home to reduce contaminants and keep food safe? Follow safe food handling practices. Four basic food safety principles work together to reduce the risk of foodborne illness — Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

running water in kitchen sink


Wash hands with soap and water

Wet hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available. Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all parts of the hand for 20 seconds. Rinse hands thoroughly and dry using a clean paper towel. If possible, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet.

Sanitize surfaces

Surfaces should be washed with hot, soapy water. A solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water can be used to sanitize surfaces.

Clean sweep refrigerated foods once a week

At least once a week, throw out refrigerated foods that should no longer be eaten. Cooked leftovers should be discarded after 4 days; raw poultry and ground meats, 1 to 2 days.

Keep appliances clean

Clean the inside and the outside of appliances. Pay particular attention to buttons and handles where cross-contamination to hands can occur.

Rinse produce

Rinse fresh vegetables and fruits under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking. Even if you plan to peel or cut the produce before eating, it is important to thoroughly rinse it first to prevent microbes from transferring from the outside to the inside of the produce.

Vegetables in organic market


Separate foods when shopping

Place raw seafood, meat, and poultry in plastic bags. Store them below ready-to-eat foods in your refrigerator.

Separate foods when preparing and serving

Always use a clean cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw seafood, meat, and poultry. Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food.

preparing vegetables for cooking

Cook and Chill

Use a food thermometer when cooking

A food thermometer should be used to ensure that food is safely cooked and that cooked food is held at safe temperatures until eaten.

Cook food to safe internal temperatures

One effective way to prevent illness is to check the internal temperature of seafood, meat, poultry, and egg dishes. Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb, and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a safe minimum internal temperature of 145 °F. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least 3 minutes before carving or eating. Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F. Cook all poultry, including ground turkey and chicken, to an internal temperature of 165 °F.

Keep foods at safe temperatures

Hold cold foods at 40 °F or below. Keep hot foods at 140 °F or above. Foods are no longer safe to eat when they have been in the danger zone between 40-140 °F for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature was above 90 °F).

What about frozen foods? I believe frozen vegetables and fruits are the forgotten treasure of the grocery store. Here’s why I buy frozen vegetables and why I keep a freezer full of frozen fruits.

  • They are picked at peak ripeness, allowing their nutrients come to their highest potential
  • Vitamins and minerals are not lost in travel. Produce can travel up to thousands of miles to reach its final destination. During this travel nutrients are lost, but not with frozen. Because they are flash frozen
  • right away, all nutrients are trapped in until they are ready to be consumed.
  • They don’t go bad!
  • They are versatile for adding quickly to any meal.
  • They taste great!

The number one reason I hear from people that they are unable to eat healthy is that it’s too expensive and takes too much time. This is when frozen vegetables and fruits is the answer to the problem.

My go to busy mom weeknight meals involves: 1 can low sodium black beans, 1 cup cooked 10-minutes brown rice, 1 bad store brand frozen fajita mix (peppers and onions), ¼ avocado, salsa and cilantro. Mix all together in a bowl and eat right way. OIla! A healthy meal in under 30 minutes that even the kids love.

What about breakfast? My husband has been on a quest to find a balance of healthy eating, exercise and indulging in his favorites. He made a comment the other day that made me so happy. He was getting it! What he said was “I’ve realized that if I don’t have vegetables at breakfast, I am already starting my day behind on my non-starchy vegetable intake”. He is exactly right. I tell all my patients that vegetables are bonus points at breakfast. Truthfully we should all strive to eat more vegetables and fruits all the time but especially at breakfast.

Try trading in your sugary breakfast cereal for a Spinach and Feta Omelet. In a skillet thaw and heat in olive oil frozen chopped spinach until no longer frozen, pour off liquid if necessary. Sprinkle with a small amount of coarse salt and pepper to taste. Meanwhile heat a generous olive oil in a small skillet. Whisk 1-2 eggs. Add to the skillet with heated oil. Once eggs are set, slip. Place a generous portion of cooked spinach in the egg, sprinkle with a small amount of Feta Cheese. Fold cooked egg on top of the Spinach. Let sit until the cheese is slightly melted. Enjoy!

Never discount the power and convenience of stashing a couple bags of frozen vegetables in your freezer at home and at work! Both fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables have their place in the refrigerator/freezer.

Stay tuned for future blogs this summer. We will be discussing ways to preserve your fresh foods for future consumption. Including preserving your fresh fruit and vegetables before they go bad.

Woman looking up references on computer


*Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019
*10 Tips: Be Food Safe