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A viral post has been doing rounds on about coronavirus getting transmitted through fruits and vegetables. Fact checkers at Vishvas news and AFP have already written it off as misleading and fake respectively. We investigate and find out that though the particular post can be fake but there is still merits in the message. We label it as half true.
The viral post shared by a page named Melissa Lashes reads:
URGENT MESSAGE….From trusted source in Hong Kong medical lab today:
“In our laboratory, we found trace amount of the virus on the skin of fruits and vegetables after 12 hours of being touched by another customer who was infected. We recommend our staff to avoid salads. Do not eat the fruits within 48 hours of purchase, or pour some boiling water over the fruit before cutting.
Berries, apples, cucumbers and tomatoes are the worst because some people eat the skin.
This explains why the virus is spreading faster in the west than asia. Most Asians do not eat salad and very few people eat the skin of any fruit.
We have to assume anything that comes from outside our home within 48 hours is infected. Shoes, clothes, our hair, all food.
Hope that helps, pls take extreme care. Kind Regards.” The archived version of the post can be checked here, here and here
Authenticity of the message and the claimants
All the posts mentioned that the findings was from “In our Laboratory”.
But, like most of viral fake posts, none of the messages mentioned the name of any specific laboratory or elaborated further on the source of the claim.
We checked the profile of multiple people who have posted this message on their social media handles but could find no common organizational connect between them. Thatways, the message has all the signatures of a viral fake.
What does the Hong Kong’s Centre for Food and Safety say?
Hong Kong’s Centre for Food and Safety has put out a Facebook post against the post saying, “no evidence has shown people can be infected with the 2019 coronavirus disease from food”. (Source)
Can Coronavirus spread through skin of fruits and vegetables?
Major food safety authorities say that so far there is “No evidence” about the Novel coronavirus spreading through food.
The CDC says, “there is “no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food” (Source). The US Food and Drug Administration says, “there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19” (Source).
Fact checking platforms like Vishvas News and AP have written off the credibility of the viral message and called it fake solely based on these facts.
You can read their fact check reports and statement from various authority bodies here and here.
Why are we not convinced with the fact check done by Vishvas News and AP?
While we agree with the origin of the message being fake and that the claimant doesn’t look credible either , we look at the content on its standalone merit.
All communication put out by authorities in recent days are based on lack of evidence or any knowledge about whether the virus can spread through food. This is where we felt a more detailed investigation is needed.
We need to remember that this is a situation we know very little about. The researchers are still trying to understand all the nuances of the virus and the pandemic it has caused.
Can fruits and vegetables get infected from coronavirus? Unlikely. From all that we could understand so far that the novel coronavirus is that it is a virus that attacks the respiratory tract of humans.
But, can coronavirus stay on the skin of a fruit especially after it is being previously touched by an infected person? The honest answer is, we do not know clearly.
There are multiple studies happening currently across the world on the ability of the new coronavirus to be able to survive on various surfaces.
One such study that was originally published in the preprint database medRxiv on March 11, and then the revised version published on March 17 in The New England Journal of Medicine, claims that the virus can remain viable in the air for up to 3 hours, on copper for up to 4 hours, on cardboard up to 24 hours and on plastic and stainless steel up to 72 hours. .
Another study published in February in The Journal of Hospital Infection analyzed several dozen previously published papers on human coronaviruses (other than the new coronavirus) to get a better idea of how long they can survive outside of the body. They concluded that if this new coronavirus resembles other human coronaviruses, such as its “cousins” that cause SARS and MERS, it can stay on surfaces — such as metal, glass or plastic — for as long as nine days.
Somehow, these studies have not talked about fruits and vegetables as a surface.
The WHO site on its page about Covid19 states, “It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses.” (Source)
The same WHO site hosts a review report on Surface decontamination of fruits and vegetables prepared by prepared by Larry R. Beuchat. The report lists Coronavirus as Pathogens of Most Concern in decontamination of fruits and vegetables. (Source)
The report on its page 13 states, “Studies have shown that viruses may persist for weeks or even months on vegetable crops…..rotavirus, astrovirus, enteroviruses,parvoviruses and coronaviruses have been reported to be transmitted by foods on occassion”.
NOTE: This report is old and of course do not talk about Novel Coronavirus that causes Covid19.
So, what are we saying?
We are saying, ignore the viral facebook message. It may be false. But, be careful while you buy fruits and vegetables.
- Keep a hand sanitizer in your pocket.
- Do not touch your face after you touch fruits and vegetables in the market.
- Sanitize your hands as soon as you come out of the shop and clean your hands properly with soap and water as soon as you reach home.
- Do not place vegetables brought from outside, straight on the kitchen counter.
- Clean your fruits and vegetables thoroughly before you consume them. Wash raw vegetables in hot water or hot water with salt.
- And yeah, cook well. If possible, avoid consuming raw vegetables directly, at least till we know more and till we know things for sure. (Yes, this is where we are taking a calculated stand in favour of the otherwise viral fake message)
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