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VERIFY: Don't use soap to wash your produce

A video on safe grocery shopping originally recommended that people soak fruits and vegetables in soapy water to clean them, but doing this is not recommended.

Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, a family physician from Michigan, posted a video to YouTube regarding safe grocery shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic. The video got more than 20 million views in just a week.

He suggested things like limiting your time in the grocery store, leaving groceries on the garage or porch rather than bringing them inside the house and heating takeout in the microwave to kill germs.

VanWingen's original video also suggested something potentially harmful: soaking your fruits and vegetables in soapy water to clean them.

He is now reportedly issuing an update to make it clear that you shouldn’t do that.

THE QUESTION

Should I wash my fruits and vegetables in soapy water?

THE ANSWER

No. It could make you sick. In fact, the doctor who posted the original video is editing it to reflect that.

WHAT WE FOUND

Dr. VanWingen told VERIFY in an email, “I’ve had the privilege of speaking with numerous persons in infectious disease, food science and microbiology since March 24. I feel there is now a consensus that the best practice is to rinse fruits and vegetables in clean flowing water without the use of soap. As such, we are now editing the video.”

His website also has a statement in red across the top: “UPDATE: Prevailing opinions that produce should be rinsed in clean, running water - no soap.”

Why is he making this change? 

Well, ingesting soap can make you sick.

The material safety data sheet for Dawn dish soap says that ingestion “may result in nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.” There is a risk of you ingesting the soap through the fruit or vegetable if you eat it after soaking it in soap.

The FDA says to clean fruits and vegetables with plain running water and to use a vegetable brush to scrub firm produce. The agency specifically says “there’s no need to use soap or a produce wash.”

Similar guidance is given by the USDA which says, “consumers should not wash fruits and vegetables with detergent or soap."

So while you should clean your vegetables, you shouldn’t use soap to do so. The doctor behind the viral video who originally suggested that is now recommending against using soap. 

It’s good to put this advice into practice regardless of an ongoing pandemic or not.