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CDC says to wash summer fruits and vegetables, but do it without bleach

The CDC said a survey conducted in May

The CDC said a survey conducted in May showed 39% of respondents admitted to washing food products with bleach in an effort to ward off COVID-19. Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Enjoy your summer fruit, but keep it away from the bleach, the CDC says.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning COVID-19-fearing people that they shouldn’t use disinfectants and bleach on food and their skin after a report found one-third of those surveyed were misusing the cleaning products.

Poison centers across the nation have seen an uptick in calls from people exposed to cleaners and disinfectants since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said.

The CDC said a survey conducted in May and released last week showed 39% of respondents admitted to washing food products with bleach, putting household cleaning products or disinfectants on bare skin and even inhaling or ingesting them — all in an effort to ward off COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

While the survey was relatively small — about 500 people — the agency said it shows the need for more public education about the use and misuse of cleaning products during the pandemic.

“People are very aware and I think overall trying to keep themselves safe,” said Dr. Robert Schwaner, a medical toxicologist who works at Stony Brook University Hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine.

“But you have some highly educated people who are misusing these products, and that’s not without consequences,” he said. “Even household bleach will cause at least a superficial burn of your esophagus and stomach, and if you have existing health conditions, you can have severe complications.”

Washing food such as fruits and vegetables in cleaning products is dangerous, said Heather Hart, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital.

“Do not ingest these products,” she said. “Use them as directed — please!

“These are chemicals you are messing with,” she added. “Chemicals that could potentially have a toxic effect on our bodies.”

Hart said she does recommend people wash fruits and veggies before eating them, but use plain water or an all-natural vegetable wash.

The Suffolk County Health Department featured the CDC alert on its social media channels.

“We encourage frequent hand hygiene and frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs,” said Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. “However, cleaning products are not to be inhaled, used on skin, or food products.”

The American Association of Poison Control Centers was not surprised by the findings of these studies, according to Julie Weber, president-elect of the association.

Surveillance by toxicologists from poison centers around the country raised a red flag to the CDC that people were misusing cleaning products, Weber said.

According to the association’s National Poison Data System, the number of disinfectant cases for March, April and May grew to 9,848, from 6,963 for the same time period in 2019.

Bleach cases jumped to 16,228 during those three months, from 9,945 in 2019.

“Our call to action is that everyone should save the Poison Help line phone number into their phones, 1-800-222-1222 or Text POISON to 797979,” she said.

CDC warning

The CDC is warning people against the misuse of disinfectants to ward off COVID-19.

  • Do wash your fruits and vegetables with water or an all natural veggie wash.
  • Do not use bleach or disinfectant on any food.
  • Do not put bleach, disinfectant or other household cleaners on your skin.
  • Do not mix cleaning chemicals.
  • Do read instructions before using cleaning products.
  • If you believe you have inhaled or ingested cleaning products, call the Poison Help line: 800-222-1222.

SOURCE: Newsday research

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