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Community Gardening During a Pandemic

1.      Is COVID-19 spread through food or food packaging?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, “there is no evidence of food, food containers or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.” Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food packaging, before you prepare food and before you eat.

In other words, wash your hands a lot! Remember that hand sanitizers are not a substitute for handwashing, and any hand sanitizer products you use should be at least 60% alcohol.

 2.     What should I do to help protect gardeners in the times of a COVID-19 pandemic if I manage a community garden?

  • As with restaurant food preparers, if someone is sick (especially with a fever), that person should not visit the garden or handle food.
  • Be sure to maintain the recommended physical distance between gardeners. While 6 feet is the recommendation shared by the CDC for social distancing, the criteria being used in COVID-19 contact tracing in North Dakota is as follows.
    • When the Health Department is notified of a positive test by the testing laboratory, the department notifies the provider that sampled the patient, who then notifies the patient of the positive test. The provider asks the patient where the individual traveled and who the individual was near/around in the recent past.
    • The distance/time criteria being used to consider contacts as “close” is a 12-foot distance for longer than 10 minutes.
  • Limit the number of people who assemble to garden to 10 people.
  • According to many experts, wearing a cloth face mask is a best practice for safety.
  • Wear clean gardening gloves or disposable gloves when picking vegetables. Launder cloth gloves using the hot cycle.
    Clean and disinfect tools. Wash tools in soapy water (such as a biodegradable soap), rinse and wipe dry with a clean cloth. After cleaning tools, many experts recommend disinfecting them using 70% isopropyl alcohol. Wet a clean rag with alcohol, wipe the tools and allow to air-dry.
  • Clean shed handles, counters, padlocks, spigots, gates and other frequently touched hard surfaces with a detergent-water solution to remove soil prior to disinfecting. To disinfect, use an Environmental Protection Agency-registered sanitizing agent made according to the directions on the container. Avoid any contact of the disinfectant with fresh produce.
  • Communicate regularly. The most important thing we can all do is to continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines at because this guidance is updated with the latest research.
  • Encourage gardeners to stay in touch through texting, Facebook groups, Zoom, phone or other electronic means. Gardening is a social activity, so staying in touch from a distance is a good practice. Share your gardening success with pictures on Facebook.

 3.     How should I clean fresh fruits and vegetables?

Regardless of whether you grow your own vegetables or buy them at a farmers market or a grocery store, be sure to rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables with plenty of running tap water.

  • If desired, you can soak vegetables such as lettuce and cauliflower for a couple of minutes in cold, clean water to help remove soil, followed by additional rinsing. If you purchase prepackaged (triple-rinsed) salads at the grocery store, you do not need to rinse the produce again.
  • Be sure to rinse vegetables and fruits with skin/rinds you do not eat. Use a produce brush to scrub them as necessary. Rinse produce before you peel or prepare it so you do not transfer dirt and microorganisms to the fruit or vegetable.
  • Do not use soap/detergents or bleach on food. These products are not meant to be ingested by us and can be very harmful to our health. Some fruit/vegetable produce washes, which are safe to use on produce, are sold in grocery stores. Food safety experts only recommend running tap water.
  • What about rinsing fresh produce in a vinegar-water solution? Although some people rinse produce in a vinegar-water solution, researchers in Canada have shown that vinegar (diluted acetic acid) is not an effective disinfectant. Although it won’t hurt you to rinse your produce in a vinegar-water solution, it probably will not make your food safer. (Besides, your lettuce might taste like pickles as a result.)
  • Be sure to clean and sanitize countertops and cutting boards thoroughly. In general, a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water is the sanitizer concentration for countertops and cutting boards. Follow the directions on the container for cleaning other surfaces. Never mix cleaning and disinfecting products (such as ammonia and bleach) because harmful, even deadly, gases can be produced.
  • See for a recorded webinar on food safety and COVID-19.
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