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Fresh produce is safe, but how do we get consumers to believe it?

Whenever I’m feeling like some punishment, I wade into a moms group discussion on social media. It’s an eye-opening experience.

This time of year, the windmill I’m usually chasing is the Dirty Dozen. Instead, it’s fresh produce safety during COVID-19.

Now, more than ever, moms are scared about what they’re feeding their children. That means they’re taking advice on food safety wherever they can find it, whether it’s about leaving their groceries in the garage for three days or washing their fresh produce like a batch of dirty dishes.

“There is no evidence COVID-19 is transmitted by food,” rarely gets me anywhere. “Washing fresh produce in cool running water for 10 seconds is scientifically proven to be an effective way of cleaning,” is a non-starter, too.

Surprisingly, “washing fresh produce with soap can cause vomiting and/or diarrhea,” earns more skepticism than anything. No one wants to believe it.

“What about Castile soap?” is a question I got more than once last night and I went down a rabbit hole researching hippie quackery disguised as household cleanser that you can also, apparently, use to brush your teeth. I wonder how many of these folks are also hoarding hand sanitizer and Lysol for the first time.

The Produce Marketing Association released a new consumer sentiment survey about fresh produce and the concerns raised match what I’m seeing online.

More than half of consumers surveyed said they’re buying less fresh produce because they think it won’t last, and 41% said they’re buying less because they are concerned about the safety of eating fresh produce.

Sixty-one percent of consumers surveyed are “concerned about the safety/cleanliness of fresh produce right now,” and 53% would buy more if it came in sealed containers or bags.

I’ve written before about the industry pivoting back to packaged produce – for now. I still think it’s a good idea.

The number that would seem positive that really depresses me, though, is the 46% of consumers that consider fresh produce a “treat” right now. While it should tell me consumers put fresh produce in high regard, the underlying message I’m getting from it is that it’s a non-essential indulgence.

My kids ask for treats every night, and they don’t mean produce. Produce in our house is the first, and unlimited, option. Dark chocolate sea salt caramels from Costco are the treat.

Everyone in the produce industry needs to be an outspoken advocate for fresh fruits and vegetables right now. Share what you’re eating. Share how you’re participating in the supply chain.

Share the absolute necessity of fresh produce in your life, because people need this message now more than ever.

Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.