Food experts have reassured Australians about the safety of local produce after a viral video urged shoppers to rinse fruit and vegetables with soap.

The Produce Marketing Association Australia-New Zealand (PMA A-NZ) has released official advice for consumers shopping for fruit and vegetables during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

It comes just days after Dr Jeffrey VanWingen, a physician with Family Medicine Specialists in the US, shared his tips for safe grocery shopping in the current climate, including advice to leave supermarket bags outside their homes for three days, disinfect everything bought and wash veggies with soap.

"The video presented advice which is inconsistent with guidance from public health authorities and food safety experts," Deon Mahoney, Head of Food Safety at PMA A-NZ, told news.com.au.

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"It needlessly made consumers over-estimate any risk from food, and some of the advice in the video was patently bad – such as storing you groceries in the garage or on the porch for three days," he continued.

"This would result in some foods going bad, and also the opportunity for any food-borne pathogens to grow and present a risk of food borne illness."

The PMA A-NZ stressed it was important for consumers to adhere to government advice around social distancing, but not let it affect the way they shop.

VanWingen suggested dividing your counter into halves and only transferring the groceries over to a 'clean' side once you've disinfected each item. Photo / YouTube
VanWingen suggested dividing your counter into halves and only transferring the groceries over to a 'clean' side once you've disinfected each item. Photo / YouTube

"It's important to remember that the threat is not food or food packaging, but other people," Mahoney said.

He also addressed the advice to wash fruit and veggies in soap, saying soap and detergents are not approved for use on food.

"Prepare and wash your fruit and vegetables as normal – wash them in cold running water and peel and cook where appropriate. Don't use soaps or detergents as they're not formulated for food", he said.

Dr VanWingen, whose YouTube video titled "Safe Grocery Shopping in Covid-19 Pandemic" clocked up more than 23 million views last week, has since added a caption to his video stating: "Correction: Rinse fruits and vegetables with water – no soap."

Dr VanWingen's advice followed evidence by the National Institute of Health that the coronavirus disease can live for several hours to days in aerosols and up to nine days on surfaces.

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He advised people adopt the "sterile technique" – a medical method used to perform surgeries – and adapt it for use when buying food during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Imagine that groceries have some glitter on them, on the packaging and the bags," VanWingen said. "Our goal is to not have any glitter at the end of this process in our house, on our hands, or more importantly on our face."

His top tips included only touching items you'll be taking home, dividing your kitchen bench or table into two halves for unloading your items, a clean side and a dirty side, and leaving food on your front porch or garage to prevent bringing the virus into your home.

Seven steps for safe shopping. Photo / PMA ANZ
Seven steps for safe shopping. Photo / PMA ANZ

Sydney-based virologist Timothy Newsome told news.com.au last week that while "every surface is a hazard" – even vegetables – extreme measures aren't necessary.

"You cannot get risk down to zero, but if you look at how people have got infected, they're not being infected through those kind of supply chains," he told news.com.au.

"The actual transmission events that we have described are sustained in close contact between people. We didn't see the kinds of reduction in some of the countries that have been a bit more successful in managing the outbreaks if it was that level of contagious."

He also said supermarkets had added measures to help prevent the spread of the virus, such as cashiers wearing gloves and sanitising equipment, all of which makes him confident visiting the supermarket is a "low-risk environment".

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website