This past year of living through a worldwide pandemic has restructured our way of living. Some people used the time in lockdown to improve health through cleaning their homes, making time to meditate, and creating fitness routines to help them lose weight or tone their bodies. On the other hand, many people took advantage of the time to create comfort foods, with popular new hobbies consisting of making banana bread and sourdough. Depending on how one views this pandemic, the high risk of leaving your house could either be a huge deterrent to getting healthy or the driving motivator.

It’s difficult walking into the produce aisle at the grocery store and seeing people pulling their masks off to smell the produce or licking their fingers to open the plastic bag before choosing their fruit with that same saliva-covered hand. The idea of the virus, the flu, and other germs being spread easily in the produce aisle may have people running toward the middle aisles of processed foods: cereals, crackers, rice and more.

It makes sense that grabbing a wrapped candy or protein bar as a snack would seem safer than picking up an apple that has been touched by multiple shoppers and employees. Eating this way is not the best thing for your health though. Processed foods contain sugars and stabilizers, such as gums, to help them last longer on the shelves. When we put these into our bodies, we are consuming toxins that can irritate our guts and lead to inflammation, higher stress levels, and illness. The purpose of not getting the produce was to stay safe, but instead we have put ourselves more at risk.

To eat whole, nutritious foods while staying clear of germs, try washing your produce as soon as you get home. Rinse your fruits and vegetables under warm, running water, scrubbing gently at the surface. There is no need to use soap or bleach; running water will be enough as long as you rub the extra grime off. For firm produce, such as potatoes, apples and carrots, use a produce brush to get them clean. Dry your produce after washing, then store as usual. For produce with a peel, such as bananas and oranges, washing is still a good idea. You may not plan to eat the peel, but reducing the risk of anything on the peel rubbing off onto your hands or the other produce will help keep food clean.

Even if you do choose to buy cereal or packaged items, there is a thought that the virus can live on cardboard boxes for up to 24 hours and on plastic for two to three days. Clean the surfaces of these items when you arrive home, keeping them separate from clean items in your home until finished. Afterward, wash your hands well, especially before touching your face.