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‘We don’t eat our countertops,’ yet many Americans are using cleaning products meant for them on their fruits and vegetables, National Poison Control Center official says

Poison control centers across the U.S. saw a 20% increase in calls last month compared to 2019.

The FDA and poison control experts warn Americans not to use cleaning products meant for surfaces on fruits and vegetables.

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Shortages of cleaning supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic are leading many Americans to get creative. But that creativity and compulsion to clean and disinfect more may be causing more harm than good.

Last month, calls to poison control centers surged by nearly 20% compared to the same period in 2019, according to a report released earlier this week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the cases highlighted in the CDC’s report involved a woman who “heard on the news to clean all recently purchased groceries before consuming them.”

See also: Trump suggests disinfectant as treatment for coronavirus ‘by injection inside or almost a cleaning.’ Doctors call the idea ‘dangerous’

“She filled a sink with a mixture of 10% bleach solution, vinegar, and hot water, and soaked her produce.” Shortly after, she was transported to the emergency room due to difficulty breathing.

Cleaning products meant for surfaces should never be used on produce.

“The key point of this vignette is that bleach should never be mixed with another cleaning chemical, or it will generate a toxic gas,” said Diane Calello, the medical director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, and one of the authors of the report.

“Inhalation of chlorine gas,” which can be produced by mixing bleach and vinegar, “can cause coughing, wheezing, and severe lung injury if inhaled in high enough concentration,” she said.

In general, “you shouldn’t ever mix any cleaning products,” Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicologist and co-medical director at the National Poison Control Center.

“In the crisis mode that we are in right now, people are grabbing any cleaning products they can find to fight off the virus and they might not be reading instructions for how products are meant to be used.”

Importantly, cleaning products meant for surfaces should never be used on produce.

Also see: Is it safe to get food delivered during the coronavirus pandemic? Can you catch coronavirus from the packaging?

“We don’t eat our countertops,” Johnson-Arbor said, and the products used to clean them should not end up on our food.

For cleaning kitchen countertops, the Food and Drug Administration recommends “using a commercially available disinfectant product or a DIY sanitizing solution with 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) unscented liquid chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water.”

But the FDA specifically says: “WARNING: Do not use this solution or other disinfecting products on food.”

For fruits and vegetables, the FDA recommends rinsing them “under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten,” and scrubbing them “with a clean produce brush.”

In addition to the spike in calls to the poison control center relating to using cleaning products on food, Johnson-Arbor said she is also noticing more children are consuming small amounts of hand sanitizer, bleach and even alcoholic beverages.

Luckily, the center can manage most of these cases without having to send more people to the hospital, she said, which is especially important now that many hospitals are busy dealing with patients who have contracted coronavirus.

‘People are grabbing any cleaning products they can find to fight off the virus and they might not be reading instructions for how products are meant to be used.’

— Kelly Johnson-Arbor,co-medical director at the National Poison Control Center

But in order to avoid a hospital visit, parents must be vigilant of symptoms in their children such as irritated eyes, nausea, or skin redness and quickly contact a poison control center.

The National Poison Control center hotline number, 1-800-222-1222, takes calls and has agents who are available online 24/7. “Anybody with a question should feel free to contact us. We aren’t here to judge you, these things happen,” Johnson-Arbor.

It’s also a good idea for parents to avoid putting cleaning products in drinking cups, Johnson-Arbor said. “Someone else might not know what’s in the cup and innocently walks by and drinks it.” Even though cleaning products can often come in bulky bottles, it’s best to keep them in those containers as opposed to transferring them into drinking vessels, she added.

Parents should also keep the “colorful products that look like fruit juice” and other chemicals as well as liquor, in places that children cannot easily access.

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