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Are delivery and takeout food safe in the age of COVID-19?

April 2, 2020
Lily Moran

In these uncertain times of social distancing and spending most of our time at home during the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic, getting restaurant takeout or delivery food is one of the few “luxuries” we can look forward to. But how can you ensure that your food—and the packaging it arrives in—is safe from coronavirus (or any other virus or germ, for that matter)?

The good news is that, as of the end of March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say there is “no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”

Unlike pathogens such as norovirus and hepatitis A that can infect you through contaminated food, COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. This means it is mainly spread by person-to-person transmission, via respiratory droplets released in sneezes, coughs, and saliva.

Could you get sick by touching a carryout bag or container that has been handled by someone who has COVID-19? If you touch those objects and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, the answer is maybe. But, honestly, there’s a much higher risk of catching it by coming into close contact with a sick food delivery person who coughs or sneezes on you.

Understandably, though, you don’t want to take any chances with this coronavirus. It is so highly contagious—and for some people, deadly—that practicing an abundance of caution is your best bet.

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Fortunately, most restaurants are taking extra measures to not only prepare food as safely as possible, but keep in-person interaction at a minimum. Here are the steps you’ll want to take when getting food takeout or delivery.

Takeout Tips

  • Prepay. If you have the option to pay online or over the phone with a credit card, take advantage of that. Add a tip (if you can and so desire) at this time as well so that you’re not passing potentially germ-ridden cash to anyone.
  • Car delivery. A lot of establishments are offering to bring your food to your car so you don’t have to stand with others in a waiting area. If you can, take advantage of this benefit as well.
  • Wear latex or nitrile gloves. If you need to go inside for pickup, wear disposable gloves before touching the door handle, pen, or anything else. Stand at least six feet away from others.

Delivery Tips

If you’re getting food delivered, it’s best to avoid any direct contact with the courier.

  • Prepay. Arrange to prepay for the meal and tip and have the food left at your doorstep or in your building’s lobby. Most grocery and restaurant delivery apps now offer contact-free delivery in light of the coronavirus pandemic, so this shouldn’t be a problem to set up.  
  • Re-plate. Immediately remove the food from the delivery bag and throw it out. Wash your hands, then open the containers and re-plate the food, even if you plan on eating it later. Be sure to avoid touching the food with your hands—always use a utensil. Discard or recycle the containers. If you aren’t eating right away, put the food in the refrigerator until you’re ready to enjoy.
  • Disinfect counters. Clean your counter, sink, or any other area the containers or bag were placed. Disinfectant wipes are hard to come by these days, but you can make an effective cleaning solution by mixing four teaspoons of bleach in a quart of water. Spray your countertops and let the solution sit for a minute. Then wipe it up with a disposable paper towel.

And ALWAYS remember: The most powerful and effective way to prevent coronavirus is to wash your hands frequently. Whether you’re getting takeout or delivery, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before you eat.

Remember, all of the health authorities have said that there is very little chance of getting the virus from takeout and food delivery. And the same goes for grocery shopping (if you’re venturing out for supplies instead of delivery). But it never hurts to take a few extra steps to ensure your safety and the safety of your family.

Reference

US Food and Drug Administration. Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-during-emergencies/food-safety-and-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19. Last accessed March 30, 2019

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