Most people by now are working remotely and practicing social distancing amid the Coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic. However, you may have some questions about food preparation, food deliveries and takeout, because it may be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching to your mouth or nose. Given our sensitive new environment, we naturally want to protect ourselves and our families, so food safety is a priority. Here’s what you need to know.
Restaurants: Takeout, Delivery and Dining-In
Coronavirus isn’t spread through food, but through people. The virus spreads person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Hence, many businesses like restaurants are not letting people dine-in where the close proximity of customers could spread the virus if one is infected. The risk of getting coronavirus from food is low. For more on this, see the next section on cooking at home and shopping at markets.
Depending on where you live, most restaurants are closed for on-site dining. The majority are operating with only delivery services or takeout. Some fast-food restaurants are using drive-through windows or asking customers to stay in their vehicles or outside to receive their food orders.
Restaurants have stringent FDA guidelines in place that they have to adhere to. These include:
- Handwashing at sinks
- Spraying and cleaning of work surfaces
- Washing dishes at specific temperatures
- Ensuring food temperatures (cooking meats, chilling dairy and meats)
- Wearing gloves during ready-to-eat food preparation.
Is there a danger of taking food from a delivery person that might be infected?
Everyone who feels ill is asked to stay at home. However, if delivery personnel and restaurant employees are infected with coronavirus and they sneeze or cough on the packaging or bag your food is in, there is cause for concern. The data below are based on a New England Journal of Medicine study. Here’s a breakdown that can help:
- The coronavirus in aerosol droplets (sneezing, coughing): If it’s small droplets, it can last for about 3 hours.
- The coronavirus on copper surfaces: It can last for about 4 hours.
- Packaging bags and cardboard for delivery items: The coronavirus can last on the packaging for up to 24-hours.
- Plastic takeout containers: These types of containers can hold the virus for up to 3 days.
Tip: Wear gloves when handling food that’s in containers. Transfer the food from the containers and throw the containers out. Then, sanitize and wipe down the area with disinfectant (and wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. Never touch your face. Coronavirus can be destroyed with cleaning and disinfectant sprays and soap.
What’s an example of how someone can get the coronavirus from takeout or delivery food?
A mistake someone might make is to wash hands and then open food containers or unwrap plastic utensils and then wipe his or her nose. If the coronavirus was on the container or utensils, it might be possible that touching them transmitted the virus to the face so the virus might be inhaled.
To avoid this, wash your hands, wipe down the continuers, clean the utensils and then wash your hands again and don’t touch your face.
Can you get the coronavirus from delivery food, takeout or groceries?
Data are limited on this regarding how long the virus can last on food or if you should reheat it right away. The coronavirus is more stable on plastic and metal but breaks down if the surface is an organic one (cardboard).
Based on CDC and USDA data, there is no evidence to suggest the coronavirus is transmitted through food. Or, that a person can get the coronavirus from food that's contaminated with the coronavirus. That mans the bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella are much more likely than coronavirus to spread via contaminated food. Remember, the coronavirus spreads best when it's airborne and inhaled.
What about contaminated food? Like if a person sneezes directly into the food?
Again, the coronavirus isn’t transmitted this way. To get coronavirus you would have to inhale it through droplets like mucus or saliva that you breathe into your respiratory tract (lungs). When you’re eating food, it goes through your digestive tract after you swallow it.
Shopping at Supermarkets and Cooking at Home
The danger of shopping in your local store is it’s possible to get the coronavirus from other people. That means if an infected person sneezes or coughs and you breathe in the particles into your lungs, your chances increase of getting the coronavirus. Aside from the airborne risk, the main concern with shopping at grocery stores is how you handle the food you bring home.
To ensure your safety:
- While at the store, wear gloves if you can.
- If you’re not wearing gloves, clean the shopping cart handle with a disinfectant wipe.
- Assume every item you touch in the store might be potentially contaminated so don’t touch your face. You don’t want to breathe in the coronavirus if it’s on a metal or plastic surface or airborne from someone coughing or sneezing.
- Wear a face mask if you can to cover your nose and mouth.
- Wash your hands when you return from the store.
- Treat the grocery bags, containers and plastic as if they were potentially contaminated. That means you should wipe all containers down with soap or disinfectant and wash produce.
- Transfer your food items into clean containers.
- Dispose of any plastic or cardboard containers as the virus can live on these, and then wash your hands again.
- Sanitize the surfaces that the items were on (kitchen table, dining room table).
- Wash your hands before you cook, while cooking and then after you cook.
Should you reheat your food at home?
Reheating helps to reduce viruses and bacteria on any surfaces, but again, there are no coronavirus cases linked to contaminated food as you would see with e. coli or salmonella.
Ideally, a reheating temperature of 165-degrees for 3-minutes can help. This applies to meats, as it’s unlikely the virus can get into a meatloaf or chicken for example, unless it’s been cut into pieces. Some people use digital thermometers that are also helpful.
To help you when you shop:
- Shop early or late when stores are less crowded. Some stores have special senior citizen hours, right after restocking and cleaning takes place.
- Wear a mask and gloves and don’t touch your face.
- If you buy items from open bins like fruit and vegetables, thoroughly wash everything with soapy water when you get home.
- Stay about 6-feet away from other people.
- Use self-checkout to avoid close proximity with other people.
- Stock up on the essentials - but don’t hoard. You may want to overfill prescriptions and don’t forget vitamins, water and dry products (paper towels, toilet paper).
- Don’t forget pet food, pet medications and any pet supplies.
- Get enough food to last for a few weeks.
- Use credit cards and not cash, which may have been touched by several people.
- At ATMs and credit card kiosks, wear gloves or wash your hands with hand sanitizer after your transaction.
- Wash your hands frequently and don’t touch your face.
- Use hand sanitizers that have 60 percent alcohol (ethanol) or at least 70 percent isopropanol, another type of alcohol.
Practicing Food Safety During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Social distancing, self-quarantines and washing your hands are just a few ways to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Because you still want to enjoy your daily living habits and yummy takeout and delivery, use the food safety precautions above. There have been no known cases of coronavirus transmitted by food as it’s a respiratory virus, not a digestive one. However, you’ll still want to be extra careful in stores and restaurants where other people might have the coronavirus and may not know it. So, don’t touch your face, stay a safe distance from others, but do enjoy your favorite dishes! For more information, visit the CDC.