Everybody has many questions about the coronavirus. One that I am hearing most frequently, is “could take out food be contaminated with COVID-19?”
This is an especially good question, particularly since our local and national leaders are urging us to help restaurants that have had to close stay in business, by still patronizing them for delivery orders.
Here is what we do know.
The CDC, the USDA, and medical experts say there is no evidence of the coronavirus being spread via food. But, as people try to stay safe, some are still a bit freaked out by the idea of coming into contact with meals that have been handled by other people.
- Kenji López-Alt perfectly summarized many people’s concerns in his extensively reported “guide to food and coronavirus” published in Serious Eats.
“Let’s say a food worker coughs while preparing my food, how could I not pick up the virus from eating it?” López-Alt asked.
Yet, Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist from the North Carolina State University, assured López-Alt it was okay.
“Even if a worker sneezes directly into a bowl of raw salad greens before packing it in a take-out container for you to take home, as gross as it is, it’s unlikely to get you sick,” Chapman reported.
Most medical experts seem to agree with Chapman.
“The transmission is through the respiratory epithelium in your nose, mouth, and eyes. It’s unlikely to be transmitted in the food, more likely on hands while holding food packaging,” said Dr. Eric Cioe-Pena, an emergency physician and the director of global health for Northwell Health.
According to Jaimie Meyer, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist, there is no evidence to date of food-borne transmission of the coronavirus.
“The primary mode of transmission of the virus from person to person is through direct inhalation of droplets (as in, being within 6 feet of someone when they cough or sneeze and breathing it in),” Meyer said.
Meyer and Cioe-Pena said that you should maintain a six-foot distance between yourself and the cashier or delivery person while ordering. Avoid sharing a pen if you’re signing a bill. Make sure to wash your hands after handling the packaging of the food, which could possibly spread the coronavirus — though Cio-Pena says the risk is low.
And to be sure to tip well, “service workers need all the help and support we can give now.”