It’s the reality across the country right now: Plenty of people are staying home and practicing social distancing to try to lower their risk of contracting COVID-19. While some still venture out to get groceries, others have them delivered. Many restaurant dining rooms are also closed, leaving restaurants to turn to takeout to still serve customers.
That raises a major question: Is it safe to get food deliveries and takeout right now? Plenty of folks are wondering.
Here’s what you need to know about your COVID-19 risk with food deliveries and takeout.
COVID-19 does not seem to be transmitted through food.
Currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being linked with the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA) says.
Some viruses, like norovirus and hepatitis A, can make people sick through contaminated food, but SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — does not seem to be transmitted through food, the FDA says. “It is believed that the risk from food is low,” Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The virus would also likely be killed by cooking.”
Instead, the virus is mainly spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets created when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. The virus can also spread after someone touches a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touches their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, the FDA says.
COVID-19 can, however, live on surfaces like packages.
Research published in The New England Journal of Medicine has found that SARS-CoV-2 can live on surfaces for days. The amount of time varies by surface, though: It can live on plastic for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for 24 hours.
“There is theoretical risk of transmission on surfaces and that includes packaging,” David Cennimo, M.D., an infectious disease expert and assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “However, the virus does not seem to survive well on cardboard (probably paper as well).”
“If someone who is infected coughs or sneezes on [your food package,] there is some risk of contracting the disease,” Donald Schaffner, Ph.D., a quantitative microbial risk assessment expert and professor at Rutgers University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. But “that risk is much lower than if you were standing next to the person when they coughed or sneezed on that surface,” he adds.
So, is it safe to get food deliveries and takeout?
Yes, but it’s a good idea to take the precautions, Schaffner says. “If you are concerned about getting the virus from food packaging, I suggest that you carefully remove all the packaging, dispense the food into a clean dish or plate from your house, dispose of all the packaging, and then wash and or sanitize your hands before sitting down to eat,” he says. “This is a great practice to do even if there was no pandemic.”
When your takeout or grocery delivery (Check out our favorite food delivery services) arrives, you still will want to keep your distance from the person delivering your food, Watkins says. “Try to maintain a social distance of six feet, if possible,” he says. Many places are offering touch-free delivery services, which involve paying by credit card in advance and the delivery worker leaving the food at your doorstep and moving away before you pick it up. This “is a best practice,” Schaffner says.
You don’t need to wipe down the package your food comes in, Anika Zuber Gianforte, a food safety expert at Cornell University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It is not advisable to try to clean and sanitize food packages before opening due to the risk of leaving chemical residues in the food,” she says.
Still, it’s not a bad idea to wipe down the surface where you placed your package in your home, like a countertop, with a disinfectant wipe or spray, Watkins says. Then, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before you sit down to eat.
It’s also important to consider the economic factor.
Ordering takeout helps keep people employed and restaurants in business. “I have probably increased my ordering because I am still getting a salary and I want to try to keep some of these places that I like in business,” Cennimo says.
Ultimately, getting takeout or food delivered may actually be less risky than going out, Watkins says. “Getting takeout and food delivered actually involves interacting with fewer people,” he points out.
For the latest news on the evolving coronavirus outbreak, follow along here. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.
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