You Probably Should Skip Drive-Thru Fast Food During The Novel Coronavirus Pandemic

Night after night of cooking at home is starting to feel more like a chore than a fun activity. Ordering takeout sounds oh so tempting right now. But, you might be wondering if it’s safe to get food delivered or grab to-go dishes from your favorite neighborhood restaurants.

Experts have good news for burned out home chefs. “There is no evidence to suggest that food produced in the United States can transmit COVID-19,” according to the Food and Drug Administration’s current guidance. The World Health Organization confirmed this in February, and food safety authorities are keeping close tabs on the latest research.

“There is currently no evidence of SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, being transmitted by food or food packaging,” says Erin DiCaprio, PhD, assistant specialist of community food safety in UC Davis’ food science and technology department. “SARS-CoV-2 is spread by respiratory droplet not by the fecal-oral route, which is how foodborne pathogens are spread.”

In order to make you sick, the novel coronavirus “needs to enter your respiratory system via your mucous membranes,” per DiCaprio. Your mouth is one mucous membrane, but the novel coronavirus is most often infecting via the upper reaches of your nasal cavity. Sneezing, coughing, and touching shared surfaces are likely the main sources of spread. Whereas food passes through your mouth directly to your stomach, where stomach acid would kill it. So, it is highly unlikely to contract the novel coronavirus from food, unless you actually inhaled your food.

Is it safe to order takeout during coronavirus?

When lockdowns started to curb the novel coronavirus pandemic, many restaurants switched to serving takeout only to stay open. They’re still serving up your fave foods, and experts say it’s a great way to safely support your community and take a night off from cooking.

Restaurants have added safety measures to maintain social distancing and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, and experts say they’re effective. “Many that have curbside pickup require the person delivering to wear face masks and sometimes gloves,” says DiCaprio. “Most food delivery services are also taking a similar approach, many of which will do hands-free delivery, leaving food at your door so you do not have to encounter the deliverer.”

That’s all on top of the usual food safety regulations typically in place to avoid foodborne illness and contamination. “This requires strict controls on hand washing and making sure that no one that is sick prepares food, among many additional safety measures,” says DiCaprio. “I highlight these two because they are really the most important in ensuring that there is no cross contamination of food with SARS-CoV-2 during preparation. Most have also implemented other controls, such as wearing face masks, as an added precaution.”

The food is not the problem. “The main issue is exposing yourself to other people and touching contaminated surfaces,” according to Dr. Rishi Desai, MD, chief medical officer for health education platform, and former epidemic intelligence officer with the Centers for Disease Control. “With takeout, the main risk is at the point of getting the food from the delivery person. Ideally they would drop the food off, simply leave, and then you would go out and grab the food a minute later.”

Key factors for safely ordering takeout, per Dr. Desai:

  • Order and pay for food online
  • Have food delivered to your home
  • Wait until the delivery person who dropped off the food is at least six feet away
  • Transfer food onto a bowl or plate. Minimizing dishes sounds nice, but it’s worth plating your takeout. Coronavirus was detectable for up to 24 hours on cardboard and three days on plastic and stainless steel according to a research letter study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in March.
  • Recycle or throw away all packaging and then wash hands for 20 minutes with soap and water. The outer packaging has come in contact with other people as your order made its way to you, and if it’s plastic it can harbor coronavirus up to three days.

Is it safe to order pizza during coronavirus?

Pizza night is back, folks. At least eating your fave pie in the comfort of your own home is a-okay. Specifically, experts say the high-heat pizza ovens and no-contact delivery make it safe. “I think it’s okay to order pizza as long as it’s done carefully so that there’s no interaction when the delivery person drops off the pizza,” says Dr. Desai.

The baking process helps add peace of mind, too. “It is believed that cooking will inactivate the virus (based on previous research with similar viruses),” says DiCaprio. Another coronavirus, SARS-CoV-1, was previously shown to be eliminated at cooking temperatures.

Is it safe to order sushi during coronavirus?

Sushi isn’t cooked, obvi, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your go-to salmon skin roll RN. “Yes sushi is safe,” says Dr. Desai. “The disease is spread from person-to-person not through raw/uncooked food, so ordering sushi and other similar foods like salad through takeout is safe.”

DiCaprio agrees and explains why you don’t need to be concerned about your California roll. “For raw foods, it is important to consider that food really is not a high touch surface,” she says. “Few people would be touching that food prior to coming into you home. Restaurants following the good food safety practices will not have anyone with a COVID-19 infection preparing your food.”

Is it safe to get fast food during coronavirus?

That burger and fries craving comes on strong staying at home, and watching fast food commercials between news broadcasts doesn’t make it go away. (Just me?) Unfortunately, this is not the time to give into that craving. According to Dr. Desai, it’s not safe to order or grab fast food with the current novel coronavirus pandemic. It’s the fast food setup that’s specifically higher risk for novel coronavirus spread among employees and customers.

“Drive-thru situations require that the person buying the food interact with a fast food employee directly,” says Dr. Desai. “In addition, with fast food, the employee is exposed to a very high volume of individuals and is therefore at higher risk of getting exposed to the disease themselves (and therefore higher risk of spreading it).”

Takeout is a great way to support your community.

As long as you order food and get it delivered with social distancing guidelines in mind, there’s a very low risk of coming in contact with the novel coronavirus. “Basically, my concern with the safety of restaurants is not with the food or the food packaging but with the high density of people coming together to share respiratory droplets, not food, in an enclosed setting,” says DiCaprio. “Nothing is ever zero risk, but the risk of getting COVID-19 from takeout is extremely low.”

“We all want to support or local economies and the get back to some sort of normalcy again,” she adds. “I think takeout is a great way to support your local restaurants and protect the public health in your community.”

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