It’s wild out there right now. Visiting the grocery store has become a potentially anxiety-inducing ordeal, your pantry shelves are bare and restaurants have closed their doors to the public. But we still need to fill our bellies and make sure we’re doing it without exposing ourselves to Coronavirus. So what are the proper protocols we should be following right now?
What is safe? Is it ok to order takeout? When you buy produce at the grocery store, is there a chance it could have become infected by somebody touching it?
The short answer is… Your chances of catching COVID-19 from food is unlikely.
Quick lesson on what we know about Coronavirus and food, from multiple health organizations worldwide:
- It’s transmitted person to person through respiratory droplets. These viral cells reproduce along the respiratory tract, which is a different route than the digestive tract your food actually follows when you swallow it. If you literally inhaled your lunch, you might be in trouble… But no matter how quickly it disappeared, we’re betting you probably chewed it up and swallowed it, rather than breathing it in.
- While Coronavirus cells can remain viable on non-porous surfaces like plastic and metal for varying amounts of time, it breaks down much faster on organic surfaces like cardboard and food. For this reason, it’s advisable to transfer takeaway food to a clean plate and dispose of the packaging it was transported in, and to wipe down the packaging of items you purchased at the grocery store when bringing them into your house.
- There’s no current evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19, or suggesting that it’s a food-borne illness. However, like other viruses, it is possible for it to survive on surfaces or objects, so authorities are recommending we follow the key steps of food safety as we usually would; that is by washing fruits and vegetables, cooking raw foods thoroughly, and chilling perishable and cooked items without delay.
- There’s a remote possibility that food’s packaging could be contaminated, but an even smaller chance that the food contained inside is. It’s your contact with people that poses the risk.
- There are no reported cases who contracted the virus from eating infected food. Most cases have been traced back to gatherings of people, including guests attending conferences, church groups and shoppers, and none are linked to contaminated food or drink.
- When you’re eating, you’re protected from infection in two ways: Your saliva is full of proteolytic enzymes that break down proteins and pathogens, minimizing the viability of the virus. In addition to this, the act of chewing and swallowing reduces the amount of time any potentially infectious cells are in contact with the mucosa (membranes that can absorb the virus) of your upper respiratory tract.
- Food facilities need to follow protocols set by local and state health departments, and a higher standard of food safety practices have been adopted in light of the current times. If you would trust one of your local restaurants to prepare your food hygienically before the Coronavirus crisis, it’s a reasonably safe bet that they’re complying with the guidelines now.
- Many food delivery services have implemented options for their customers to opt for “contactless deliveries”. This additional precaution allows you to reduce the person to person contact and staying outside the 6 foot airborne range, by having the delivery driver drop your food at your door and text you when it’s arrived.
With all this in mind, if you’re still feeling concerned about contracting COVID-19 from your food, be sure to put these safeguards in place for additional peace of mind:
While ordering food to be delivered, follow these tips:
- Dispose of delivery packaging and transfer it to a clean plate and storage container.
- Select the “contactless delivery” option when possible, to have the delivery driver leave your food at your door.
- If you’re not confident in a restaurant’s additional food safety procedures, pick up the phone and give them a call to ask what sort of additional measures are being taken to ensure proper food handling.
- If you can’t pay and tip on an app and you need to handle cash and interact with a delivery person, make sure you wash your hands immediately afterwards, as money can be a vehicle for the virus to spread.
- Wash your hands after serving food from potentially infected containers, and before eating.
- Use hand sanitizer after picking up the food, and before getting in your car- to make sure you’re not transferring any viral cells from the packaging onto your car door handle, steering wheel, or front door knob. Wash your hands and dispose of food transporting containers as soon as you get home.
- While unpacking your groceries, wipe down the containers and all packaging with disinfectant wipes, or soap and water to further reduce your risk of exposure.
- When washing your fresh produce, first make sure your hands are clean before washing the produce like you normally would. Dry them with a paper towel if you managed to stock up before they all disappeared from the grocery store shelves, or if you’re running low, use a clean dish towel that’s been washed on a hot cycle and dried thoroughly.
- As for safe food preparation, research suggests that the virus is killed by high cooking temperatures, so cook things until they reach the recommended internal temperature. While exact temperatures and cooking times for Coronavirus are not yet fully researched, scientists suggest a temperature of about 150F for at least 3 minutes should be sufficient.
So remember, not a single positive case has been linked to actual food. Provided you’re properly sanitizing food packaging and washing your hands, you can feel confident cooking as much as you like and experimenting with as many new recipes as you please!
Enjoying food can be a great comfort and pleasure in these uncertain times, and a great means to connect with your quarantine circle and share a meal (with appropriate distancing spacing, of course!). So rest easy knowing that we don’t have to panic too much when it comes to nourishing our bodies and souls with food.