Is it safe to order takeaway food during the coronavirus pandemic, considering the virus can survive on some surfaces for more than 24 hours?
The food industry has stringent hygiene standards and now, more than ever, those standards are being observed. Researchers say it’s almost certain the virus is not transmitted via food.
So, is the takeaway delivery process safe?
Yes again, say the experts.
Dr Ian Williams, chief of the Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says: “This really is respiratory, person-to-person. At this point there is no evidence really pointing us towards food [or] food service as ways that are driving the epidemic.”
Sounds, straightforward enough, but what about the Ruby Princess fiasco?
“NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said early indications suggested an infected crew member was most likely responsible for the outbreak,” the ABC reported.
“That would seem to be the most obvious point of transmission – someone who is handling food on behalf of multiple hundreds of people,” he said.
And what about three employees at that pizza shop in Sydney’s Mona Vale who were diagnosed with coronavirus? NSW Health told customers who ate pizza from the store between 20 and 28 March to monitor themselves for symptoms.
Well, the advice remains: cooked food is highly unlikely to transmit the disease.
In another ABC report, epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaw said food delivery was a safe option for people in quarantine.
“In terms of the packaging, while the coronavirus has been identified to live on surfaces like plastic and cardboard, if you’re worried you can wipe it down with alcohol wipes then practise hand hygiene to be safe,” she said.
Let’s reassure ourselves with the advice of an international virologist, Dr Angela L. Rasmussen, from the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. “There is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted by eating food.”
Similarly, Food Standards Australia states: “COVID-19 is not a foodborne illness. There’s no current evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food and no reported cases of COVID-19 have been linked to contamination of food.
“The main risk of transmission is from close contact with infected people.”
Okay, we’re buying, what next?
- Choose wisely. Support small local businesses. Google to see which restaurants are offering a takeaway service – most are. Your custom could help prop up a livelihood. “If you liked the food or service, head online and review the business, it will be a welcome gesture during a rough time,” counsels Clare Knight. A local restaurant that delivers with its staff retaining the full price from every sale.
- Ask for a no-contact drop-off. Order by app or phone call but arrange a place where the food can be left outside your door to minimise the risk to both parties. The delivery person can text when it arrives. The Guardian’s How To Eat guru Tony Naylor suggests you pre-tip as you order. “Otherwise, let your deliverer know you have left money on the doorstep. You could even reassure them you have washed your coins or polymer notes with soapy water first.”
- Be kind. Treat your delivery person well – they’re the one more at risk than you, dealing with strangers all shift. They might be on a visa that means they’re not eligible for any government benefits or stimulus packages despite paying taxes. They might not get sick leave. Their bosses might not be offering them protective equipment.
- Wash your hands. Yes, that old chestnut. Says Craig Hedberg, a University of Minnesota professor and expert on food-borne illnesses: “Wash your own hands after removing the packaging and before eating your food.” Throw the packaging away. Wash again.
You knew it would end with “wash your hands”, didn’t you?
Wash your hands.
Have you been confidently ordering takeaway food? If not, are you more confident now?
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