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Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Coronavirus Quarantine: Is It Safe to Order from Restaurants?

Food experts reveal the do's and don'ts of ordering from a restaurant, whether it's delivery or pickup, during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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Your life has no doubt completely changed as social distancing rules and stay-at-home mandates take effect to slow the spread of Covid-19. To comply with the new regulations, restaurants have closed their dine-in services, but many are still allowing curbside pickup and delivery. And while it may be comforting to order from your favorite restaurant, is it still safe to do so?
We asked food safety experts to weigh in on the dos and don’ts of delivery and pickup during Covid-19. It’s important to remember these recommendations could change at any time. “We are still learning a lot about this virus, so recommendations are based on what is known to date,” says Angela M. Fraser, PhD, professor in the department, food, nutrition, and packaging sciences at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina. 

Yes, you can order in

The good news is that food experts aren’t skipping take-out. “We patronized our favorite Thai restaurant over the weekend, and I was happy to do so,” says Donald Schaffner, PhD, a distinguished professor and extension specialist in food science with expertise in microbial risk assessment at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. While there’s limited data, the coronavirus “seems to be about as sensitive to heat as other pathogens in food that can make you ill,” he says. (The World Health Organization recommends making sure your food reaches an internal temperature of 70 degrees C, which is 158 degrees F.)
Although foods cooked to their proper temperatures should kill the virus, more research is still needed to confirm this, adds Schaffner.  

Skip the salad

It’s one thing to know your food was cooked (and cooked correctly under the right circumstances). However, it’s another to eat prepared cold dishes. “I would not eat cold foods that have been prepared by someone who I do not know,” says Fraser. That’s because it’s not yet known how long this novel coronavirus survives on surfaces, she says. According to a March 2020 letter in The New England Journal of Medicine, the novel coronavirus has been shown to live on some surfaces for up to two or three days. Of course, a lettuce leaf is different from things like plastic, but until more is known, you should play it safe and prepare your own salads at home.  
When in doubt, do delivery
Social distancing involves minimizing the number of people you have contact with, says Fraser. Because of that, she recommends choosing delivery if the restaurant provides that choice. That said, restaurants are enacting policies to improve the safety of getting your grub. For instance, Fraser points out, some will put the order into a box that you pick up from. Others direct you to wait for an employee before entering; the employee will then come to the door and hand you the order, limiting the surfaces and people you run into. Request they leave the food at your doorstep and tip over the app for a cashless, touch-free transaction, suggests Schaffner. What you need to know about coronavirus and super-spreaders.

Handle the food from package to plate correctly

When you get the package of food, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk without going overboard. Fraser says that she’d take the food out of the container and put it on a plate, wash her hands, and then microwave the hot food. If you’re really concerned, you can use utensils to eat handheld foods, like pizza, says Schaffner. That said, there are a few things you do not need to do. One, it’s a waste of resources to use surgical gloves in order to touch the packaging, and doing so takes these supplies away from healthcare workers who need them, he says. You also don’t need to spray the packaging down with disinfectant before bringing it into your house. This is where hand hygiene comes into play.  

Don’t be shy about asking questions

During this time of uncertainty, you should absolutely feel comfortable calling the restaurant and asking about its best practices. You’ll likely get a positive response. “Honestly, I think most restaurants are going to do the right thing,” says Fraser. That includes wearing gloves, but they don’t necessarily need to be donning masks, she says. Restaurants that are open right now (for curbside pickup and delivery) are counting on an uptick in orders in order to stay afloat, and so patronizing them is one big thing you can do to support your local economy. However, do what feels comfortable to you, which may change depending on your personal risk factors. “If [you’re] very concerned, do not eat out and only buy food packaged in a manufacturing plant or thoroughly cook all foods before consumption,” says Fraser.

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