Ordering takeout or delivery food during the coronavirus COVID-19 can feel like criminal activity. There’s a sense of trepidation involved, nerves are high, and everyone is wearing masks. We’re just trying to put food on the table, you think.
Except that much of the fear of picking up and taking out restaurant meals during the pandemic is overblown, at least according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the World Health Organization.
All this panic may come, in part, from Internet videos fanning the flames of fear. Some of these claims as they pertain to takeout and delivery:
- Food packaging may carry the disease.
- Cold foods are more likely to carry the disease than hot foods.
- For that reason, it’s a good idea to reheat takeout or delivery foods before you eat them.
- Or, better yet, not order takeout or delivery at all.
To determine whether or not these statements—and others made online about ordering takeout or delivery food during COVID-19—are true, we turned to Chrysan Cronin, DrPH, MPH, a professor of public health at Muhlenberg College. She teaches Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Occupational and Environmental Health.
Is it true that the wrappers/packaging around food delivery items may carry the coronavirus COVID-19?
Cronin: “I want to emphasize that to date there is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be spread by food or food wrappers.”
“It is highly unlikely that a respiratory droplet from an infected person will make its way onto your food or your food wrappers when [proper food safety] guidelines are followed,” Cronin says. “In the unlikely event that the virus does make it onto your food, it cannot multiply there like bacteria can.”
This means that the number of virus particles that may be present would be unlikely to cause an infection, she says.
You’re probably thinking: Well, what if an infected delivery person coughs or sneezes on your food containers?
You would have to touch these droplets with your hands and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth to get infected, says Cronin. But if you’re properly washing your hands before eating, then you’re already taking measures to prevent infection.
“If you are feeling anxious about your takeout food, transfer the food from the containers to a clean plate, dispose of or recycle the containers, clean the surface where you placed your containers, and wash or sanitize your hands before you eat.”
Is it true that microwaving/reheating food delivery items until they are hot enough that steam arises reduces your risk?
There’s only a little truth to this—emphasis on a little.
“There are studies that show that other coronaviruses (such as the one that causes SARS) are temperature sensitive and will be destroyed at 149 degrees for 3 minutes,” says Cronin. “This is because the protein layer that surrounds it can be destroyed by heat.”
But that’s evidence based on a different coronavirus—not the one that causes COVID-19.
“We don’t yet have enough information to know if COVID-19 reacts similarly,” Cronin says. “There is no evidence that shows that heating or microwaving your food until steam rises is effective in killing the virus, and no evidence to suggest that this is even necessary.”
Does choosing hot takeout or delivery foods over cold take out delivery foods reduce your risk of COVID-19?
That’s besides that point.
“You always want to be sure you are ordering your food from a restaurant that you trust to ensure that food handlers are following the required safety guidelines,” says Cronin. “When these are followed there is no increased risk to eating cold foods versus hot foods.”
Is it safer not to order takeout or delivery during the coronavirus?
“The riskiest part of takeout and/or delivery is the person-to-person contact with the delivery person, so be sure to keep your six-feet distance when you pick up your food or have it delivered,” says Cronin. “Many restaurants offer contactless pickup or delivery now so you can prepay for your food without contacting other people.”
In response to what advice, in general, does she have for people ordering takeout or delivery food as it pertains to COVID-19 safety, Cronin responded: “ENJOY IT! YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO PREPARE IT YOURSELF!”