Restaurant workers are pros at handling food properly. Here?s how to follow their lead and support their businesses.
I never thought it possible I?d get tired of pasta, but the coronavirus outbreak is an era of many firsts. After feeding four people three meals a day for two Covid-19-avoiding weeks, my heart flipped when I discovered our local taco joint was still open for delivery. So how to get my Lucharitos fix, show some love to the restaurant industry, and remain socially distant? Here?s what infectious disease and food safety specialists say they?re doing around takeout and food delivery.
Consider your personal risk. If you?re over age 65, immunocompromised, have a serious chronic medical condition or are experiencing flu-like symptoms, avoid having food delivered if possible since it puts you in contact with other people, says Tim Lahey, PhD, an infectious disease physician and the director of clinical ethics at the University of Vermont Medical Center. Curbside pickup at a grocery store (by you or a less vulnerable friend) is perhaps the smartest way to get food, he adds. But for those not at high risk for severe coronavirus, most experts say that both delivery and takeout are safe and may even be a smart move for your mental health. ?In this time right now because of so much uncertainty, it helps people to find things that provide comfort,? says Ben Chapman, PhD, a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University. (Taco therapy, expert-approved.)
Designate a point person. If you live with other people, designate one person to do all of your curbside pickups, Jodie Dionne-Odom, MD, assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham?s Division of Infectious Diseases, suggested in a release. Ideally, this to-go go-to would be low-risk and asymptomatic. Why one person? ?It makes it simplest for them to have a procedure each time they come and go ? washing their hands carefully every time they enter and exit the home,? she says. In other words, they master the process and may be less likely to forget a step. She suggests walking to the restaurant if you can to battle isolation, get some exercise, and get a little exposure to nature.
?The food industry already has best practices,? Chapman says. You?re new at this, but they aren?t.
Don?t fear your food. ?We don?t have any indication that consuming takeout food is a risk factor for getting Covid-19,? says Chapman. ?If food was a vehicle, we would expect to see a cluster of illnesses for people that shopped at a grocery store at a certain time or at a restaurant where there was a positive case. We don?t have epidemiology pointing to that.? It?s theoretically possible a person could get Covid-19 by touching a container or cup that had the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes, but the risk is extremely low, the CDC reports. The main way the virus spreads is through people: respiratory droplets passed via coughs, sneezes, and hands. Remember that restaurant workers are strictly regulated and trained to avoid this kind of cross-contamination, and restaurants already restrict workers who are sick (with any kind of illness) from coming to work.?The food industry already has best practices,? Chapman says. You?re new at this, but they aren?t.
Stay physically distant. To avoid person-to-person contact for restaurant and grocery deliveries, pay ? and tip lavishly ? in advance. If possible, order directly from your favorite restaurant; that way, they won?t have to give a cut of the profits to a food-delivery app. No matter how you order, ask for no-contact service, where drivers leave the order at your door and send you a text or photo to confirm delivery. You may be able to text with the driver or send a photo of your desired drop-off spot. If you don?t ask for touchless delivery, the courier may initiate it ? follow their lead. ?Be especially nice to the delivery drivers and restaurant workers who are on the front line of this pandemic,? Schaffner says. Show your love with a friendly wave and a five-star rating, if applicable.
Wash hands before eating. Experts say viral PSAs about disinfecting your food and its packaging are kind of silly since it?s people and not plastic containers that pose the highest risk. Wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds when you re-enter your home. Plate your takeout food on your own dishware, discard the packaging as you normally would, then wash your hands again before you sit down to eat. (And don?t stress too much about scrubbing down all the packages your delivered groceries arrive in ? again, just focus on handwashing.) No need to pop your dinner in the microwave, either. While it?s generally true that heating food helps kill off germs, Covid-19 doesn?t appear to be a foodborne illness ? and even if it were, it?s too new a virus for scientists to give reliable advice on the time and temperature that would kill it. ?I got takeout from my favorite Thai restaurant the other night,? Schaffner says. ?I reheated it ? because I like my Thai food hot.?
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