How restaurants keep takeout orders safe during the pandemic

Coronavirus

SAN DIEGO — In order to ensure social distancing, restaurant dining rooms are closed during the coronavirus pandemic, which has left many people wondering: How safe is it to order takeout instead?

The good news: Experts say it should be safe, and advise some basic precautions for you as a consumer. FOX 5’s Heather Lake visited a local restaurant to learn how they’re working to keep you safe and the takeout orders coming.

Read more on what experts have to say below:

It’s not the food itself

The virus is not likely to be transmitted by food itself, said Dr. Ian Williams, chief of the Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which investigates foodborne and waterborne illnesses.

“There is no evidence out there that, so far with [Covid-19], that its foodborne-driven or food service-driven,” Williams said in an information webinar. “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.”

The US Food and Drug Administration echoed that sentiment, saying on its website that it’s not aware of any reports suggesting Covid-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging.

At least that’s what we know right now, and experts have said they will continue to evaluate the virus.

However, the FDA did issue a reminder about everyone in the food supply chain following proper hygiene practices, including washing hands and surfaces regularly to keep the risk level low.

If you’re picking up takeout or getting delivery

More reassuring news: There’s little risk in contracting the virus from food or food packaging picked up at a takeout window or from a restaurant, said Benjamin Chapman, who is a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University.

“I want to be clear that food or the packages could carry the virus, but the risk of transmission is very, very low,” Chapman said. “This is a remote possibility and thousands if not millions of times less likely than any of the other exposure routes. Really, really low risk.”

Any real risk of contamination, he said, would come from the worker handing out the food.

“There’s a chance that the food employee in the window is sick, but likely the food business is following employee health policies and local health department recommendations to keep these individuals home,” Chapman said.

“A lot of the delivery services are working on best practices,” said Don Schaffner, an extension specialist in food science specializing in microbial risks, handwashing and cross-contamination.

Those include contactless deliveries, such ascustomers asking for food to be left on a porch or at a doorstep, and using touch-free and cashless transactions.

Even more comforting news: Even if you did eat food with the virus, there are not many receptors in the digestive track for the virus to cling to, so swallowing the virus would not likely lead to contracting the illness.

In other words, your digestive system would get rid of it, Williams said.

Despite the small risk, there are steps to take for those who are concerned, especially the elderly, who need to be more careful. Experts recommend they pick up any takeout or delivery packages with gloves.

“You can remove your food from the external packaging, properly dispose or recycle it,” and put the food on a plate, Schaffner advises. Then after disposing of the gloves, “wash and or sanitize your hands before sitting down to eat.”

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