Coronavirus: Is it safe to eat takeout; how to clean the groceries you bring home

Is it safe to eat takeout during coronavirus outbreak?

As COVID-19 virus spreads, concerns over food safety have grown.

Shopping at grocery store pushes the limits on social distancing, and ordering a takeout meal from a restaurant makes some feel uneasy when you are talking about a highly contagious virus.

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However, since you must shop for groceries, and takeout offers a meal at the same time it helps a restaurant that is likely struggling to stay in business, being armed with information is your best bet.

Below are some tips for grocery shopping, ordering takeout meals and establishing food safety habits.

The grocery store:

Can you get COVID-19 from food packaging – the cans and bags food comes in?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through food or through food packaging.

“We are not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging,” Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a Feb. 27 statement.

What steps can I take to minimize risk when shopping at the grocery store?

North Carolina State University’s Extension program offers these tips for grocery shopping:

  • Use hand sanitizer when entering stores, and wash your hands and/or use sanitizer as soon as possible after leaving.
  • Try to maintain social distancing as much as possible while shopping.
  • Avoid touching surfaces or items unnecessarily and avoid touching your mouth, nose or face.
  • Do not go shopping when showing symptoms or think you have been exposed to the virus.

How should produce be handled?

  • Consider using hand sanitizer before and after selecting produce items.
  • Avoid touching multiple produce items when making selections.
  • As per good food handling practices in general, wash hands before food preparation or eating, avoid touching the face and consider supplementing handwashing with the use of hand sanitizer.
  • Wash produce as you usually do when preparing it.

What to do when you get home with the groceries?

When you get home with your groceries, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Use soap and water or hand sanitizer if you have it. Do not touch your face after grocery shopping until you have washed your hands. Use hand sanitizer after you leave the grocery store.

Unpack your groceries, and, if you want and it will make you feel more comfortable, wipe down the cans and bags with disinfectant wipes or simple soap and water.

COVID-19 can remain on certain surfaces for many hours, but it does die out eventually. If you are preparing the food you just purchased, you can wipe the can, carton or bag with disinfectant wipes and kill any virus immediately.

It is important to wash your hands after you unpack your groceries, then thoroughly clean the surface your grocery bags touched. Disinfectant spray or wipes are good, or soap and water will work, as well.

Other tips:

  • Try not to go to the store too often. Get what you need for the week – or longer if what you need is available – in one trip.
  • Try to shop early in the morning when fewer people may be in the store. Remember, practice social distancing. Try to stay at least six feet away from people. You don’t want to be in a store jammed with people.

Takeout food

Should you be worried about ordering takeout food from a restaurant? Probably not, as long as you follow the handwashing and social distancing practices. There is no current indication that takeout or drive-thru meals will increase your chance of getting the virus.

Here are some tips for takeout food from NC State:

Is it safe to get takeout food

What are the risks of takeout or drive-thru food?

There is no current indication that takeout or drive-thru meals will increase illness. This option is a good risk management choice, especially for high risk-risk and elderly groups because it helps maintain social distancing and reduces the number of touchpoints.

What are the risks of food delivered to home?

Similar to takeout, food delivery helps maintain social distancing and reduces the number of touchpoints between the preparation and serving of food.

Many delivery programs have also instituted no touch/no interaction options, which further reduces risk.

Can I get the virus by eating food that someone has coughed on?

There is no current evidence that you can contract the virus by eating food.

“No reported cases of COVID-19 have been linked to contamination of food,” the FDA said. “The main risk of transmission is from close contact with infected people. The advice to food businesses and consumers is to maintain good hygiene practices and to wash your hands regularly. Thorough cooking will kill the virus.”

What happens in your body if you do ingest coronavirus through food?

“There is currently little scientific information about the survival of the COVID-19 on the surface of open food,” the FDA said. “Work with similar viruses shows that some food surfaces don’t allow the virus to survive at all, but some do.”

COVID-19 is believed to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets – in other words when a person coughs or sneezes in your direction. And it may be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has some of those droplets on it and then touching their mouth, eyes, or nose.

Currently, there is no evidence to support the transmission of the virus directly by eating food that someone who is ill may have sneezed or coughed near.

However, research is continuing into whether the virus can be shared by people who do not wash their hands before they prepare food.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 has also been detected in the stool of certain people. So we currently cannot rule out the possibility of the infection being transmitted through food by an infected person who has not thoroughly washed their hands,” according to researchers at Harvard Medical School.

“In the case of hot food, the virus would likely be killed by cooking. This may not be the case with uncooked foods like salads or sandwiches.”

What would happen if you touch food that had the virus on it then touched your mouth? More research is needed.

"It's not that it's not possible" for people to become infected with COVID-19 through food,” associate professor Benjamin Chapman, an NC State Extension program food safety specialist told Live Science.

“There’s always this possibility. But I want to make the best risk management decision based on the best science and evidence, and we just don’t have any evidence in that area” right now, Chapman said.