Is it safe to order pizza right now? Turns out, a lot of people are asking this question, thanks to the current COVID-19 pandemic. San Francisco has been on lockdown for a week to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, with the entire states of California, New York, Connecticut, and Illinois following suit. In those states and several others around the country, restaurants are currently only allowed to serve customers through delivery or takeout.
Restaurants, for many, are crucial right now. While some people are using these restrictions to learn new dishes or rekindle their love for cooking, that’s just not realistic for many people—particularly parents—who may be working at home while also homeschooling their children due to school closures. And let’s not forget the workers on the frontlines: hospital staff who are working around the clock and wouldn’t have time to eat were it not for restaurants supplying meals.
But is there a risk of catching coronavirus from food takeout or delivery? The food itself, as long as it’s cooked according to standard safety practices, is not an issue. CDC research suggests that the coronavirus which causes COVID-19 is not able to infect humans through the digestive tract. If a sick employee handled food, it’s likely that stomach acid would render the virus inactive.
A recent National Institutes of Health study published in the New England Journal of Medicine did find that COVID-19 could be detected up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic, both of which are used to package food for delivery. However, the CDC, Food and Drug Association (FDA), and Department of Agriculture (USDA) have found no evidence that coronavirus is spread through food or food packaging and consider this very low risk. They do know that the virus is spread through respiratory droplets that can be transmitted through close contact with someone who is infected.
“It may be possible that a person can get coronavirus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” according to CDC FAQ.
One way or another, you have to eat. Catherine Carpenter, a professor of nutrition at UCLA, who also has a background in infectious diseases, says that given the options, delivery might actually be safer.
“We either have to go to the market, which puts us at definite risk of getting exposed from the other customers, or get delivery from restaurants we trust,” says Carpenter.
The National Restaurant Association says now more than ever, restaurants are doing everything they can to be extra cautious about sanitation.
“Owners and operators are focused on stepping up their cleaning and hygiene practices to ensure food safety,” they said in a statement. “This means disinfecting surfaces more often, employees washing their hands more often, and many restaurants are taking extra steps to secure takeout and delivery containers.”
Third-party delivery services including Uber Eats, Grubhub, Postmates, and Instacart all have no-contact handoff options, and Doordash has made this the default option, so delivery people can leave the food at your door and you can maintain a safe distance from them. Additionally, Doordash is providing their delivery people with free hand sanitizer and gloves.
If you’re worried, and especially if you have an underlying condition or are older, here are some extra precautions you can take:
- Choose restaurants you really trust. “Many of us, myself included, have received a lot of notices from a lot of different restaurants in terms of their food safety practices. So if you have any doubt about a particular restaurant, just don't use them,” Carpenter advises. “Find one that has reported that indeed they have a hygienic practice.”
- Tip the delivery person through the third-party app or with your card if you order directly from the restaurant, that way you can avoid contact and potentially spreading the virus through cash, which is notoriously dirty. Remember, now is the time to tip generously.
- Wear disposable gloves when accepting or picking up your order, Carpenter advises. Toss the packaging. While still wearing your gloves, empty the food from plastic or cardboard containers into your own dishes.
- Toss out the packaging, and remove your gloves. If you don’t have gloves, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands thoroughly before eating, and certainly don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth before doing so.
- Use your own utensils. If the utensils that come with your order are pre-wrapped, you should be safe. But if you’ve got a loose fork or spoon in the delivery bag, opt to use your own just in case.
- Disinfect any surfaces where you placed the packaging. It’s a tough time for everyone right now, especially the restaurant industry. Save yourself some stress, support the industry, and just take some extra precautions to ensure you’re being safe when ordering food delivery.
North Carolina State University. Covid-19 and food safety FAQ. Updated March 23, 2020.
Van Doremalen N, Bushmaker T, Morris DH, et al. Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. N Engl J Med. 2020. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2004973
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus disease (Covid-19): frequently asked questions. Updated May 9, 2020.