Chow Line: Takeout food and food delivery services amid COVID-19

By Tracy Turner

What steps do I need to take when ordering takeout food or food from a delivery service in light of the coronavirus pandemic?

First, it’s important to understand that COVID-19 is not a foodborne disease. While there have been no reports as of this time to suggest that COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has been transmitted by handling food or food packaging, here are some ways that you can protect yourselves and others when ordering food through takeout, a drive-thru, or a home delivery service.

Because COVID-19 transmits person-to-person through droplets that are produced when an infected individual coughs or sneezes, the best way to protect yourself and others is to keep physical distance of at least 6 feet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. Symptoms range from mild to severe respiratory illness. Advanced age or conditions such as various cancers, COPD, asthma, heart disease, and diabetes are associated with an increased severity of COVID-19 infections and fatality rates.

The virus is most often transferred to another individual when droplets directly reach their nose, mouth, or eyes, or through close contact such as a handshake. The virus can also transmit when a person touches an object or surface with the virus on it and then touches their mouth or eyes before washing their hands.

“Takeout minimizes the number of touches by people, especially if the restaurant is practicing social distancing and good preparation practices,” said Sanja Ilic, food safety state specialist with Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“Delivered foods present no risks if the restaurant practices a no-touch/no-interaction policy during preparation,” she said.

In fact, getting food through takeout and/or a drive-thru is a good risk management choice, especially for high-risk and elderly groups because it helps people maintain social distancing and reduces the number of touch points, Ilic said.

“Likewise, food delivery helps people maintain social distancing and reduces the number of touch points between the preparation and serving of food,” she said.

However, Ilic said, independent delivery drivers cannot guarantee low-touch delivery and proper physical distancing during deliveries.

“You have to make sure that the provider is using the procedures that will prevent the virus transmission,” she said.

With that in mind, here are several ways consumers can protect themselves in order to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission from packaging or delivery:

  • Use measures to reduce the amount of package handling.
  • Make sure your provider is implementing no-touch/no-interaction options. Many delivery programs have now instituted these measures.
  • Ask the manager about the measures the restaurant staff is taking for food safety, before placing your order. Many restaurants are now volunteering this information.
  • Practice handwashing and use hand sanitizer before and after handling packaging. It’s important that you wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time. Hand sanitizer is also an option if you do not have access to soap and water.
  • If you use delivery for restaurant food, after you receive the food, unpack it and dispose of the packaging, and then wash your hands. Do not touch your nose, mouth, eyes, or face until after this procedure is complete.

“Food businesses should be following employee health policies and health department recommendations to keep people home,” Ilic said. “Also, it’s important to remember, the best thing you can do is to continue using good food safety practices before preparing or eating food, like always washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after using the restroom, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.”

For more information, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a website dedicated to answering questions regarding food, food safety, and COVID-19.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.