Not only is it safe to eat takeout during the coronavirus pandemic: It’s patriotic.
“Help save America,” Lori Ann Post, director of Northwestern University’s Institute for Public Health and Medicine, says when asked what she would tell people who are reluctant to order food during the current crisis.
By calling in an order, “You’ll save the economy; you’ll save Charleston and you’ll have really tasty food.”
Post, of course, can’t guarantee that getting rigatoni delivered will alter the course of the city’s recovery, but she is certain about the science. According to Post, so long as the person receiving food takes reasonable precautions, there is no possible scenario in which he or she would end up contracting the coronavirus.
Most importantly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday confirmed that “foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.” That means even if an infected line cook coughs on your sandwich while making it, eating the sandwich won’t make you sick (or at least not sick with the coronavirus. Other illnesses, such as norovirus and salmonella, are carried by food.)
The primary transmission method for coronavirus is person-to-person, so Post recommends observing strict social distancing protocol when arranging for a restaurant-made meal. She suggests placing phone or online orders, if possible, and making sure to pay with a credit card rather than cash if picking up the food.
“Least human contact is best,” she says.
If the order is delivered, Post says customers shouldn’t hesitate to instruct the delivery person to leave the bag on a doorstep.
“People with their wonderful Southern charm feel like it’s rude to not say 'hi, goodbye and thank you,'" says Post, who got to know South Carolina’s clientele when her son spent a college summer working in a Charleston restaurant. “But we’re dealing with an unprecedented pandemic."
According to the FDA, it’s possible that a person could acquire COVID-19 from a surface that has the virus on it, such as a takeout container. But Post stresses the virus doesn’t jump from a cardboard box, where the latest research shows it might survive for up to 24 hours, to a person doing his or her best to stay healthy. A person would have to touch the virus and then touch his or her face to instigate infection.
For example, if the delivery driver tasked with bringing you tacos had tested positive for the coronavirus, there could potentially be coronavirus on the bag holding your dinner. But all you have to do to eliminate risk is to immediately wash your hands after picking up the bag.
Post recommends the following steps: Take the bag. Wash your hands. Remove the food from the container. Wash your hands. You can microwave the food if it makes you feel better, since studies show heat kills the virus, but Post says she uses her microwave solely because she likes food hot. Wash your hands. Enjoy dinner. Wash your hands again after eating, and do not re-use the container.
During the pandemic, Post says, you can’t wash your hands too frequently. She predicts eaters will get used to the safety routine, much as they’re accustomed to cooking chicken rather than eating it raw.
“It’s not a good idea to go to big feasts, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have great food,” Post says. “And we know Charleston has awesome restaurants.”