How safe are food delivery and takeout during the new coronavirus pandemic?
TORONTO -- As restaurants around the country shut their doors to adhere to physical distancing measures, many still offer takeout and delivery services.
But is it safe? Yes, said infectious disease specialist Isaac Bogoch, who calls the risk of contracting the virus that way “so extraordinarily small.”
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Even so, everyone has a right to their personal preference in a pandemic. Bogoch has heard about someone who puts their newspaper in the freezer as a precaution, for example. Does that kind of strategy have any effect? Probably not, he said: “You’re just going to have a cold newspaper.”
“To each their own,” he told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Friday. “We all have our own thresholds for risk acceptance and risk tolerance.”
For food delivery, it’s important to be mindful that other hands have gone into the preparation of your order. While the virus doesn’t appear to thrive on organic surfaces (like food) or paper surfaces, said Bogoch, it can survive for several hours, even days, on others. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease survived for up to two or three days on plastic and stainless steel, and up to one day on cardboard.
Experts say the key protective measure against the virus, which is transferred through droplets and contact (it’s not airborne), is good hand hygiene. “It’s as simple as that,” said Bogoch.
It’s a sentiment echoed by University of Waterloo PhD candidate Jodi Koberinski, who has studied food safety and food security in large outbreaks like the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
“It isn’t being too cautious to act like everything you come in contact with may have come in contact with this virus,” she said. “We still have to eat, we still have to function, but I’m encouraging folks to do as much at-home food prep as they can where you can control who’s touching the food.”
If you’ve decided to opt for food delivery in order to avoid packed grocery stores or to support small businesses, there are some “creative solutions” to stay virus-free, said Bogoch. You can have the delivery person put the box on a designated stand for you to pick up yourself, he suggested. You can use rubbing alcohol to wipe the box (just don’t drink the rubbing alcohol). If you have to make a cash transaction, make sure to wash your hands after.
“You can still adhere to social distancing measures, but also be able to feed yourself,” he said.
Many operators of small local restaurants hope Canadians continue to feed themselves by ordering their food. While the federal government has promised some financial aid to businesses impacted by the pandemic, spots like Yueh Tung Restaurant in Toronto have been facing declining sales for months. They’ve experienced a 75 to 80 per cent drop since they were forced to close their doors to dine-in customers earlier this week.
“My mom and dad are very terrified,” said Joanna Liu, who runs the kitchen in the family-owned restaurant. “They went through SARS so they’re expecting the absolute worst. We’re trying to keep positive.”
They’ve cut down on staff and are now serving customers through takeout orders and Uber Eats or DoorDash, which Liu said have enforced a “no close contact” rule: customers pay through the app and drivers leave the package at the door.
Though fear and misinformation can spread rapidly during a pandemic, Bogoch said that food delivery customers shouldn’t be too worried — the practice is “low risk.”
“It’s hard to micromanage every unique situation that might arise,” he said.
Hand-washing often is key, and so is calm, he added: “I think it’s extremely important that people try to maintain some sense of normalcy during this pandemic.”