As one-third of humanity is cooped up in their homes and people are forced to eat their own cooking, food delivery services are seeing increased sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like other coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 is thought to mainly spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets that are expelled from an infected person when they cough, sneeze, or talk. People can become infected with the virus through close contact with an infected individual or through touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their face, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But can takeout also serve as a vector?
To date, there is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can be transmitted through eating food. However, there is a possible risk that the virus may persist on food packaging like plastic for up to 72 hours, according to a study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine. On cardboard, researchers found no viable evidence of the virus after 24 hours. On all surfaces, the virus degrades quickly and is seen to drop by half within just under seven hours on plastic and within about three hours on cardboard.
“There are two important messages on handling food and food safety at this time. One is about preventing COVID-19 spread and shopping for food and the other is about keeping your food safe and preventing food poisoning at home,” said Cathy Moir, council chair for the Food Safety Information Council, in a statement.
COVID-19 is not considered a foodborne illness and it is not believed to be transmitted through food. However, there is a risk that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted by surface cross-contamination. There are varying reports of how long COVID-19 can remain on surfaces. The World Health Organization, for example, says that it is not certain how long the virus can last on a surface, but based on its behavior similar to other coronaviruses, it may persist for a few hours or up to several days, though that timeframe may vary under different environmental conditions and the type of surface. One report found that the virus persisted on cruise ship surfaces for up to 17 days.
“Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. For that reason, it is critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety – clean, separate, cook, and chill,” writes the US Department of Agriculture. The agency adds that there is also no evidence to suggest that food produced within the country can transmit COVID-19, nor can goods that are imported from other nations.
When home from shopping or after grabbing takeout, the Institute for Food Safety says that individuals should first place shopping bags on the floor and immediately wash their hands. Discard or recycle any single-use bags. Wash your hands but keep in mind that there is no need to discard or sanitize any part of the actual food packaging. Best practices follow that fruits and vegetables should be rinsed and foods with a hard surface, like apples or carrots, should be scrubbed. “NEVER” use soap or bleach as these may have negative health impacts if left on food and accidentally consumed. The institute adds that the coronavirus is killed by “cooking to the safe minimum cooking temperatures specified by the FDA and USDA.”
When it comes to cooking, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reminds consumers that foodborne gastrointestinal viruses, like norovirus and hepatitis A, can still make people ill through contaminated food. People preparing to stay home for extended periods of time need to practice basic food safety and hygiene measures, like washing hands and surfaces often, separating raw meat from other foods, cooking to the right temperature, and refrigerating foods, according to a tipsheet provided by the USDA.