With more restaurants suspending dine-in service and offering takeout and delivery amid the COVID-19 crisis, many people wonder whether it's safe to get their food this way.
Health experts say yes.
To start, the novel coronavirus (which causes COVID-19) is not likely to be transmitted by food itself.
"There is no evidence out there that, so far with [COVID-19], that its foodborne-driven or food service-driven," Dr. Ian Williams, chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch, said in a recent webinar. "This really is respiratory, person-to-person. At this point there is no evidence really pointing us towards food [or] food service as ways that are driving the epidemic."
The US Food and Drug Administration has issued similar information. According to its website, the organization isn’t aware of any reports suggesting that COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging.
Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal viruses, such as norovirus and hepatitis A, which often make people ill through contaminated food, foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.
“The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person,” the FDA states. “This includes between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes."
While it is possible that the virus could be present on the surfaces of food packaging, there is no current evidence to suggest this is associated with the transmission of COVID-19, according to North Carolina State University.
However, people can take steps to reduce risk.
Handle takeout or delivery packages with gloves, remove food from external packaging, then properly dispose of or recycle the packaging as well as the gloves. Wash hands thoroughly.
Those concerned about packaging of food bought at grocery stores can follow the same steps where possible. Cans and plastic bagging can be wiped with sanitizing wipes.
Health bodies have issued strict guidelines to everyone working in the food supply chain to practise proper hygiene practices, including washing hands and surfaces regularly to keep the risk level low and having employees who are exhibiting symptoms to stay home.