Coronavirus and Food Poisoning: How to Avoid Infection in Takeout
Scientists around the world theorize the Coronavirus is transmitted person-to-person, likely through respiratory droplets expelled when someone infected coughs, sneezes, or breathes within close proximity. Keeping a distance of approximately six feet between persons limits exposure. A second possible method of transmission results through interaction with an object recently exposed to the virus and subsequently touching the nose, mouth, or eyes. Though this method of transmission is hypothesized as less effective than inhaling respiratory droplets, researchers have yet to determine the odds of infection by inanimate objects or the lifetime of a cell infected by the Coronavirus. By analyzing outbreaks of the virus geographically, the CDC labeled the Coronavirus as community spread, meaning transmission occurs in the same area, with some infected not knowing how they contracted the virus.
Although there is evidence that Coronavirus can survive for up to 12 hours on metal surfaces, it has not yet been determined how long the virus can live on surfaces such as food, without a human host. There have been no known cases of Coronavirus attributed to food transmission and these types of viruses typically are not transmitted by food.
Nonetheless, how safe is eating at a restaurant versus ordering take out?
If someone infected with the Coronavirus prepares the food, virus spread becomes possible. If the preparer coughs or sneezes onto the food, the food will contain the virus for an indeterminable amount of time and possibly be infectious. Hot foods are less likely than cold foods, such as salads, to transmit the virus because the food should be cooked at a temperature that destroys the virus. Hot food should also be reheated as a safety measure to kill the possible virus. Cold foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are more likely eaten in a short time period after being prepared, limiting the time for the virus to die before ingestion. Food prepared properly and sanitarily should not be a source of contamination.
However, eating at a restaurant comes with a guaranteed risk. Between servers delivering open plates of food and fellow guests possibly infected with the Coronavirus, restaurants are a dangerous scene in which a six foot distance is not a given. Food delivery sources are an alternative to eating out, though risk of exposure exists. Delivery workers increase their own chance of infection through customer interaction. For those who order food for delivery, risk of exposure is limited to interaction with the delivery worker and any contact they may have with the food. By thoroughly sanitizing hands and any material that may come in contact with nose, mouth, or eyes, one can decrease risk of infection. Compared to the exposure from eating at a restaurant, food delivery might be a safer option – for those who can afford it.
Scientists support the theory that higher risk of exposure exists with person to person contact, versus person to infected surface. By evaluating local restaurant food safety standards, one can make restaurant choices accordingly. Ask restaurants if they are using proper protection, such as gloves and face masks, to ensure personal safety.