To Eat or Not: Takeout Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

Takeout and delivery rates surge amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the right precautions can help prevent infection.
Brad Bergan
Image formatted to fit. Charday Penn / iStock

Takeout and delivery have surged amid the coronavirus pandemic, but many worry whether eating takeout could lead to accidental exposure to the novel virus. According to Professor Schaffner at Rutgers University in New Jersey, it's fine to eat or order out — so long as we take strict precautions, reports NPR.


Coronavirus Takeout and Delivery

Nights ago, Schaffner had Thai takeout for dinner, as he typically did int he weeks and months before the time of the COVID-19 outbreak. With expertise in quantitative microbial risk assessment, predictive food microbiology, cross-contamination, and hand-washing, Schaffer may have been first to wonder whether Thai or any other food away from home was a safe choice during the global pandemic.

"I know people are worried, but from what we know currently about the virus, it's safe to eat food prepared at restaurants so long as you take the proper precautions — in particular hand-washing," said Schaffner to NPR.

As the COVID-19 coronavirus sweeps across the U.S. and everyone within follows CDC guidelines to stay at home, takeout and delivery of prepared food are gaining momentum. But many of us living in the crisis aren't sure if it's such a good idea.

Eating out is okay — with precautions

Luckily for the ones who tend to see cooking as a chore, consuming food made in restaurants is not a high-risk choice. Recent guidance from the Food and Drug Administration said: "there is no evidence to suggest that food produced in the United States can transmit COVID-19."

NPR also spoke to disease and food safety experts who said they based their conclusion that takeout food is okay to eat on decades of research on other coronaviruses — a data source that reaches back to the 1960s.

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"While COVID-19 is new to us, coronaviruses are not, and with all the studies done on these viruses, there has never been any information to implicate food-borne transmission," said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of medicine in the department of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, to NPR.

Common modes of coronavirus transmission

The coronavirus that leads to COVID-19 is spread mostly by droplets expelled through sneezing or coughing, said Schaffner to NPR. Standing too close (within roughly 6 feet according to NPR) to infected people when they sneeze or cough, or also possibly when they exhale or speak, viral droplets might make their way to the nasal passages and mucous membranes. Touching surfaces with droplets on it and then touching one's eyes, nose or mouth might also cause infection.

Recently, a woman named Rachel Brummert from Charlotte, North Carolina, contracted the virus during quarantine, despite only coming into contact with her pharmacist, husband, and a woman who volunteered to deliver Brummert's groceries. Sadly, the volunteer-delivery woman was later diagnosed with COVID-19 and is likely the source of Brummert's infection.

However, Brummert is especially susceptible to the disease because she has an autoimmune disorder. Despite taking drastic measures to protect herself, and leaving her house merely once every three weeks, she contracted the novel virus.

"I'm absolutely terrified," said Brummert to MSN. "This is the sickest I've ever been, and it's the most scared I've ever been. From what I'm hearing about ventilators, it's scary stuff. I'm really hoping I can wait this out at home."

While cases like Brummert infection with preexisting autoimmune disorders are an exception that doesn't apply to most, we can't exaggerate the need for extreme precautions, like wearing a mask and gloves for every (infrequent!) outing, could be the difference between life and death for many.

To be a part of that difference, we've created an interactive page that will help facilitate the networking and global matchmaking of engineering initiatives against COVID-19 — including companies, organizations, and individuals with grit. There are serious problems in need of innovative minds of talented engineers who read our digital publication. If you want to help, know someone who can, or know of a useful project, please visit the new webpage here.

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