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Is It Safe to Have Food Delivered During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Delivery man handing takeout food delivery to woman

 Getty Images / 10'000 Hours

Key Takeaways

  • It's unlikely to contract COVID-19 through food, but taking a few extra precautions can reduce your risk even further.
  • Avoid touching your face and disinfect your hands after unboxing food from its packaging.
  • When getting delivery or takeout, transfer food to your own plates before eating.
  • Minimize contact and maintain social distancing with delivery personnel.

As the coronavirus pandemic heightens, everyday activities that were once simple are now far more complicated. Regular trips to the grocery store make it tough to abide by the rules of social distancing, and evening dinners at local restaurants are no longer options due to mandated closures.

One way that people are stocking their pantries and fridges while keeping a distance from the public is with food delivery. Anthony Kaveh, MD, a doctor in Burlingame, California, agrees that getting your food delivered is likely safer than visiting high-frequented grocery stores and restaurants yourself.

If you are turning to food delivery services like Instacart, Amazon Fresh, Postmates, Uber Eats, and Grubhub, you may wonder if COVID-19 can be transmitted through the food itself, food packaging, and delivery personnel.

While there is no evidence that suggests COVID-19 is transmitted through food, you should minimize your contact with delivery people and practice safety when handling delivery materials that others have touched.

How Long COVID-19 Lives on Surfaces

According to the CDC, transmission of the virus occurs mainly through close contact with an infected person, though it can also spread from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects.

When a person infected by COVID-19 coughs or exhales, they project small droplets into the air that may be inhaled by nearby people or settled on nearby objects or surfaces. WHO warns that people can become infected when touching these objects, then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth with their hands. 

It is unknown precisely how long COVID-19 can survive on surfaces, though preliminary research has found that it can persist for at least several hours and up to several days. Still, this form of transmission is far less likely.

While it may be unlikely, it doesn't hurt to disinfect your counters where takeout has been sitting or wipe down the boxes themselves if you are uncomfortable handling them otherwise. The most important thing, however, is make sure you wash your hands and avoid touching your face during the unboxing process.

Is COVID-19 Transmitted Through Food?

According to the FDA, there is no evidence that suggests that COVID-19 is transmitted through food or food packaging. Nonetheless, you may personally feel more secure by taking extra steps to disinfect before use.

Anthony Kaveh, MD

The virus is unlikely to transmit through food, even less so if the food is cooked. Since food containers and grocery bags represent a possible virus exposure, it is recommended to dispose of packaging immediately, followed by careful handwashing.

— Anthony Kaveh, MD

Kaveh notes that cooking and heating food can kill viruses, which should give customers some peace of mind when ordering takeout or cooking food purchased at a grocery store.

However, there may be some risk with consuming uncooked foods, such as salad or fresh produce. Kaveh acknowledges that the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables likely outweigh the risks. It is safe to purchase and eat raw produce as long as it's been thoroughly washed under warm water.

How to Safely Handle Food Delivery 

The risk of contracting the virus through food packaging and grocery bags is low. Still, here are some ways to practice safety when getting food delivered.

Get Rid of Packaging Wherever Possible

Though COVID-19 is not believed to transmit through food packaging, infected people can spread germs through objects.

To err on the side of caution, discard materials like grocery bags, cardboard boxes, styrofoam containers, plastic utensils, etc.

Transfer Takeout Food to Your Own Dishes

Though eating out of the container is part of the appeal of ordering takeout food, this is not recommended during the coronavirus pandemic. According to Kaveh, “All restaurant packaging presents possible viral exposures, so it is safest to transfer food from restaurant packaging directly onto your own dishes, dispose of the restaurant packaging immediately, and wash your hands.”

Reduce Contact With Delivery Personnel

Social distancing applies not only to family, friends, and coworkers but also to the people who deliver your groceries and takeout food. Fortunately, it is easy to practice social distancing with delivery personnel during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many delivery services have implemented contactless practices. This means you will not have to interact with your delivery person. Simply indicate your delivery preferences on the company’s website or app, and your food will be left at your doorstep. You can pay for your goods and tip the delivery person online.

If you must pay the delivery person directly, leave the payment under the doormat or in the mailbox if possible. Do not invite them into your house or apartment, shake their hand, or come within the CDC’s 6-foot recommendation. Then proceed to discard or disinfect packaging, transfer food to your own dishes, and wash your hands thoroughly.

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  1. Van doremalen N, Bushmaker T, Morris DH, et al. Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. N Engl J Med. 2020; doi:10.1056/NEJMc2004973