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7 Ways to Protect Yourself from Coronavirus While Dining Out

A little common sense can go a very long way to keep you healthy amid the current health scare.

A sharp spike in U.S. cases of the coronavirus is making rhetoric about a potential pandemic seem less alarmist and more cautionary. As a result, it's nearly impossible to purchase hand sanitizer or masks at your local drug store. But, you need to continue living your life, which includes going out to eat if you want.

To stay healthy, there are some time-tested tricks (that, to be fair, you should be following all of the time) to help you avoid picking up COVID-19 or any other germs while dining in a restaurant or hanging in a public place. (As Benjamin Franklin once said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.")

Here are some basic and easy-to-follow tips to keep you healthy while dining out:


Wash Your Hands!

Washing hands with soap

According to the CDC, this is the first and perhaps most obvious thing to do: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Dining establishments are public places and not everyone may be as healthy or sanitary as you, so take responsibility for yourself.

If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.


Avoid Open Buffets

food at bayside buffet in las vegas
Bayside Buffet Mandalay Bay/Yelp

Those protective plexiglass shields that cover dishes filled with whatever food you please? They're called "sneeze guards" for a reason. They may exist with the best intentions, but they are not even close to being 100-percent safe in keeping airborne contagions and bacteria from eventually landing on your plate.

While COVID-19 cannot be passed through food, bodily fluids from someone infected may end up in a place that no one wants. So when in doubt? Leave the buffets out.


Less Crowded is Ideal

Inside Dot's Restaurant in Wilmington, Vermont
Kirsten K./Yelp

Limiting contact with lots of people lessens the chances of contracting the coronavirus. So, when selecting your dining establishment of choice, smaller restaurants (with fewer workers and patrons) can decrease the chances of getting sick. With this in mind, maybe skip the chain restaurants that serve hundreds of diners, and choose your local mom and pop eatery instead.


Check Food Safety Ratings

family celebrating thanksgiving at the table eating dinner

Most local municipalities have a remarkably effective system for rating food safety, which is public service that might not have ever been more relevant than now. Some 60 percent of foodborne illnesses come from restaurants, which is directly related to kitchen and restaurant cleanliness. It's never a bad idea to check out how clean your favorite places are, which can easily be Googled. (Or check out Food Saftey Network's nifty database that helps you find specific ratings by region.)


Feeling Ill? Stay Home

orange juice when sick

If you are feeling a bit under the weather, do the right thing and don't go out to eat. If you must, then cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with your arm instead of your hand (which can easily leave pathogens on door handles, sink faucets and really any public item you touch). The best way to keep the coronavirus in check is to not pass it along yourself.


Eat In Smaller Groups

Waiter acting friendly and normal to customers at a restaurant.

Eating at a big table with a large group of diners increases the odds that someone might be sick. So it might be a good idea to forego the massive outing and instead opt for a smaller date with just two to four people. Not only will you likely get better service, and enjoy a more intimate conversation, but you improve your chances of staying healthy!


Don't Believe the Hype

woman panicking in chair - how does alcohol affect the brain

Common sense is key in preventing the spread of coronavirus, and yet, there are many persistent myths surrounding the looming pandemic. There is no increased risk by consuming Chinese food, nor does drinking Corona beer have any effect even though 38 percent of recently polled Americans claim to be avoiding the Mexican beer just because of the name. It sounds silly, but there is no reason to avoid any specific food or brand to keep you safe.

Eat This, Not That! is constantly monitoring the latest food news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed (and answer your most urgent questions). Here are the precautions you should be taking at the grocery store, the foods you should have on hand, the meal delivery services and restaurant chains offering takeout you need to know about, and ways you can help support those in need. We will continue to update these as new information develops. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.
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