10 of Your Most Urgent Coronavirus-Related Food Questions—Answered
COVID-19 is making its way across the U.S., with some 1,400 confirmed cases, not including the many that have yet to be tested or can't receive access to a test. It's critical during this time for Americans to do their best to prevent the disease from spreading so that it can be contained and eventually die off.
In the interim, we know you probably have a lot of questions about ways you can avoid contracting the disease, especially through something you have to rely on everyday: Food. In fact, we asked you on Twitter and Facebook to share your concerns with us.
From there, we consulted the available research and several health professionals to answer every concern.
With that, here are the top 10 food safety concerns people have about coronavirus and answers for each:
Should I be cooking for other people?
During this time, minimizing interactions with friends and people, in general, is of the utmost importance, as COVID-19 is most transmissible through people who are in close contact with one another.
According to the CDC, the disease is transmitted through respiratory droplets that are projected from an infected person's mouth or nose either via a cough or sneeze. If you're hosting a dinner party, and someone in the room has COVID-19 and coughs or sneezes on another guest or on their silverware, that puts everyone else in the room at high risk of contracting it.
Bottom line: It's best, to skip the dinner party until the virus dies out, and only cook for yourself or the people you're living with.
Should I be ordering food deliveries?
Again, the top way for the disease to be contracted is through human contact, and it's also believed to be spread through inanimate objects. MIT Technology Review reported that U.S. researchers found coronavirus can survive on plastic and stainless steel for as long as three days.
However, microbiologist at the University of Washington School of Public Health, Marilyn Roberts told MIT, "We don't know if you can pick up COVID-19 from contaminated surfaces or inanimate objects at this point. That's the bottom line."
Conversely, lab findings indicate that the virus can cling to plastic cellphone cases and Amazon packages, which means it can also likely cling to the packaging of your food delivery. Postmates and Instacart have already introduced a "no contact" feature for customers who are ordering food or groceries. The packages are just left outside their door so that, at the very least, the human contact part is removed from the equation.
Bottom line: Ordering food in may be safer than going out to eat, especially if the service you're using to order through offers a no contact feature. That said, you should still wash your hands after you've touched the packaging and before you start eating something like tacos or a sandwich, which requires you to use your hands.
Can COVID-19 be transmittable through food?
This information may come as somewhat of a relief: According to the European Food Safety Authority, "There is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus." In addition, The Food Safety Authority of Ireland says that coronavirus needs a host, aka a human or a live animal, to grow in.
Bottom line: Contracting COVID-19 through food shouldn't be a concern as of right now.
Does cooking kill any traces of coronavirus on food?
According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, "In the case of hot food, the virus would likely be killed by cooking." Additionally, the FSAI stated that SARS, which is a strain of coronavirus, is killed through thorough cooking, specifically for 30 min at 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bottom line: Heat will more than likely kill any trace of COVID-19 on your food, as long as you do so thoroughly.
Can you contract COVID-19 through self-service kiosks at fast food restaurants?
We know that respiratory droplets are the culprit for transmitting COVID-19, so let's say the person ahead of you has the virus, coughs in their hand, and then proceeds to plug their order into the touch screen. As the next person in line, you would have a high risk of exposure.
In a former Eat This, Not That! article, Cedrina Calder, MD, Preventive Medicine Doctor and health and wellness expert said, "It is possible that you could get COVID-19 by touching surfaces or objects where the droplets have landed and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes."
Bottom line: If you absolutely have to try Wendy's new breakfast menu, be sure to sanitize your hands immediately after touching the self-service kiosk screen.
Should I stay away from raw and uncooked foods?
As a general food safety precaution, you should always wash yours hands after handling raw meat to mitigate infection risk. Dr. Matthew Curran, Director of Food Safety at Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said, "One of the most important preventive measures for mitigating viral and food-borne illness while working with food is to wash hands with soap and water frequently, in-between the handling of raw and uncooked foods, and before handling any food."
Bottom line: If you're cooking raw meat, be sure to cook to its appropriate temperature and make sure to swap out cooking utensils that have touched raw meat. Most importantly, wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds to ensure most pathogens have been scrubbed off.
Should I be concerned about staff handling food either in the grocery store or in restaurants?
The short answer to this is, yes. According to Harvard Medical School, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has also been detected in stool for some people. This being said, if the person—warning, this is gross—didn't wash their hands properly after using the restroom and then made that sandwich in plastic wrap at the grocery store, you're in for trouble.
"We currently cannot rule out the possibility of the infection being transmitted through food by an infected person who has not thoroughly washed their hands," said members of Harvard Health Publishing.
Bottom line: Irrespective of respiratory droplets, fecal matter may be another way the disease can be transmitted. So take precaution when ordering food that's been handled by another person.
How should I wash produce that doesn't have a rind, peel, or skin?
The short answer? Water. Just plain old water. In an article from Best Food Facts, horticulture professors at Auburn University, Dr. Floyd Woods and Dr. Joe Kemble said, "research has shown that using just plain old water can remove 98 percent of the bacteria when it is used to rinse and soak produce. Simply washing produce will remove any bacteria or other residues on your produce."
Bottom line: Soak your fruits and vegetables in water, or briefly dunk produce in boiling water. For the produce that has a peel, skin, or rind, consider scrubbing those down with a stiff brush while running it under water.
Is it safe to try in-store samples?
You probably heard that Costco stopped serving samples until the COVID-19 outbreak can be contained. This is merely because person-to-person contact is known to be the most likely way to contract the disease.
Bottom line: If your local grocery store is still serving samples amid this crisis, skip it to avoid exposure.
Does going through a drive-thru increase your risk of contracting COVID-19?
Again, person-to-person contact is the way this disease is being transmitted. So yes, it's possible to transfer this at the drive-thru window.
Interestingly enough, in various parts of the world from San Francisco to South Korea, coronavirus testing is being conducted in drive-thru style fashion. Imagine, going through a drive-thru to get tested for coronavirus in a matter of less than 10 minutes.
Bottom line: The only drive-thru you should be going through amid this pandemic is one that tests for COVID-19.