Ordering food offers welcome relief from cooking and cleaning, so here’s how to protect yourself and your family against coronavirus if you do get takeout.

By Real Simple Editors
March 23, 2020

Right now, many Americans are proving themselves to be model citizens by staying home and social distancing, as encouraged by both federal and state officials, to help slow the rate of COVID-19 transmission. While these practices are meant for everyone’s health and safety, no one said it was going to be easy.

Besides the obvious health concerns, financial impact, and lack of social interaction, one of the largest obstacles for people in voluntary quarantine has been figuring out how to feed themselves safely. With many confined to their homes for weeks, the mere idea of eating canned beans again is enough to cause distress—let alone the larger anxieties and uncertainties of the moment.

For folks who need a break from cooking and cleaning, restaurant takeout and delivery (as well as grocery drop-offs) are still available in many places. In fact, these food options are great ways to help keep your favorite independent restaurants and businesses afloat while bringing a little variety to your daily quarantine diet.

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In short, yes, if restaurants and grocers are offering curb-side pickup or home delivery, it’s OK to do so. However, ordering from outside your own kitchen comes with a few caveats. Your go-to chicken parm order from the family-owned restaurant down the street is only worth it—for you and for them—if you take extra measures to protect against the spread of coronavirus.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) FAQ section reassures that it cannot be passed through food: “Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.” That said, we do know the virus can still live temporarily on commonly touched surfaces. According to a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, this is how long the virus appears to be able to survive on respective surfaces:

  • In the air — 3 hours 
  • On copper — 4 hours
  • On cardboard — 24 hours
  • On stainless steel — 48 hours
  • On plastic — 72 hours

With these findings in mind, follow extra safe and sanitary precautions when ordering in.

1. Avoid ordering in altogether if you or any family/housemates are sick, exhibiting symptoms, elderly, or more at risk for contracting COVID-19 (here’s what to make instead). 

2. Avoid touching public surfaces (like door handles) by choosing curb-side pickup only. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60 percent alcohol content) immediately following a pickup exchange, and avoid touching your face before sanitizing hands.

3. When possible, choose contact-free delivery options when ordering in. Many food delivery services, including Postmates, DoorDash, Caviar, Grubhub, and Seamless, are giving members a no-contact drop-off option, where couriers will leave orders on the doorstep and let customers know they’ve done so. If you're ordering in directly from a restaurant, give the courier special instructions to leave your order at the door.

4. Leave cardboard boxes and packaging outside for 24 hours—or, even better, immediately take them out to the recycling.

5. Transfer food to your own clean dishes and cutlery to serve and eat, and immediately throw out/recycle all containers and packaging.

6. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after eating.

7. Disinfect the surfaces in your home that come in contact with any delivery bags, containers, etc.

All of this is not to scare you (the idea of germs’ capability to survive on surfaces shouldn’t be new), but simply to reiterate how important it remains to follow responsible hygiene habits when getting food products delivered to you right now. Restaurants and delivery services are being as careful and hygienic as possible to make sure you stay fed (and they stay in business), so don’t undo all their efforts once the food arrives at your door.

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