By Logan Quirk
Numerous industries have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and among the businesses that have undergone dramatic changes are food delivery services.
With people wary of others handling their food and going to their homes, it’s no surprise to see so many households turn back to cooking. While there’s nothing wrong with cooking your own healthy meals during this pandemic, it’s important to know that getting food delivered to your home is still an option.
Going to a nearby restaurant using your bike or driving there to pick up some food prepared by the pros is also worth considering, but if delivery is your only option, there is no need to shy away from it.
Is Food Delivery at Your Home Safe?
Let’s tackle the big question first.
Is it safe for you to have food delivered to your home while the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to spread? The FDA is here to provide some assurance on that front.
According to the FDA, “there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19” at this point in time. Now, the FDA says although evidence is lacking currently, it may give you pause, but it’s crucial to understand that scientists have had time to study the possibility of the coronavirus transmitting through food.
Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of medicine in the department of infectious disease at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, states that they have carried out numerous studies on the coronaviruses. To date, those studies have not indicated that coronaviruses can be transmitted through food.
Granted, these earlier studies did not involve the specific strain that is the current pandemic, but the current findings suggest that transmission through food is not taking place.
Remember, people spread the novel coronavirus through respiratory droplets.
If you are standing close to someone infected and that person then coughs, sneezes, talks, or exhales, there’s a chance that respiratory droplets carrying the virus may enter your body through your nose, eyes, or mouth.
The transmission of the virus could also occur if you touched a surface with droplets on it, and then you touched your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands carefully first.
Theoretically, could you be infected if someone with the novel coronavirus coughed on a food container that you then handled? That’s highly unlikely because there are still food safety guidelines being followed today.
Why You Don’t Need to Worry about Restaurant Employees Handling Your Food
Some folks who want to have food delivered to their homes worry that the employees handling their orders may be sick or perhaps not doing enough to ensure the safety of the food and the containers.
It’s an understandable concern at this point since many of us are doing what we can to avoid infection.
As you’ll learn, though, there are numerous safeguards currently in place designed to ensure the safety of the deliveries going to your home.
Only Allow Healthy Employees to Work
Restaurants and other food providers are taking numerous precautions to ensure that sick or at-risk employees are not coming to work and possibly spreading the disease.
First off, employers are advised by the CDC to keep tabs on their workers. Employers are doing that by taking the temperatures of their employees prior to their shifts and by checking if they are exhibiting any symptoms of the disease.
As soon as they find an employee to be sick and/or exhibiting the symptoms of a COVID-19 infection, they will send he/she home right away.
Employers must keep employee workspaces clean. They disinfect the workplaces regularly, and high-touch surfaces undergo frequent cleaning.
They must disinfect the workspaces of employees who get sick also.
To further protect against the possibility of COVID-19 spreading inside the restaurant, employees who know that they were around someone who tested positive for the disease must inform their co-workers right away. They must also keep an eye on their own condition to see if they develop any symptoms that indicate a potential coronavirus infection.
Employees Must Exercise Proper Hygiene while at Work
It’s a good thing that businesses are having their sick employees stay at home as a precautionary measure. However, that alone would not be enough to ensure the safety of food delivery services.
Even if the employees currently on the clock show no signs of infection, they must still follow proper hygiene guidelines.
First off, workers who prepare the food must wear face masks. Potential customers will be glad to know that those masks are required because they are necessary for the purposes of curtailing COVID-19’s spread.
The face masks themselves do not grant their wearers absolute protection from the virus-carrying respiratory droplets, but they can prevent the dispersal of your own viral droplets if you are an asymptomatic carrier.
Employees are also using gloves to handle your food.
Experts indicate that gloves are not necessarily effective for containing the spread of the virus. However, they are essential in food safety as they prevent any bacteria present on a person’s hand from getting in the food.
Hygienic food preparation in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic requires more than workers wearing PPE. Employees must also diligently follow hygienic habits.
In the absence of a vaccine, frequent handwashing remains one of the most effective ways to prevent a possible coronavirus infection. With that in mind, employers/customers expect employees to wash their hands regularly.
They must wash their hands prior to touching all food. Employees must also wash their hands whenever they use the bathroom, blow their nose, cough, or sneeze.
Employees must wash their hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water. If soap and water are not available, they must use hand sanitizers that include at least 60 percent alcohol. Employees that are unable to wash their hands with soap and water cannot touch unwrapped food items.
Restaurant workers are also advised not to touch their nose, eyes, or mouth while handling food.
To recap, hygienic practices that food workers must follow include:
- Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Wash hands regularly using soap and water or a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol for 20 seconds before handling food
- Wash hands after using the bathroom, coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose
- Refrain from touching food if unable to wash with soap and water
Food Safety Remains a Priority
Now that you know more about how restaurants are keeping their establishments and employees safe, it’s time to focus on how they handle the food. After all, the food is what ultimately reaches your home, and its safety is your utmost concern.
You’ll be relieved to know that maintaining food safety remains a priority for the FDA during this pandemic.
The FDA recommends that restaurants allow cooked foods to reach the appropriate internal temperature before they serve them. Hot food items for use later must also cool properly with the aid of refrigerators, ice baths, or cooling wands.
When it comes to utensils, the FDA reminds restaurant owners to check if automatic cleaners are using the appropriate detergents and operating at the correct temperatures. Countertops must also be clean and disinfected regularly because of their proximity to the food items.
The Delivery Process Has Changed
One can argue that the biggest change to food delivery brought about by the pandemic involves the actual process itself.
It starts with the payment process.
You can still opt to pay for your food when the rider takes it to your home if you so desire. Alternatively, more and more restaurants are allowing their customers to make contactless payments. Payment transactions may be completed online or over the phone, so that money no longer changes hands upon the arrival of the food.
It’s not only the process of payment that has become contactless.
Many restaurants are also using pick-up zones so they can deliver food without the need for physical contact. Delivery drivers also call or text on their arrival so that the customers don’t need to wait outside for their food.
There may be some situations where contactless delivery is not possible. In that case, both customers and delivery personnel alike must take additional precautions.
Both the customers and the riders must wear face masks while interacting to lower the chances of infection. The process of delivering the food must also be completed as quickly as possible. You and the driver must also remember to keep six feet between each other while completing the transaction.
Regardless of whether you opted for contactless or the more conventional form of delivery, you as the customer must still wash your hands before digging in.
What You Should Do with the Remaining Containers and Utensils
Once you finish eating, you will have paper bags, food containers, and utensils that came with your delivery. Should you be wary of those items, and how do you dispose of them?
In an interview at the National Safety Council, Professor Patrick Beach of William Rainey Harper College’s Hospitality and Food Service Management Department stated that the packaging and the other items included in your order are safe to handle. Professor Beach notes that condiment packets and utensils packaged in sealed bags are never even touched by bare hands.
Still, it is important to wash your hands with soap and water once you’ve cleaned up the packaging.
Additional Precautions to Keep in Mind
Hopefully, the information laid out in this article can offer you enough assurance to trust that food delivery services remain safe and viable during this pandemic.
Before wrapping things up, we want to leave you with some additional tips to follow if you want to keep you and your family safe from the novel coronavirus.
- Immunocompromised individuals may want to steer clear of ordering raw food such as sashimi for now. Going for cooked dishes is safer as exposing food to high temperatures gets rid of viruses.
- Order only from establishments that abide by FDA guidelines. If there’s a restaurant in your area you frequented in the past that had its run-ins with the health department, it’s best to avoid ordering from them. The only way to be certain that your food is coming from a clean kitchen is to order from a restaurant that is following the rules set by the FDA.
- Try to limit the number of deliveries to your area. Check with your neighbors if they are also thinking about ordering out so that the rider only needs to make one trip to your area.
- Transfer food outside of the delivery containers before eating. You may unwittingly start touching your mouth while you’re eating, so it’s best to have your food on a plate you washed personally instead of the delivery container.
- Don’t get lazy about washing your hands. It’s a good idea to wash your hands whenever you touch something you did not clean previously. For now, it’s better to be too diligent with your handwashing as opposed to lacking in that area.
This is a scary time we’re all living in, and it’s tempting to shut ourselves off from the outside world. That is not healthy, however.
Even during these trying times, it’s still worth indulging in little pleasures such as delicious food. Plus, your orders are helping workers and businesses that are likely struggling during this time.