Experts explain how to safely order takeout and delivery food amid the coronavirus pandemic

A McDonald's employee wears a face mask as a Glovo delivery courier picks up an order.

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A McDonald’s employee wears a face mask as a Glovo delivery courier picks up an order.
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Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
  • The coronavirus pandemic has forced restaurants and diners alike to turn to takeout and delivery. But many have wondered if it’s still safe to order food from restaurants.
  • Business Insider asked two experts about how to order takeout and delivery food safely. Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña is the director of global health at Northwell Health and an assistant professor at Hofstra University’s Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine, while Dr. Jaimie Meyer is an assistant professor of medicine and assistant clinical professor of nursing at Yale School of Medicine.
  • Cioe-Peña and Meyer agreed that both takeout and delivery are generally safe to order, as long as you wash your hands after removing packaging. Even if a worker directly coughs or sneezes into your food, you’re unlikely to catch the coronavirus from food.
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Restaurants are closing their dining rooms across the nation, and takeout and delivery are becoming the new normal. But with the coronavirus pandemic’s toll increasing every day, it can be scary to order in.

These uncertain times have raised pressing new questions for food lovers and for those stuck at home. Is it safe to order delivery? To pick up takeout?

Business Insider spoke with two experts to find out. Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña is the director of global health at Northwell Health and an assistant professor at Hofstra University’s Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine. Dr. Jaimie Meyer is an assistant professor of medicine and assistant clinical professor of nursing at Yale School of Medicine.

Business Insider: What can customers do to protect themselves when ordering takeout food or via drive-thru? Is it generally safe to order food like this?

Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña: It is safe. Generally you want to remove the packaging of the food, then wash your hands, then eat. Don’t handle the outsides of packaging and then directly eat without that step in between so you dont contaminate your hands, but risk is low.

Dr. Jaimie Meyer: If you’re looking for some variety in your diet, need a change in scenery or want to support your local restaurants, ordering food for carry-out or drive-thru makes sense. If you do carry-out or drive-thru, you’ll want to keep your distance from other people as much as possible.

Consider going at less crowded times or staying outside or in your car until your order is ready. If you can, avoid touching high-touch surfaces (like that communal pen!) Practice good hand hygiene – wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

If you are ill with symptoms of COVID-19 (primarily fever or respiratory symptoms like cough or shortness of breath) or have been diagnosed with COVID-19, please stay home. If you do have to go out for essential services while you are ill, cover your mouth with a mask (or scarf if you can’t find a mask) … Of course, then you’ll have to ask yourself whether that quick trip through the drive-thru is really essential.

BI: What can customers do to protect themselves when ordering delivery? Can they feel confident that it is generally safe to order food delivery?

Meyer said that ordering delivery is a great way to socially distance.

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Meyer said that ordering delivery is a great way to socially distance.
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Getty Images

Cioe-Peña: It is generally safe. Again, handwashing is paramount, especially after removing packaging.

Meyer: Delivery is a great way to maintain social distancing. When ordering delivery, the same basic principles apply as if you were ordering carry-out or drive-thru. Maintain as much distance as possible from other people. Consider asking the delivery person to leave the items on your doorstep or put a cooler outside of your door for dropoff.

Think twice before using that communal pen to sign or exchanging cash! If possible choose an electronic payment method (and tip those delivery people well who are putting themselves on the line to bring you pizza, cheeseburgers, and lo mein). Before eating, wash your hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Please be respectful of delivery people – if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been diagnosed with it (see above), and have to answer the door, please wear a mask or cover your mouth and nose with a scarf or other fabric. This is a great opportunity to wipe down and disinfect your light switches and doorknobs.

BI: Do you have any general guidance on the safest way to stock up on food while social distancing? How worried and cautious should people be if they need to go to the grocery store or get delivery or takeout?

Cioe-Peña: I don’t think we should be “stocking up” on food. There is no evidence that food supply chains are being threatened and the decision to stock up has overwhelmed our local grocery stores and their ability locally to restock the shelves. It also takes people we are most concerned about – seniors and those unable to completely care for themselves – and throws another obstacle up in their activities of daily living.

Meyer: As people are practicing good social distancing practices and staying home as much as possible, we should make sure we have at least a 14-day supply of basic essentials, some food, and medications. This does not mean hoarding toilet paper! In contrast to our usual individualistic approach, this is a time when we need to consider our neighbors and communities to keep everyone safe and healthy. Instead, have some supplies on hand and replenish as needed, ideally from pick-up, carry-out, drive-thru, or delivery. It is easy to panic in this time of high-anxiety and information overload – don’t. Better to be cautious and smart. When in doubt, wash your hands and stay home.

BI: If a worker directly coughs or sneezes into food, what are the chances of catching coronavirus from eating that food?

Cioe-Peña: Not likely. The transmission is through the respiratory epithelium in your nose, mouth and eyes, unlikely to be transmitted IN the food, more likely on hands while holding food packaging.

Meyer: There has been no evidence to date of food-borne transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The primary mode of transmission of the virus from person to person is through direct inhalation of droplets (as in, being within six feet of someone when they cough or sneeze and breathing it in). The FDA has issued some nice information on food safety that complements recommendations from the CDC.