Is it safe to share food during a pandemic?

Margaux Laskey, The New York Times

Posted at May 27 2020 08:23 AM | Updated as of May 27 2020 08:25 AM

Is it safe to share food during a pandemic? 1
A Lalamove rider delivers food for a customer in Quezon City. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File 

Maybe your big sister just had a baby, and you want to take her a home-cooked meal. Or you’d love to swap some sourdough starter for your neighbor’s famous beef stew. Or maybe you baked a birthday cake for your immunocompromised neighbor.

Cooking, baking and sharing what you’ve made is one of the few ways we can tangibly connect right now. But is it really safe?

“The general answer is ‘yes,’ ” said Elizabeth A. Bihn, a professor at the department of food science at Cornell University.

The risk of transmitting or catching coronavirus from the act of sharing food or from the food packaging itself is very low, but you should still take precautions. And the virus shouldn’t be your only concern.

“The last thing anyone wants in the time of COVID,” she said, “is to get a food-borne illness and have to go to the emergency room, which can put you at an even greater risk of catching the virus.”

Here are some tips for preparing, delivering and receiving food that will reduce the risk of transmitting or contracting the virus or a food-borne illness.

Adhere to food safety guidelines and consider allergies.

— Follow the core four practices from the Partnership for Food Safety Education: clean, separate, cook, chill. You know them, and you’ve mostly followed them, but now it’s time to strictly adhere to them. Be diligent about cleaning hands and surfaces and watchful about cross-contamination. Cook foods to appropriate temperatures, and refrigerate them promptly.

— It’s absolutely OK (and a wonderful gesture!) to take food to pregnant or nursing moms or to immunocompromised individuals. Just be even more mindful of the above guidelines.

— You don’t need to wear a mask while preparing food, but if it prevents you from touching your face or brings you peace of mind, go for it. The same goes for gloves.

— Ask about food allergies early on. Now is not a good time to have an allergic reaction. Similarly, and this should go without saying, don’t show up (or cook) with any foods certain groups shouldn’t be eating. For example, no raw milk cheeses for pregnant women and no honey for children younger than 1. When in doubt, ask before delivering.

— Don’t use soap (or even bleach) to clean vegetables and fruits. Soap and bleach can make people very sick. Instead, rinse with plenty of cool running water.

Arrange for contactless delivery or pickup.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus is thought to spread mainly through droplets produced when a sick person coughs or sneezes. So the biggest risk comes with the in-person delivery. When delivering food, wear a mask and place the food in a neutral location, 6 feet or more away, then let your friend or loved one pick it up.

Pack and unpack it smartly.

— Wrap foods in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, or in a washable, reusable container. This prevents it from becoming contaminated during transport.

— If you’re concerned about receiving a food delivery, consider how you’re going to open and handle it.

Here’s what Bihn suggests: Bring in the food, and clear off counter space for your containers. (If they’re in a bag, place the bag on the floor and remove them.) Open the containers in the designated spot, and transfer the food to a bowl, plate or one of your own storage containers. Throw away the bag, and wash the containers in hot, soapy water if they’re reusable. (Dispose of them if they’re not.) Clean the counter. Wash your hands. Eat.

Bihn acknowledges that we’re not all going to go through these steps every time we get a delivery, but if you’re worried, this process may increase your peace of mind.

Try not to stress.

Take a deep breath and remind yourself that the chances of catching or transmitting the virus from food or its packaging are unlikely. So bake that batch of cookies or simmer a pot of soup and deliver it to someone you love. It’ll do you both good. Just don’t forget to wash your hands when you get home. 

2020 The New York Times Company