Dining safely during a pandemic: 8 tips for takeout food

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With restaurant dining rooms closed to curb the spread of coronavirus, more people are turning to takeout and delivered meals. But how do you keep yourself safe when getting your order?

Food safety experts with Michigan State University Extension say the key is to limiting contact with the people making and delivering your order by taking the following steps:

  • Utilize contactless delivery. Pay for your order and tip the worker in advance. If using delivery, ask the driver to leave your order outside and wait until the driver is at least 6 feet away before bringing your food inside.
  • Follow the social distancing rule. Always stay 6 feet away from any restaurant employees, including drive-thru workers.
  • Beat the rush. Order food at off-peak hours to avoid more people.
  • Wear a mask. Put on a face covering when going out, picking up takeout or going through a restaurant’s drive-thru.
  • Explore alternatives. Some restaurants feature self-service pickup counters or ordering kiosks like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Panera, which reduce face-to-face contact.

HOW TO HANDLE TAKEOUT

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says so far, there is no evidence food or food packaging is to blame for the transmission of COVID-19. However, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month found COVID-19 was detectable for as long as 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

For those who want to take extra precautions with food packaging, MSU Extension offers these tips:

  • Move your food order into dishes and immediately throw out takeout out bags and containers.
  • Wash your hands after handling takeout bags and containers and clean all surfaces the items touched.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water again before eating.

RESTAURANT WORKER RULES

While COVID-19 is not a foodborne illness, there are some rules restaurant employees should be following.

MSU Extension Instructor Kellie Lee Jordan says all food service workers should be wearing gloves when directly handling food.

Before the pandemic, sick employees were not allowed to come to work. Now a lot of counties are requiring businesses in the food industry screen their employees for illness when they come to work, according to Jordan.

In its best practices guide for handling the COVID-19 pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration recommends food industry workers wear a face mask or covering. However, Jordan says face masks are not required at this point.

KEEPING IT CLEAN: PRODUCTS TO USE

While there are plenty of products to clean food surfaces, MSU Extension food safety experts recommend traditional bleach, if you can find it.

They say you should look for a non-scented bleach that’s labeled as safe for food surfaces. To sanitize, mix 1/3 a cup of bleach with a gallon of water, leave it on the surface for seven seconds and let it dry.

While there are plenty of products out there to wash produce, the FDA does not recommend using soap to clean fresh fruits and vegetables or other solutions because there is no evidence they make a difference.

Instead, the agency sticks with the tried and true method: rinsing repeatedly under cold running water.

Food safety educator Joyce McGarry says an equal mix of water and vinegar is the only recommended solution to remove the waxy film off fruits and vegetables.

For more information, call MSU Extension’s food safety hotline at 877.643.9882 during regular business hours or submit your question online at https://ask.extension.org/groups/1956/ask.

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