Can COVID-19 be transmitted through takeaway food or packaging?

With no opportunities to eat out, many people have turned to takeaway food when they need a break from cooking. However, with so much misinformation causing unnecessary confusion currently during this period of COVID-19, you asked us whether it’s safe to have takeaway food delivered or if COVID-19 can be contracted from packaging and foods.

COVID-19

In case you haven’t yet already heard enough about it, COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new virus called SARS-CoV-2 (part of the Coronavirus family). Like many other respiratory viruses, we know SARS-CoV-2 infects the cells of our airways, causing a range of symptoms, or none at all. It can spread easily from person-to-person and can be coughed into the air and onto surfaces. An individual can then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

Takeaway food deliveries

As COVID-19 continues its rapid spread in Australia, we have been advised to practice safe social distancing, to stay indoors as much as possible and minimise human contact. Sadly, this means no outings to your favourite restaurant. One of the biggest challenges this creates is getting food if you don’t feel like cooking. In light of this, many restaurants now offer food deliveries and pre-prepared meals. However, the rise of these options has led many to consider whether COVID-19 can be contracted from packaging and foods.

The evidence

According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), there are little evidence to support that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging. So far, there is no evidence that people have become infected by swallowing the virus in or on food or drink. The Europe Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has released a statement to say that “food is not likely source or route of transmission of the virus”. Even if the virus did survive on your food, it will be likely to end up in your stomach. The low pH in your stomach will inactivate and kill the virus.

Research has found the SARS-CoV-2 virus, that gives you COVID-19 the respiratory illness, may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions, such as type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment. Hard, shiny surfaces, such as benchtops, plastic and stainless steel tends to encourage the virus to stay active for longer. Porous surfaces such as cardboard or paper are less likely to hold viable amounts of the virus.

Takeaway (healthy choices, of course!) supports local businesses and takes the stress off you having to cook all the time. While there is little evidence to support the notion that COVID-19 can be transmitted through packaging, coming into contact with any surface carrying the virus can still pose risk.  Getting takeaway might not be completely risk-free, however, this risk can be reduced by taking precautions through small actions.

Some things to consider when purchasing delivered foods:

  • Ask for contactless delivery – the biggest risk of infection comes through person-to-person contact. Thankfully many delivery services are now providing contactless services, such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo. However, if you are ordering directly from a restaurant, make sure they know to avoid contact by simply asking the courier to leave the meal at the doorstep.
  • Always put the delivery bag in the sink rather than on the kitchen counter or table.
  • Transfer the takeaway food to a plate. Throw away the packaging your delivery comes in as soon as you can and sanitise the sink.
  • Wash hands before sitting down to eat – this is particularly important. After you have disposed of the packaging and before you eat, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm soapy water.
  • Use your own cutlery rather than that provided by the restaurant.

There is little evidence to support that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging. But there is no harm in taking extra precautions.

 

By Michelle Tong, APD CDE                  

 

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