- In light of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, many are staying away from grocery stores and restaurants to reduce their risk of infection.
- For those opting to order in, grocery and meal delivery services are clarifying their hygiene policies and offering options for door drop-off service so customers can avoid social contact.
- Food is not likely to be a source of infection, since the food service industry already takes careful precautions to avoid contamination, but the drop-off option can help reduce the risk of person-to-person infection.
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As cities across the US implement social distancing policies, bars and restaurants are forced to close, and supermarkets are packed with panic-buyers, people are wondering what is the best way to get food.
Fortunately, you're unlikely to get sick from the food itself because it won't carry the virus well, according to Tamika Sims, PhD, Director of Food Technology Communications at the International Food Information Council.
"Food has not been found to be a transmission vector," Sims told Insider via email, although it hasn't been ruled out and food handlers are still advised to take every precaution.
It's true that the virus can remain on some surfaces such as counter tops and door handles, but disinfectant cleaners can easily kill it, Sims and other experts noted.
What's more, restaurants, grocery stores, and delis already have strict hygiene protocols to stop the spread of germs even when there's not a pandemic.
If you are going out to the store, avoid crowded areas, wash your hands, and limit direct contact to help minimize any risks, Sims said. If you're staying in, food delivery services are implementing new practices to help you stay six feet away from the delivery worker.
If you're high-risk, consider getting groceries delivered, or shop during non-peak hours and keep hands clean
If you haven't stocked up on groceries and need to make a food run, there are a few ways to stay safe. First, consider options for getting groceries delivered, particularly if you're elderly, have underlying health conditions, or are otherwise immunocompromised.
"Going into a crowded grocery store may not be the best idea if you're high-risk. This is because you could come into close contact with a person that could be sick," Sims said.
If that's not an option for you, consider going during less crowded times of day, Sims added, or shop at small businesses and local markets which are less crowded.
While in the store, practice the same hygiene habits recommended for everyone else — keep your hands clean with sanitizer if possible, and avoid touching your face. Also try to avoid close contact with other people, keeping about 6 feet of distance, Sims said.
When you're finished shopping, wash your hands thoroughly when you get home, using soap and water and scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.
Many companies now offer drop-off delivery for people who want to avoid social contact, including take-out and groceries
Since restaurants have been ordered to close their dine-in services, take-out is becoming the only option for those who want a ready-made meal. But whether you're ordering a pizza or groceries, the risk of viral transmission comes from any person-to-person contact and not the food, Sims said.
This can be minimized by using drop-off services that limit direct contact.
Instacart, for instance, is now offering customers a "Leave at my door" option for delivery so customers can limit contact if they're under quarantine, Insider previously reported, along with new health and safety guidelines that include providing sick pay for employees, to encourage them to quarantine if necessary.
The company also encouraged customers to tip delivery workers, given the surge in demand for food delivery services.
Many other companies have followed suit, including Postmates. Popular delivery service GrubHub hasn't formally modified its options yet, but has notified customers they can specify their delivery arrangements to avoid social contact.
In the UK, meal delivery service Deliveroo also announced a "no-contact" option for orders.
Sims said these options are likely to be a safer choice since it reduces the most common means of transmission for the virus.
"This will help avoid person-to-person contact more, which is helpful," she said.
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