It's safe to continue eating takeout food from your favorite restaurants, and could be necessary to preserving the future Columbus dining scene
Takeout food has become a hot topic for me — or almost hot, considering it’s takeout — since my days have become fraught with concerns about COVID-19. I figured I wasn’t alone in this, so I thought I’d do some research and share what I found.
Is it safe to eat takeout food now that we’re in the throes — and the doldrums — of the coronavirus outbreak?
If you’ve already raced through the transfixing train wreck of the “Tiger King'' Netflix miniseries (potential pandemic-era catchphrase update: “Netflix and ill”) and listened to Bob Dylan's poignant and timely new 17-minute song, "Murder Most Foul," 17 times already, you're probably desperate for something more entertaining to do than trying to not touch your face.
Enjoying delicious food is one of the few avenues of amusement left open for shut-ins living through a mostly shut-down world. But unless you’re a resourceful and creative chef, you’re likely getting tired of your own cooking, not to mention the Sisyphean mountain of dirty dishes it creates.
If the prospect of chowing down on takeout goodies from your favorite local restaurants brings up the question posed above, my short answer comes from the website of the CDC, aka the Centers for Disease Control: “Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.”There are no gloves or masks needed to get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
The longer answer
Every authority in virology and food science whose expert opinion I’ve read — and I’ve read many, including studies published by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration — agrees with that CDC assessment. One prominent scientist, Angela L. Rasmussen, a virologist on the faculty of the prestigious Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity, provided this concurring quote for Forbes.com: “There is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted by eating food. I imagine that if this is possible, the risk is extremely low.”
Elaborating further in the Forbes story on the coronavirus — a respiratory virus that the World Health Organization (WHO) states "is transmitted through respiratory droplets and contact routes" — Rasmussen said, “Food is not inhaled into the respiratory tract and any virus present will likely be inactivated in the stomach” because “high acidity, low pH environments such as the stomach can both disrupt and degrade viral proteins and RNA that are other key components of the virus particle."
Besides, Rasmussen said, the cooking process alone would likely eliminate any threat of contracting COVID-19 because “heat almost certainly inactivates the virus.”
Playing it safest and going the extra yard
So the evidence strongly supports that falling prey to coronavirus through eating food is highly improbable. But you needn’t be a triple-mask-wearing worrywart who has fashioned holsters for dozens of hoarded hand-sanitizers to reasonably wonder if you’ve taken every precaution you can to feel safe about enjoying takeout food.
Enter eminent food writer and chef, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who authored The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, a James Beard Foundation award-winning book. Lopez-Alt, who has a degree from MIT and is the son of a Harvard immunologist, recently wrote a long and informative piece published on the Serious Eats website called “Food Safety and Coronavirus: A Comprehensive Guide."
In that article, Lopez-Alt sums up in catchier fashion what other experts have stated about not catching the virus by eating. The coronavirus reproduces, Lopez-Alt said, “along the respiratory tract — a different pathway than the digestive tract” and “while you might say that you just inhaled that salad, more likely you ate it.
Comparing the risks between cooking groceries at home and ordering from a restaurant, Lopez-Alt points out that the lawfully enforced hygiene standards of restaurant cooks almost assuredly eclipse those of supermarket workers — not to mention those of home cooks.
For those seeking extra measures to further minimize contamination risks, Lopez-Alt recommends washing your hands after bringing food into your home and, afterward, transferring the food to clean containers (I prefer eating takeout food off of my own plates, anyway), using clean silverware and to avoid touching your face while eating. A few more things concerned consumers can do: Sanitize the packaging that contains food before handling it, reheat the food before eating it — as previously mentioned, heat is lethal to coronavirus — and, Lopez-Alt added with tension-breaking humor, “Stop picking your nose.”
The food of love
In the unnerving new normal brought on by the ghastly pandemic, the litany of things we have been forced to live without includes sports, bars, live music venues, shops, movie theaters, art galleries and museums.
Thankfully, because restaurant food seems quite safe, restaurants haven't been forced to close. But not all restaurants have been able to remain open during this takeout-and-delivery-only era — and I worry that many won’t survive the hard times regardless.
So if you don’t want to see your favorite eateries join that aforementioned sad long list, I recommend you live a little — a little is all we have now — by ordering delicious dishes from restaurants that you love… ASAP and often.