Is food delivery safe amid the coronavirus pandemic?

Americans are turning to deliveries from restaurants and digital services to keep their hunger satiated during a period of COVID-19-induced self isolation and quarantine. But there are still lingering questions on whether people can be infected from either their food or the person delivering it.

Can I become infected with the novel coronavirus from the food that is delivered to me?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or its packaging. This is also supported by Australia and New Zealand’s Food Standards agency, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, the European Food Safety Authority, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment

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What the FDA does note, however, is “like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. For that reason, it is critical to follow the 4 key steps of food safety—clean, separate, cook, and chill.“ 

The FDA discusses how foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses, such as norovirus or hepatitis A, make people sick through contamined food, but SARS-CoV-2 "is a virus that causes respiratory illness."

Harvard Health Publishing noted that individuals catching COVID-19 through food "would more likely be the exception than the rule."

However, Harvard Health Publishing did note that "the virus that causes COVID-19 has also been detected in the stool of certain people," and that the possibility could not be ruled that an infected person who has not thoroughly washed their hands could transmit the virus. "In the case of hot food, the virus would likely be killed by cooking. This may not be the case with uncooked foods like salads or sandwiches."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says because of the poor survivability of coronaviruses in general on surfaces, there is a low risk of the virus being spread through food packaging or food itself that is "shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures."

Can I become sick from the person delivering my food?

It is possible to become infected with COVID-19 from a person making a delivery. Even if the person delivering your food is following proper hygiene and social distancing protocols, it is still possible that they have COVID-19 and are not yet showing symptoms, or they could have the condition and be asymptomatic. 

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The FDA notes that “the virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading from person-to-person in some communities in the U.S. The CDC recommends that if you are sick, stay home until you are better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others.”

How can I help to prevent COVID-19 infection from food deliveries? 

Practice social distancing guidelines with the individual making the delivery. For example, DoorDash has temporarily made all of its deliveries no-contact by default. Seamless, Grubhub and Postmates also offer no contact deliveries, and Uber Eats allows customers to add delivery notes, such as requesting that their driver leave their food on the front porch.

For those who are ordering food delivery directly from a restaurant, they can also request to see if no contact options are available.

Additionally, you can take precautions with uncooked foods, such as those described by the CDC, like washing your hands vigorously before and after receiving the delivery.