Will I Get Coronavirus from Ordering Takeout?

The lowdown on safety and ethics in Portland’s new takeout-only restaurant reality.

By Benjamin Tepler March 18, 2020

Image: Shutterstock

Much ink has been spilled on this topic already, as a growing number of states have enacted mandatory closures for restaurants and bars in the wake of coronavirus. Here are the facts (and some opinions), so far, pulled from reliable publications and primary sources. 

Can I Get Coronavirus from Eating It?

Very unlikely. Here’s the official scoop from the CDC: “Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness and not gastrointestinal illness, and foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.”

That’s grew news. The not-so-great-news: COVID-19 can be transferred through fecal matter (check out this recent study on ScienceDirect for the nitty-gritty)—that is, if the people preparing your food aren’t using best personal hygiene practices, your chances of contracting COVID-19, or something equally sinister, are much higher.

What Can I Do About It?

Only order from establishments you trust. We know, for example, that Courier Coffee’s Joel Domreis is a total clean freak when it comes to roasting and delivering freshly roasted beans. You can check a restaurant’s Multnomah County health inspection records in this database to get a sense of its health standards.

Is There Coronavirus on My Takeout Box?

Possibly, but the risk is relatively low. The Washington Post interviewed Vincent Munster, chief of the Virus Ecology Section of Rocky Mountain Laboratories, part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has been studying coronavirus lifespan. From WaPo: “Experiments found that at least some coronavirus can potentially remain viable — capable of infecting a person — for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. On a copper surface, it was four hours, the study found. The median length of viability for the virus on stainless steel was 13 hours, and 16 hours on polypropylene, a common type of plastic. Amid these precautions, people should understand that surfaces that contain the virus — known to scientists as fomites — are not the major drivers of this pandemic. Covid-19 is primarily spread through direct person-to-person contact.” 

What Can I Do About It?

Publications like The Verge advocate that diners “discard the packaging your takeout comes in as soon as possible and wash your hands straight after.” The Guardian, meanwhile, in an interview with Dr Stephen Morse, epidemiologist, had this to say: “… it’s not a bad idea to wash your hands before you look through containers and potentially to wipe down some of the exterior surfaces. That’s erring on the side of caution. But I think in this time of uncertainty, it’s the prudent thing to do.” Our take? If you’re worried enough about contracting the virus on packaging to spray down your clamshell, don’t order out. Now’s a great time to master some basic home recipes.  

Is it Ethical to Put Delivery Workers at Risk?

Yes. Delivery is essential right now to minimize the spread of the virus, and a lifeline for people who are disabled and can’t cook for themselves. Delivery workers, like everyone else, need to make money to survive. Some of the most widely-used delivery services, Uber Eats to Postmates, are offering two weeks of paid sick leave for any couriers who test positive for coronavirus. Could more be done? Certainly. According to a recent Atlantic story: “In Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak began a few months ago, many delivery drivers wore protective suits and masks, and carried employer-provided hand sanitizer.” It’s not perfect, but until an Amazon-fueled, drone-led dystopian future solidifies, it’s what we’ve got.

What Can I Do About It?

Opt for contactless delivery (packages left outside your door) if it’s not the default already. It’s probably the single most effective way to protect yourself and delivery workers. And, for Pete’s sake, TIP YOUR DELIVERY PERSON (electronically, of course).

Filed under
Show Comments