The news is constantly changing as experts learn more about the wicked virus that has invaded our world. Good, reliable information about food safety is absolutely crucial right now.
Restaurants have mostly moved into "to-go only" mode, closing their dining rooms but continuing to offer some combination of takeout, drive-thru and home delivery. Can we rely on any of these options to keep us safe? Should we?
Yes, we can stay safe, according to the Food and Drug Administration's current position, provided we take precautionary measures. Just keep this in mind: Ordering prepared food is not quite as safe as preparing your own food at home. But it is definitely a safer option than eating in a restaurant dining room, where the major risk is touching a table or another surface that has been touched by someone who is contagious.
Here are some things that experts are recommending we keep in mind when ordering food during this breakout:
WASH YOUR HANDS
We've heard it a million times already, but it bears repeating because it is pretty much the most important thing you can do, second only to, "Stop touching your face!"
Wash your hands (or use hand sanitizer) both before and after you receive your delivery. And, as always, wash your hands before you eat, even if you made the food yourself.
MINIMIZE HUMAN CONTACT
Contactless delivery is the new term, and it is defined as receiving your food without coming face-to-face with someone else. Bear in mind that your delivery itself will have made contact with at least one other person.
DISCARD ALL PACKAGING
Make it your standard practice to discard the packaging materials — paper or plastic bag, receipts, menus — that came into the house with the food. Researchers have found that the virus can survive on surfaces for a few hours to a few days, depending on the surface material. Then wash your hands. Again.
Clean your eating surface with soap and water or a disinfectant approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, like Sniper or Clorox wipes. And while you're at it, clean the surface where you set down the bags, boxes and any other things that have come in from the outside world.
DON'T EAT WITH YOUR HANDS
Even though you have just washed your hands prior to eating, using utensils can further decrease the possibility of contamination. Those little packets of sauce and condiments? Make certain to clean and disinfect them prior to opening. Or make it even easier on yourselves, and toss them out in favor of your own items from the fridge.
OPT FOR COOKED ITEMS
According to Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, as cited in the March 14 issue of The Atlantic, "Cooked foods are unlikely to be a concern unless they get contaminated after cooking," That's why he suggests not ordering raw items from takeout. Make your own salad at home, following good hygiene practices for cleaning fresh fruits and vegetables.
NO SHARING FOR NOW
It's never wise to share drinks or eating utensils, but we've all done that from time to time. And that needs to stop — for now. In general, according to Amy Sapkota, a professor of applied environmental health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, if you want to split a shared takeout order, divide up the food onto separate plates before eating with your own utensils.
SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESS
Ordering takeout is not 100% foolproof (show me anything in life that is), but it is a way that we can support the businesses in our local communities, provided we are diligently following the best precautionary practices. These are tough times! And we want to come through as whole as possible, with the restaurants and grocery stores we love whole as well.
Tip more than you would normally, if you can. Bear in mind contactless delivery for that person's personal safety and peace of mind. Place the tip in an envelope, and label it clearly. Then leave it where the driver will see it.
Restaurant workers are putting their own personal safety at risk to make our lives easier —- as are all of our leaders, health care workers, law enforcement officers and truck drivers.
From the bottom of our hearts — thank you!
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."
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