woman grabbing bag in drive-through window

By now, many of us have stocked up one pantry staples like pasta and canned soups as we hope to flatten the curve amid coronavirus (COVID-19) fears. But what happens when you want to try a little something different while supporting local businesses?

Is it safe to eat takeout food? Should you be worried to eat food prepared by someone else during this time?

UC Davis virologist Erin DiCaprio specializes in community food safety. She was interviewed by Sactown magazine to help dispel some concerns we may have about takeout food. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Can COVID-19 be spread through food?

There is currently no evidence that there can be any transmission of the virus through food.

Let’s say someone who has the virus is cooking and they cough in the food and you then ingest that food. What happens to the virus that makes it nontransferable?

Good question. What we know about SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes the fast-spreading disease COVID-19] is that it's transmitted via respiratory droplets. That means it needs to get into your respiratory tract to cause infection. In contrast, foodborne viruses are transmitted by the fecal-oral routes – you actually have to eat those particular viruses, like norovirus or hepatitis B, in order to get an infection.

How safe would you consider takeout food or food delivery?

When we talk about food safety, there's never a zero-risk situation. There's always some level of risk. Based on our current understanding of the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, there's nothing that really points to food being an important vehicle for transmitting the virus. If someone has an active SARS-CoV-2 infection and they cough on packaging, there is the potential for someone to then touch that packaging and subsequently touch their mucous membranes. At that point, the virus can enter their respiratory tract. But I would say the risk of that is very low. If you're getting takeout and you're concerned about who's handling that food, the best thing to do is wash your hands before you consume the product. Take the food out of the packaging, put it on a plate, and then wash your hands before you eat.

We’ve seen studies showing the virus can live on various surfaces. On plastics it can survive for a couple of days, on cardboard it can live for 24 hours. How concerned should people be about touching food packaging that may be contaminated?

I think it's a pretty low-risk situation. But again, if you're handling cardboard or plastic packaging of any kind, you can clean and sanitize counters or tables where the packaging was placed. Just be cognizant of all the surfaces that you touch and try to make sure that you're washing your hands and avoiding touching your face as much as possible.

Read the rest of the Sactown magazine article with Dr. Erin DiCaprio