Having food delivered can be a real treat when you're tired and don't want to cook. It's also an option if you're sick and can't travel but still need a decent meal. You may be concerned, however, that ordering food for delivery might be a source of transmission of disease, though your actual risk is minimal if you practice takeout and delivery food safety.
Is It Safe to Eat Takeout and Delivery Food?
In terms of whether you can contract a disease from the food you order for takeout and delivery, realize that there's always some risk when eating food. This is just as true whether it was prepared in a restaurant or at home by you and your family. There is always a potential for a foodborne illness such as salmonella, but the easiest way to keep yourself is by practicing the "core four" techniques promoted by the U.S. Food and Drug Association. If these are practiced by the restaurant when they prepare the food and by yourself at home, you will do much to reduce the risk of catching harmful bacteria and pathogens. If you have concerns that a restaurant is not practicing safe food handling practices, avoid ordering from them and contact your local health department.
How to Reduce Risk When Ordering Food
If your concern is catching a disease such as COVID-19 from ordering food, the risk is again minimal. Your biggest risk is more from the face-to-face interaction with your delivery person and restaurant staff, assuming that they might be ill and unknowingly pass on bacteria and germs.
Keeping yourself at least six feet away from your delivery or restaurant staff is safest, as this is the most likely way you'll contract germs. You can also additionally wear a face mask, which is recommended by public health officials in times of crisis like a pandemic. Ask the delivery person politely if they would mind putting the food down and wait until they move away from it before going to pick it up.
Delivery or Takeout?
Whether delivery or takeout is safest is dependent on the situation. If the restaurant allows for no-contact delivery, this is an excellent choice as you can get your food without coming near the other person. For a restaurant that requires you to come inside to pick up the food, this can be harder, but you may have restaurants that have face shields in place to minimize contact, or a drive-thru window where staff is at a safe distance. You'll have to look at your options on a case-by-case basis and choose the one that involves the least contact.
Traditionally delivery staff have asked you to sign a receipt when they deliver food. Avoid any restaurant that asks you to do this and ask in advance if you can pay online and include the tip in your online payment as well. If you do have to interact with and pay the delivery person, use your own pen, wear gloves and make sure you wash your hands when you are done. Likewise, if you give them your physical credit card, you can wipe it gently with a disinfectant wipe. If you choose to give a cash tip, place it somewhere you can point out so you can avoid physically handing cash to them.
Have a Designated Delivery Area
If you can pay online and leave instructions to place the food somewhere for no-contact delivery, have a spot ready to go in or around your home for delivery. Make sure you include information on where that is in your online delivery notes. Possible options are a sunroom or mudroom that is attached to your house, an open garage, your front door step or place a large cooler outside your door with a sign indicating to put the food inside. You should also be sure whatever spot you choose is safe from weather, as you don't want your food rained on before you pick it up.
Wash Your Hands and Don't Touch Your Face
Whichever way you choose to handle your deliveries, once you bring the food inside, immediately wash your hands thoroughly. You should do this as soon as you are done handling the food as well. Wash any surfaces that the food came into contact as well, such as your kitchen counters. Washing your hands is the most powerful way of reducing germ and bacteria transmission. The second part of washing your hands is making yourself constantly aware of where your hands are and refrain from touching your face before your hands are clean.
Throw Out the Containers
Since research has found that viruses and bacteria can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours, it's safest to immediately remove your food from the containers it came in and place them in temperature-appropriate containers that can be covered. Toss the original containers out immediately. You should also throw out any bags that the food comes in immediately, and if possible throw it in an outside garbage can and carry the food containers individually into the house.
Use Your Own Utensils
Opt to use your own kitchen utensils for serving and eating your meals. If your restaurant provides utensils, you are better off tossing these out and using your own. You can do a better job of sanitizing and cleaning your reusable forks, knives and spoons than plastic ones provided by the restaurant. Let the restaurant know ahead of time not to include them if you have that option during online delivery, as it will save them money by not providing utensils you won't be using.
Keep Food at the Appropriate Temperature
Food should be kept at the right temperature to keep it safe.
- If you ordered hot foods, you should keep them warm. Do not let them sit for two hours or more without eating or refrigerating them. If you are not going to eat immediately, your safest options are to either put the food in the refrigerator and reheat them later. Or place them in a preheated oven or a warming tray used by caterers.
- Owning a food thermometer is very helpful here, as the cooked food should be reheated to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be safe and the food you are keeping warm should be kept at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
- For foods that are cold, such as a salad or dairy products, place them in the refrigerator immediately and definitely no later than two hours after you've brought them in. If the ambient temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more, do not let perishable food sit for more than an hour outside the refrigerator.
- Food that requires refrigeration that has been kept outside for more than two hours, or one hour if it's 90 degrees or higher, should be thrown out to prevent foodborne illness.
Stay Safe and Enjoy Takeout and Delivery Food
There's no reason to stop enjoying takeout and delivery food if you're worried about germ transmission. Even during a pandemic, if you follow safe food handling and social distancing practices, you can keep yourself safe and enjoy a nutritious meal.