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Is my takeout food safe from COVID-19?

By Justin Miller

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – It is no surprise that townspeople across Smalltown, USA are making efforts to continue supporting their favorite local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. To safely serve customers, many restaurants have switched their business models entirely by offering curbside takeout food or delivery options. However, many people are wondering if this method is truly safe.

Takeout Food Safety

Alice Moore, an Alabama Extension food safety and quality regional agent, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) all say no current evidence indicates the transmission of COVID-19 by food or food packaging.

“There is no current information that says takeout or drive-through meals will increase the likelihood of illness,” Moore said. “High-risk populations, including the elderly, can use this option to maintain social distancing and reduce their risk.”

Having food delivered helps maintain social distancing guidelines and also reduces the number of touch points between the preparation and serving of food. Many restaurants have incorporated no-touch forms of payment to further protect their customers and employees.

Even with the low risk of transfer from food packaging, Moore said washing hands is the best way to ensure staying healthy.

“To further reduce your risk, wash your hands properly for at least 20 seconds,” she said. “If desired, people can use a hand sanitizer after handling food packaging.”

Takeout Food Safety at Home

In addition to avoiding COVID-19, people must take steps to avoid foodborne illnesses as well. With takeout and delivered food becoming more and more common, people must know the proper food safety guidelines for this food.

Keep Hot Foods Hot

“The FDA says that hot foods should never be left out on the counter or in a car for more than two hours without refrigeration,” Moore said. “If you are not immediately eating the food you picked up or had delivered, there are two safe options.”

• Option One- Hold the hot food in a preheated oven. Use a calibrated food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food to ensure it maintains 140°F or above.

• Option Two- Store the food in the refrigerator and reheat to an internal temperature of 165°F before serving.
Properly reheating food is extremely important. The FDA recommends that people should reheat foods containing meat, poultry, eggs or seafood to an internal temperature of 165°F. Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil to reheat.

“Do not reheat food in a slow cooker or chafing dish,” Moore said. “Through these methods, foods stay in the temperature danger zone (40°F to 140°F) for too long.”

Keep Cold Food Cold

Moore said that people should store all cold foods at 40°F or below.

“Refrigerate foods as soon as possible but within two hours after pickup or delivery,” she said. “If outside temperatures are above 90°F, including your car temperature, you have one hour to refrigerate the food.”

When picking up food on a day with high temperatures, consider using a cooler with ice or gel packs if the food will not be refrigerated within two hours or one hour if above 90°F.

For more information on food safety or other coronavirus related topics, visit www.alabamaready.info or the Alabama Extension website www.aces.edu.

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