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Sharing food is a great way to show someone you care during trying times. You may be looking for ways to help your neighbors during the pandemic, or maybe you just made too much cake and need to get it out of your house. Is it safe to share food in the age of the coronavirus?
The short answer is yes. As you may already know, COVID-19 primarily spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets at close range, such as when an infected person coughs or sneezes within six feet of someone else. According to both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, there is currently no evidence to support the transmission of the virus through food or food containers.
Still, Robson Machado, assistant professor and food scientist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and Jason Bolton, extension food safety specialist, said that there are steps to take if you are preparing food for someone else — not only to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but also to practice good food safety protocols.
“The person cooking should wash their hands before preparing the food and during cooking if necessary,” Machado said. “Also, cook to appropriate temperatures, avoid cross-contamination and avoid touching your face during preparation. Those are all basic food safety and personal hygiene practices that people should always follow.”
To be extra cautious, make sure the frequently touched spots in your kitchen, like refrigerator and pantry door handles, are properly disinfected, and wash your hands perhaps more often than you normally would. Additionally, you could wear a mask while preparing meals you plan to exchange, just in case.
Dropping off your tasty treats is probably the riskiest part of sharing food during the coronavirus.
“This is where a bit of difference can arise from what we would do when not in a crisis,” Machado said. “Since we are social distancing, it is recommended not to hand or deliver the food directly to the person receiving the food. The best suggestion here is to leave the food unattended, like on a porch, mailbox or [at the] front door and immediately notify the recipient.”
Machado also recommended using a secondary container around the tray or dish. Though the container will be left on a surface that does not usually come in contact with food, like the porch or mailbox, it will be transferred to a surface like a countertop, table or refrigerator shelf that does come in contact with food.
“A clean plastic bag is enough to create a barrier,” he advised. “Clean totes are also a good option, especially when the food is either hot or cold, and they are insulated.”
Machado said that recipients should remove the secondary container and put the main food container on a clean surface.
“After that, wash your hands before handling the food,” Machado said. “Also, clean any surfaces that came in contact with the container. Remember to never use soap or any sanitizer directly on the food.”
Machado also said that it is worthwhile to reheat shared food — not because of the coronavirus, but, again, because it is best practice for food safety. After all, other foodborne illnesses haven’t gone on vacation just because coronavirus hit the scene, and needing to go to the doctor with a case of food poisoning right now would be less than ideal.
“Liquid foods should be brought to a boil while all other food should be heated thoroughly to 165 degrees Fahrenheit,” Machado recommended.
Before you drop off any food, though, make sure your friends and neighbors are comfortable with the exchange. Some people may be uneasy with sharing food at the moment, despite the minimal risks. A good, helpful neighbor and friend is one that respects those wishes.
Watch: Common myths about COVID-19