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Let's talk takeout

June 6, 2020

Humans,

Let’s talk about take-out food. As with house cleaning and socially distanced visits, I couldn’t find hard data or studies so again this is a science-minded thought experiment informed by reading “expert” opinions. 

Before you read this, please remember that the only 100% certain way to not get infected from take-out is to simply not get take out. This is a personal decision based on your personal circumstances and your risk tolerance. With all those disclaimers, here are my thoughts on how to minimize the risk if you do decide to roll the dice:

  • Get take-out from a restaurant that is taking the pandemic seriously. A quick scan of the website should give you a sense of this. 

  • Order and pay online instead of interacting directly with folks at the restaurant. 

  • Many restaurants are coming out and bringing food to the car. Have them place the food directly in the trunk. That way you don’t even need to roll down your window or open your door and would certainly be at lower risk than taking it directly from the restaurant worker. 

  • Remember the packaging is theoretically where the risk lies. So, treat the bag and containers as the potential fomite (fancy medical way to say the inanimate object that has the virus on it). Toss the bag in the trash ASAP and get the food out of the containers. Throw them away quickly and touch them as little as possible. Clean off any areas that could have been contaminated by the containers. Of course, and most importantly, wash your hands immediately after touching the “contaminated” items. This whole process shouldn’t take more than a minute or two once you get the hang of it. 

  • As the virus doesn’t like heat, I would think hot food would be safer than cold. The sequence of actions that would need to happen for you to theoretically get infected from the food (vs the containers) would be that the virus would need to land on the food and then get to your nose or eyes (by touching the food and then your nose?). Also, I haven’t read anything that would suggest that you can get infected from eating the virus. So, it seems that while contracting the virus from the food containers seems pretty low, getting it from the food directly seems even lower.  

Anyway, I read in researching this that there has been no evidence that anyone contracted the virus from a food container or grocery packaging, but I have no idea how anyone could say that. There are plenty of people that got the infection and have no idea how they contracted it. I think with the info we have, we still need to consider this as an activity that carries some risk. We just don’t know how much. So if you decide to partake. I think it is wise to take a little care.

By the way, just because we are having harm reduction conversations doesn’t mean the virus is gone. In fact, at least here in Texas, cases are going up pretty fast. So really here in Texas, you are at more risk now of getting infected than you were 1 month ago. 

Stay emotionally connected and physically distant,

Greg

PS: I’m not likely going to a restaurant until there is a vaccine, but here is an article about going to a restaurant that I found when I was reading for this letter. The discussion on risk is excellent. I kind of got the weird sense that Dr. Adalja from Johns Hopkins read some of these letters ;). But, because it was about eating in a restaurant and not take-out, to the PS section it is relegated. 

PPS: Looks like the Swedes think they should have done more. Here are a couple of letters from Swedes being read on a TWiV episode back on the May 17 episode along the same vein. It is about 6 min. It is eye-opening.  

PPPS: A KaiNexian forwarded this to the team and it gave a welcomed perspective of the, in her words, “dumpster fire that is 2020.”