By Mica Araneta

delivery featured image - Precautions to take when ordering food from delivery services

With Metro Manila still under quarantine, one of the heaviest concerns of people stuck at home is where to get food. A lot of people right now rely on food delivery services for their day-to-day meals. With food courier services reinstated and catapulted to the frontlines, people also question if it is safe. Not just for the riders but for the actual food, and ultimately, for the eaters. Based on current medical recommendations,  here are a few recommendations for the food delivery system.

How is the virus spread?

The current consensus in the medical field is that Covid-19 is transmitted primarily through the respiratory droplets of an infected person, which is why close contact with other people is highly discouraged. Social distancing is important. Please observe it. How does this translate into food delivery services? During transactions with the food couriers, both of you should be wearing masks. This keeps you both safe by minimizing the spread of respiratory droplets. Keep transactions as brief as possible, and both parties must keep masks on at all times.

Respiratory droplet spread is increased indoors. A second recommendation is, therefore, to receive deliveries from food couriers in open spaces. For those of you living in condominiums and apartment buildings, please put on a mask and go downstairs. It is safer for everyone involved, including the people who live in the building with you.

Other countries (like Switzerland, for example) which are also severely affected by Covid-19 have developed food delivery guidelines where the courier and customer don’t have contact at all. When the food courier comes, he places the delivery down along with a plastic envelope for cash, knocks on your door, and walks two meters away. You then pick up the delivery, place the cash in the envelope (if COD), and likewise step away two meters before he comes back. In the Philippines, Grab, Foodpanda, and other establishments that deliver also practice contactless delivery and strongly encourage customers to opt for cashless payment. Studies on respiratory droplets show that less than one percent of large respiratory particles can reach the two-meter mark. This may sound a little extreme,  but if it is possible in your setting, this little inconvenience is a small price to pay. If it is not feasible, please, at least keep masks on.

How long can droplets remain active outside of the human body?

Van Doremalen and his colleagues put out a journal that will be in the New England Journal of Medicine. This journal tested the stability of Covid-19 on different types of surfaces. On cardboard, viral particles were detected up to 24 hours, but up to 72 hours on stainless steel and on plastic. It is important to do our part in reducing viral particle transmission as best as we can.

Most of us are afraid and anxious about the Covid-19 pandemic. It is natural that our worry extends to all aspects of life, including food and food service. Fortunately, the steps that may prevent the spread of this disease are consistent: prevent the spread of respiratory droplets by wearing masks, observe social distancing, wash hands frequently, and keep the immune system up with proper food, exercise, and rest.

Thankfully, viral particles are easy to destroy with a simple solution: soap and water. Since we are just at home, make sure to instruct the food delivery services not to include utensils or straws. This way, contact with plastic surfaces is minimized right away. As consumers, it is important for us to make sure the utensils we are eating with are clean and free from viral particles. Eat with your own utensils at home, which are generally washed well with soap and water.

In terms of food handling, a precaution you may take is to please discard the outer container of the food (in a closed trash bin) as soon as you get home. Be sure to sterilize things you may have touched, like door handles or elevator buttons. More importantly, remember to wash your hands with soap for 30 seconds before you eat, and to please not touch your face until then.

Frequently washing hands is a recommendation for everyone, but may be difficult for the couriers in between deliveries. For couriers, please clean your hands with alcohol, rubbing thoroughly for 30 seconds, and wash with soap and water as soon as able. Please also make sure to wear masks and to maintain social distancing while lining up at the food establishments. This way, everyone involved stays safe.

Scientists are still examining whether Covid-19 can be transmitted via the gastrointestinal tract. Similar viruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, are commonly present with gastrointestinal symptoms, 73% and 25% respectively. These two viruses have also shown some degree of transmission via the fecal-oral route (meaning that you can get them if you eat some poop particles of an infected person). Although Covid-19 transmission via the intestines is not clear, it may be less likely. Gastrointestinal symptoms were present in only two percent to 10% of Covid-19 patients, and diarrhea is not considered a major symptom.

Fortunately, most food handlers are aware of food safety and the importance of ensuring sanitation in the workplace. Although unclear if Covid-19 can infect people via the intestines, several bacteria and parasites definitely can! The importance of proper and frequent handwashing cannot be stressed enough, especially in food service settings.

Another common question is whether the virus particles may be killed by reheating ordered food. Members of the coronavirus family, which Covid-19 is a part of, have been shown to be destroyed by heating at 56 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes, or by UV irradiation for 30 minutes. If able, you may consider steaming your food or heating it in a pan or oven toaster. This is not a strict guideline, but a warm meal is always nice.

Most of us are afraid and anxious about the Covid-19 pandemic. It is natural that our worry extends to all aspects of life, including food and food service. Fortunately, the steps that may prevent the spread of this disease are consistent: prevent the spread of respiratory droplets by wearing masks, observe social distancing, wash hands frequently, and keep the immune system up with proper food, exercise, and rest.

Food is an important part of the equation. Having enough nutrients gives us the capacity to mount an immune defense when necessary. Eating a warm meal gives us a moment’s respite from this pandemic. Eating is proof that we are alive and that we remain strong. Do not let fear keep you from eating.

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