Official News Magazine of the Canadian Snowbird Association

 

Takeout during COVID-19

What restaurants are doing, and what you should do, too

by Jennifer Cox

 

We’re living in unprecedented times and our ‘new normal’ comes with a whole new set of social rules, as well as health precautions that need to be carefully followed in order to ensure everyone’s safety. Given that we are social distancing, grocery shopping and meal prep has changed drastically and, in the meantime, restaurant chains and local mom-and-pop shops are struggling to keep business going. Takeout and delivery have become their main forms of retaining clientele as dine-in options in most cities are on hold, and that means adhering to new policies when dealing with food, as well as with the public.

But how safe is it to get takeout right now? It’s safe, the Canadian government says, provided that both the establishments and the customers take certain precautions.

What we know

According to numerous reports, the virus cannot be transmitted through food. The concern with takeout is more about the containers, as well as the delivery method and the contact involved with the delivery person. A recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and on other surfaces, including plastic, for up to 72 hours. However, experts say that it is not necessary to disinfect takeout boxes, but it is imperative to thoroughly wash your hands after handling them. The FDA recently posted on social media: “We want to assure you there is currently NO evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the #COVID-19,” and scientists as well as virologists were quoted by CNN and CTV News as saying that it is not necessary to wipe down takeout containers.

There is also no evidence to suggest that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus, and there are currently no reported cases of COVID-19 transmission through food.

What restaurants are doing to protect customers

Restaurants, from national chains to local one-off eateries, have been going to great lengths to ensure that they have little to no contact with food and clients. Pizza companies such as Papa John’s, Dominoes and Pizza Hut, for example, are offering zero-contact delivery: orders are placed and paid for (including a tip, if so desired) online or by phone. When the food is delivered, the driver will put the order at your door and then leave to avoid any direct contact with the customer. Some delivery personnel will even call you upon arrival to give you a heads-up that they have arrived.

At drive-thru locations, each restaurant chain is responsible for deciding how much cleaning is done between customers, shifts, etc. However, federal and provincial governments have provided general guidelines for these establishments. McDonald’s, for example, adjusted its menu and service to accommodate new rules – drink refills and reusable mugs are not allowed, and condiment stations in the restaurants are closed. All restaurant employees who handle cash and deal with clientele wear masks and gloves and must adhere to strict handwashing procedures, and wellness checks are performed at the start of a shift for all restaurant employees. Their media relations also told us that there is frequent sanitization of all high-contact surfaces and guest tables, with a dedicated employee attending to dining room sanitization. There are also Guest Experience Leaders who manage dining room occupancy and assist guests with finding a clean and sanitized table at a safe distance during peak periods.

Starbucks Canada has also put into place additional safety measures. For example, before each shift, all partners are required to take their temperature to ensure that they are ready and able to work. Starbucks has invested in development of three hours of comprehensive training −  “Opening with Excellence” − to ensure that all 20,000+ partners who are returning to their stores by the end of the month clearly understand all operational modifications to help promote increased safety and physical distancing.

Delivery service companies, such as UberEats, have ramped up their protocols to ensure that food is transported as safely as possible, too. Skip The Dishes said on their website, “All food delivery orders are now contactless to provide our users with a delivery experience they can feel confident in... the courier will leave your order at your doorstep to limit unnecessary contact.” Customers may receive a confirmation call or can get real-time updates.

What you can do to be doubly (and triply) sure that you’re safe?

Use contactless payment whenever possible. Avoid any direct exchange of money or handling of Interac machines.

Wash your hands thoroughly before and after receiving your takeout food. This is, and always has been, the best defence against COVID-19.

Transfer the food to your own containers upon arrival. As soon as the food arrives, move it to a baking sheet or dishware, and then throw away all of the delivery containers.

You can also reheat any takeout food or hot beverage to bring the temperature back up, which would thereby kill any bacteria that may exist.

 

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