As millions of us stay home and limit our exposure to other people and to public places during the coronavirus pandemic, online shopping and food delivery have boomed.
That raises some questions: Can I get infected from the mail? What if the person who makes the food is sick? Could a sick delivery person transfer the virus to me?
Good news: The risk is small. As the virus has spread across the globe, newspapers, mail, and food delivery appear to be generally safe.
Even better news: There are steps you can take to minimize that risk even further.
There is currently no evidence of COVID-19 transmission from food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration.
That means food itself isn’t the concern. What small risk exists comes from the packaging being handled by, say, an infected delivery person.
“In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures,” the CDC says.
Theoretically, there is the chance that you touch something with the virus on it and then touch your face, infecting yourself.
It’s hard to say exactly what the risk is from mail or food delivery packaging, said John Zurlo, division director of infectious diseases at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.
“We don’t have any good models for that, to truly understand it,” he said. “So should you somehow try and clean and disinfect every item that you touch or comes into the house? Boy, that’s a tough one.”
But he emphasized that available data point to the coronavirus being spread primarily through respiratory droplets, such as from coughing and sneezing. That’s why maintaining physical space through social distancing is so important.
It’s true that this coronavirus can survive on some surfaces, including up to 24 hours on cardboard and three days on plastic and stainless steel. But levels of the virus drop quickly, and being detectable is not the same thing as being infectious.
“It’s important to remind ourselves that coronavirus is spread mainly through person-to-person contact and respiratory droplets,” said Jen Caudle, a family physician and professor at Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine.
Do what you can to minimize risk, but don’t overly worry about being unable to eliminate it entirely.
In fact, delivery of food might be a good idea because it helps limit exposure to potential infection from going grocery shopping, said James E. Rogers, Consumer Reports’ directory of food safety research and testing and a former research microbiologist for the Army.
“If you’re going to the grocery store, you don’t know who else is in there with you,” Rogers said. “We know there’s not 100% compliance of fellow shoppers doing what they should be doing to minimize not only their exposure to the virus, but their exposing us to whatever they’re carrying.”
He said his family uses food delivery often.
Delivery services are also offering contact-less deliveries, in which the package is dropped off without direct handoff. That further reduces exposure because there’s no in-person contact. (Just make sure to tip online, as you won’t be handing over any cash.)
To kill off whatever virus might happen to be present, you can wipe down the packaging after receiving a food delivery, Caudle said.
Even better, she said, is to take the food out of the packaging, put it into a different container, and then throw out the packaging.
And most important is the one you’ve already heard a thousand times over, because it protects you even if you’ve actually come into contact with the virus.
“Make sure you’re washing your hands,” Caudle said. “Wash your hands a lot.”
Staff writer Jenn Ladd contributed to this article.