In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants around the country continue to offer takeout and delivery services and some are now starting to offer onsite dining at limited capacity as individual states allow. Many of our patients remain concerned about keeping themselves safe while still wanting to enjoy their favorite foods and support local businesses during this health crisis. Here are five practical tips you can share to help patients decide what options are best for their individual health and safety.
1. Food Safety Rules
Begin by reminding patients that restaurants are always concerned about reducing the risk of foodborne illness. The protocol of cook, clean, reduce cross-contamination, and chill help mitigate the risk of contamination from all pathogens, not just coronavirus. Sick employees are required to stay home, frequent handwashing is encouraged, and in many states employees are now wearing masks at work. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there remains no evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted via food.
2. Picking Up Takeout Orders
Patients may not know that coronavirus spreads by touching infected surfaces then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed and contaminated hands. If a patient plans to pick up food themselves, the following are steps they can take to help reduce their risk of infection:
- Use a tissue, glove, or piece of clothing to avoid touching all door handles and common surfaces at restaurants.
- Pay ahead of time when ordering over the phone, or use a credit card instead of cash, as it’s easier to sanitize later.
- Wear a cloth mask or face covering (required in several states).
- Hand sanitize immediately after getting back into the car.
3. Receiving Food via Delivery Service
Inform patients that the goal when getting food delivered should be to minimize person-to-person contact. Most delivery services offer contact-free delivery and will leave items outside your front door. You also may leave instructions to do so under the “delivery instructions” in most food ordering apps. Remind patients to appreciate that the person delivering their food is putting themselves at risk and to leave a nice tip. Little gestures go a long way.
4. Risk of Infection From Contaminated Packaging
Whether picking food up themselves or having it delivered by someone else, a common concern is getting infected by contaminated food packaging. This is a frequently raised fear with grocery shopping, and these same tips can apply to grocery bags as well. Share these steps with your patients and remind them they can never wash their hands too often. When in doubt, wash again.
- Clean the counter space where items will be placed, then bring everything inside after the driver has left or arriving home from the restaurant or store.
- Place all items on the clean counter then immediately wash hands for 20-plus seconds with soap and warm water.
- Take out clean plates and utensils, and open the dishwasher with clean hands if doing so.
- Remove food from bags and other packaging. Use clean utensils from home or the provided disposable utensils to put all foods on to the clean plates.
- Dispose of all food packaging in the trash or recycling bin. Place dirty utensils directly into the dishwasher if used.
- Wash hands again and clean any surfaces where the bags may have touched.
- Enjoy the meal.
5. Staying Safe While Eating Out
In some states, restaurants are starting to open, many at reduced capacity. Space between tables has increased, and outdoor seating is being offered, as it’s thought to reduce infection risk.
Discuss with patients that whether and when it’s safe to eat at a restaurant is ultimately going to be an individual decision. Advise them to consider the risk category they may fall under, monitor for new cases of COVID-19 in their local community, and wash or sanitize their hands frequently.
Unfortunately, until there’s an effective treatment or vaccine for this particular coronavirus, eating at a restaurant may not be a viable option for many. Instead, patients and dietitians alike may have to continue to enjoy their favorite foods safely at home using the above tips.
— Matt Knight, RDN, LDN, is a dietitian and blogger based in Naperville, Illinois. He emphasizes eating real, local foods and translates the science of nutrition into easy-to-understand, simple, and actionable steps on his blog. Follow Matt on Twitter or Facebook to see his latest work.