Grill Hills

Should I be concerned about catching Covid-19 from takeaways?

Our food expert answers your cooking queries

05 August 2020 - 15:32
Wash your hands with soap and water after you've thrown the packaging from takeaways in the bin, advises professor Wolfgang Preiser.
Wash your hands with soap and water after you've thrown the packaging from takeaways in the bin, advises professor Wolfgang Preiser.
Image: 123RF/uchea

THE QUESTION 

Regarding the purchase of takeaways and ready-made frozen meals, are there precautions one can take for peace of mind regarding the spread of the coronavirus through food and/or the packaging? — Cautious in Cape Town 

THE ANSWER

I put the question to an expert, Prof Wolfgang Preiser, head of Medical Virology at Stellenbosch University’s department of pathology.

In an attempt to allay your fears, Preiser said he has not come across a single report of a Covid-19 case being attributed to infection via food. However, he added, “that does not prove it’s impossible but is extremely unlikely”.

“If food is prepared with standard hygiene precautions (that should be in place anyway, for there are very real threats from foodborne infectious agents — think Campylobacter, Salmonella, hepatitis A and many others), I regard it as absolutely safe.”

In terms of the outside of the packaging, Preiser’s personal experience is that most delivery services take very good care to make sure their staff do not contaminate it.

He added: “But even if someone with Covid-19 let’s say coughs into the palms of their hands and then touches the container, by the time you touch it any virus is likely no longer ‘alive’. Plus you would not only have to touch it but then touch your face, which we advise against unless you have washed your hands.

“The overwhelming route of infection is other people, which is where social distancing, wearing masks, staying home when ill, regular handwashing and so on come in.”

In conclusion, Preiser said the food itself is safe. “And when you have handled the container, throw it into the bin, then wash your hands with soap and water and all is fine.”

HAVE A COOKING QUERY? GRILL HILLS

In a cookery quandary, have a problem with a recipe, bogged down by measurement conversions, or baffled by an ingredient? For sound advice, Sunday Times food editor Hilary Biller is at your service. Send your queries to food@sundaytimes.co.za with “Grill Hills” in the subject line. If yours is selected, she'll answer it in an online article.