How to Sanitise Your Food Delivery: Order, Transfer, Dispose, Repeat

Safe handling measures for cooked food, frozen desserts and juices.

Sayoni Bhaduri

Settling into the work-from-home routine, I find myself poring over the laptop screen for hours on end, at times even exceeding work hours. With little mojo and time left to dish up a decent meal at home, home delivery or takeout from restaurants have become a go-to option during the lockdown. But with COVID-19 showing no signs of slowing down, is it worth taking the risk of eating your favorite meals in the comfort of your own home?

According to international healthcare bodies, including WHO, American FDA, Europe Food Safety Authority as well as Indian FSSAI, there has been no evidence that COVID-19 infection can be spread via food. The same, however, cannot be said for the person handling and delivering your food. Dr Sunita Dube, Founder of MedScapeIndia and Aryan Trust elaborates, “The risk arises when people preparing and delivering your food are exposed to the virus. It is very important that we take the necessary precautions while preparing and delivering meals.” She goes on to specify that restaurants must take care that they ban entry of all outsiders inside the kitchen, including vendors and delivery executives, and ensure that their staff wears three-ply masks, hand gloves, aprons at all times while working.  “It is important to take these precautions because if not taken seriously one might end up getting exposed to the virus and may pass it along to other people as well,” she adds.


As a consumer, there are simple steps to sanitise home delivered restaurant food that can mitigate the risk. Here’s what you can do to make sure your deliveries are as safe as possible.


Order food from well-known food apps

Food aggregator apps such as Zomato, Swiggy, and even Dunzo, have restaurant listings that are operating in your area. They have also gone the extra mile to highlight restaurants with safety procedures in place, including tracking temperatures of delivery executives. It is best to order from these apps, if there is any cause for alarm these apps will be the first to take the restaurants off their listings.

While delivery personnel, employees and everyone involved in the delivery network are constantly monitored and equipped with sanitisers and personal protection equipment. Tibin Anthony, Vice President - CEO & Founder's office, Housejoy adds that customers too must observe hygiene and sanitation practices to ensure everyone’s safety. “We urge them to maintain social distancing while receiving the products and encourage them to carefully sanitise the goods received before consumption,” he says.


Pay online

Most e-commerce platforms, including food aggregators, have already initiated mandatory online payments. You must insist on this as well. It is impossible to track how many hands currency changes and with it the number of viruses and parasites. Online transactions bypass this risk altogether. From net banking to UPI and e-wallets, there are many options available now. 

No contact delivery

Many housing societies are restricting access to non-residents. Many delivery services also don’t let their executives to enter building premises. And it is a good thing even if you have to go the main gate to pick up your food delivery; just think of it as some extra steps that count on your fitness tracker.

Some housing societies allow you to keep a bag or box outside your doorstep for the delivery executive to just deposit your takeaway parcel to ensure that there is zero human-to-human contact.


Transfer the food in your home utensils and dispose the takeaway containers

According to a report by WHO, COVID-19 virus can live on different surfaces for different amounts of time, depending on relative humidity and temperature:
• Up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel
• Up to 4 hours on copper and
• Up to 24 hours on cardboard

So, it is a safe practice to transfer your home delivered biryani on to a plate from your kitchen rather than digging straight into the takeaway box. Many restaurants send paper napkins and disposable cutlery—avoid it. Most food aggregator apps give you the choice to opt out. If the restaurant you’re selecting doesn’t have this option, leave an instruction while placing the order.

Once you’ve done with the box, throw the takeaway box as well as the paper bag or the non-woven carry bag your food comes in, in the trash immediately. Make sure that you have a dustbin with a lid so that no one comes in contact with the disposed packaging.


Wash your hands

This doctrine, three months into the pandemic, should have become a second nature by now. You’ve just handled package delivered from outside, it is an imperative that you wash your hands thoroughly, for at least for 20 seconds as mandated by WHO. “The food itself is less likely to transmit the virus as until so far transmission of COVID-19 via food is not known. Handwashing before receiving the parcel and starting meal is recommended along with reheating of the food delivered,” adds
Dr Subrata Das, Senior Consultant - Internal Medicine and Diabetology at Bengaluru-based SAKRA World Hospital.

Wash your hands again once you’re done eating.


Reheat the food

This may seem like an overkill, but it is better to be safe than sorry. While there is no proof that coronavirus spreads through food, researches show that heating food ensures that risk of pathogens is reduced. According to Five Keys To Safer Food Manual by WHO, “The danger zone is the temperature range of 5⁰C to 60⁰C in which microorganisms multiply very fast. Microorganisms cannot multiply if it is too hot or too cold. Once temperatures reach 50⁰C most microorganisms do not multiply.”

The best way to reheat your home delivery food and leftover is the microwave over as per Mayo Clinic. The internal temperature of the food needs to reach minimum of 75⁰ C. Depending on your oven brand and its power, this could take anywhere from two and a half to three minutes. However, prolonged reheating should be avoided as it may denature the nutrients in one’s food, says Dr Das.

It is also a good idea to avoid ordering in salads, even if you may have a soft spot for watermelon feta salad. With the onset of monsoon, raw food from outside is best avoided; just make it at home!


What about my ice cream?

Reheating restaurant food is all well and good, but what about the need to satiate your ice cream or chocolate pastry craving? And what about the cold-pressed juices you’re addicted to? Dr Dube says, “A responsible choice during the pandemic would be using reusable bags and containers to carry and store items like ice cream, dairy products and juice containers as these can be washed properly at home.

Though washing a single serve cup of ice cream or pastry is not practical, the same rule of transferring it into your own plate or bowl and then discarding the container is a good way to go. Siddhant Kamath, Director at Naturals Ice Cream suggests scooping the ice-cream out in crockery or containers. “If required, transfer the contents for storage in another container in the fridge if there is an excess of ice cream left,” he adds.


A word of caution: While supporting your favourite restaurant during these difficult times seems like a gesture of goodwill, but your health and safety lies in your hands. So, keep that in mind when you are ordering in.

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