Food Safety in the Corona Era

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, the fate of many restaurants is hanging tenuous. In a time where dining in is becoming increasingly restricted or flat-out banned, restaurants are beginning to expand their delivery services. While this is certainly not ideal, this may help some restaurants mitigate the upcoming financial storm. But with this new era of social distancing, what types of food precautions should we be following? And, most importantly, is it safe to order takeout—for both the customer and worker?

To date, the CDC and FDA have said there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging. That’s good news. However, what about the delivery person spreading the virus to the customer (or vice versa)? How are restaurants working to minimize the risks to both the delivery person and customer?

Despite the lack of evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the virus, it is possible that the virus can survive on surfaces or objects for up to three days. For that reason, it is crucial to wash your hands thoroughly and often, including the packaging and utensils (or better yet, go green and ask to opt out of additional utensils and paperware). For that reason, restaurant workers should always follow safe food handling procedures, such as washing hands and surfaces often.

Strict food safety regulations are nothing new to the restaurant industry. Restaurants are actually highly regulated by health officials and have had protocols in place for years to avoid spreading influenza, norovirus, hepatitis A and other viruses.  Restaurants workers should continue to follow the regular food safety guidelines as set by the USDA, as well as these enhanced measures from the CDC:

  1. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  3. Stay home when you are sick.
  4. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  5. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  6. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

Companies are beginning to enact their own safety measures during the outbreak. For example, DoorDash, which also owns Caviar, is waving commission fees for restaurants during this time. It is also distributing hand sanitizer and gloves to drivers and is working with restaurants to share some best practices for handling food at this time, like taping over ends of straws. Customers from both platforms have the choice of contactless delivery, if requested.

Grubhub (which also owns Seamless) is deferring commission fees from independent restaurants and is providing drivers and restaurants with the CDC’s recommendations for best hygiene and appropriate precautions for interacting with others. Grubhub’s ap lets the customer select the delivery option that suits them best at checkout. The driver can leave food at the door, in the lobby, or anywhere else the customer specifies.

Uber Eats has also waived delivery fees from local, independent restaurants. Additionally, the company will allow restaurants of any sizes the option to receive daily payments, rather than the usual weekly payment schedule.  It is also giving drivers disinfectant for their cars and is prioritizing cities with the greatest need.

Fast food chains like KFC, McDonalds, Chipotle and Blaze Pizza are offering free delivery. Chipotle has even created a tamper-evident seal, developed limited-contact delivery options, and a created new delivery tracker feature. They also developed a specialized delivery kitchen specifically to fulfill their delivery orders.

Drizly, the under-an-hour alcohol delivery service, is limiting deliveries to only residential or corporate addresses. They are also working to limit customer and driver contact by implementing touch-free ID scanning and eliminating the need for customer signatures.

Postmates has committed to protecting their drivers by offering two-weeks paid leave if a driver tests positive for the virus. The company will place the driver’s account on a temporary hold until they can confirm the virus has “passed through the incubation period” in efforts to prevent community spread. Postmates is also offering a selection of non-contact delivery options for customers.

It is imperative during this time that restaurants, delivery services, and customers all work together to eliminate the transmission of the coronavirus from food delivery.

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