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There were many things to miss during the lockdown phase of the pandemic. This includes and isn’t limited to missing dining at your favorite restaurant. The temptation of treating yourself to a dinner in your favorite eatery often became too much, especially once lockdowns started lifting. As businesses reopened, many wondered if it was safe to eat out again and risk on-site dining.
GIDEON Founder and infectious disease and microbiology specialist Dr. Stephen Berger answered questions about safe dining amid COVID-19 for Healthline, the LA Times, and CNN.
The short answer is no; the longer answer is also still no, but with some facts to back it up. Specifically, there have been no cases of COVID-19 associated with the ingestion of foods, but the question is well-founded.
Coronavirus is, after all, caused by a virus that enters the body through the nose or mouth. Food items are, after all, objects which may be contaminated with the virus and placed in the mouth — but like many other viruses, bacteria, and parasites, these will be swallowed and most likely destroyed by stomach acids. Should the virus survive into the intestine, no pathway will carry it to the lungs.
The virus of COVID-19 must enter the respiratory system to produce the disease. There is the possibility that material could travel from the mouth through the larynx and into the lungs. It is thought that acquisition of coronavirus through this route rarely occurs.
Plus, we can look at similar viruses like the SARS virus, a close relative of the virus of COVID-19, which is inactivated at temperatures of 56 to 65 degrees Celsius (132.8 to 149 degrees Fahrenheit). So, even in the improbable event that there was a concern of COVID via food, it would be inactivated during the cooking process.
Dr. Berger says that one of the most important things to consider is whether a restaurant is set up for safe social distancing and keeping the designated six-foot separation between tables.
Also, he says, “before sitting down and asking for a menu, check to confirm that the restaurant staff is wearing masks and that these masks cover their noses and mouths.”
Dr. Berger reminds those venturing to dine out that any number of objects found in a restaurant could potentially be contaminated with the virus–such as tablecloths, menus, salt shakers, credit card machines, chairs, and doorknobs—but it is only harmful if it then gets into the body. Scrupulous attention to basic hygiene (handwashing and sanitizing) before and after eating must be followed.
A restaurant is an accessible place for the virus to spread. There are multiple contact points (cutlery, napkins, plates, glasses, etc.), often an enclosed space with recirculated air, where you are also generally close to fellow people, diners, and staff. Most importantly, you will need to take off your mask.
“Eating means taking off your mask, and that’s the golden rule of avoiding coronavirus,” Dr. Berger told CNN. When combined with the other risk factors, deciding to dine out is not one you should make idly. “Think twice about going to a restaurant,” said Dr. Berger. And if you live in a big city, make it “three times.”
Thankfully, many businesses provide takeaway services, where perhaps they did not before, so if you can still get the food you want without compromising your safety and that of others – consider that option. And if you are getting your food delivered, remember to be a little more generous with the tip if you can, as the staff and drivers are working hard to keep you fed and safe. If you decide to dine out nevertheless, keep yourself and others healthy and safe.
Other ways you can check if a restaurant is working hard to keep the spread of the virus to a minimum are if they offer disposable menus and silverware, hand sanitizer for guests, contactless payment, and strictly adhere to limited seating.
Finally, Dr. Berger suggests it might be better to opt for a table outside, if possible, or a “large, open, and ventilated spot.”
Summer picnics are a fantastic way to spend time with the family, enjoying beautiful parks and weather. Before you pack that hamper, take a few minutes to learn how you can stay safe and be prepared.
Keep It Outside
This might seem odd advice for a picnic, but you can never guarantee the weather, so if your picnic gets rained off, you may be tempted to take the family indoors.
Bars, restaurants, cafes, and halls make it extremely difficult to distance socially. Even if the establishment has made special arrangements, close interaction with staff or other patrons is almost unavoidable. Coupled with recirculated air, or worse, no ventilation, it is a prime area for spreading diseases through contact or inhalation.
Respect Your Personal Space
It’s hard to imagine spending time with friends and family without sharing a hug, throwing a ball around, or shaking hands. Just think about the number of times you’d usually be in close or direct contact with family friends – sharing food, passing out plates or napkins, handing out drinks. Respect your own social space and that of others and avoid direct contact with anyone outside your household, even if you know and trust them. Symptoms can take weeks to manifest, if they do at all, so remain cautious while out and about or hosting visitors. And remind your kids not to run off too far and be careful with what they touch.
Location, Location, Location!
With specific areas and cities being more greatly affected than others, check the situation in your area and use your best judgment. For those most at risk, the elderly, and sufferers of chronic diseases, the safest option is remaining at home and making the most of any personal gardens.
This may seem cruel when you may not have had the opportunity to see family and friends for a long while and open, clean air and spaces seem the perfect place to reconnect, but please seriously consider your situation.
Don’t Forget Your Face Mask
Even though picnics are primarily about food and drink, please take your face mask. It can be awkward when eating and drinking, but it protects you significantly when walking through crowded areas – of course, keep your distance as much as possible.
One way to make wearing a mask more fun is to decorate your face cover for the occasion, and it could be a great way to encourage the kids to keep the masks on! Avoid using paints or anything that will drastically affect the absorbency of your mask – felt tips or chalks should be perfect – or pin on decorations!
Keep It Clean
The safest way to approach anything you didn’t bring with you is to consider it dirty or even contaminated. Either wipe it clean before you use it or immediately wash your hands after using it. This may seem extreme, but you cannot see any traces of a virus left behind by other people, and anyone could have a virus without showing symptoms, so it is better to be safe than sorry. You have the benefit of controlling what you bring on a picnic, so make sure you have enough of what you need, so you can dine and play worry-free.
The local and state-wide lockdowns have forced us to stay at home and businesses to close their doors for what feels like forever. While takeaways have mostly stayed open, it is perfectly normal to miss the buzz of your favorite restaurant.
Even though it may have opened the doors again and taken measures to protect you and its staff, we must not forget the virus is still at large. The risk of contracting COVID remains, especially within the cities and built-up areas, so consider your acceptable levels of risk. The virus is particularly dangerous if you or people in your family or social group are immunocompromised.
You could also consider getting vaccinated against COVID for added protection for your health when you have to go out or if you decide to eat at a restaurant during the COVID pandemic. Vaccination can contribute to your wellness as lockdowns lift, and we all head back to our favorite food establishment. Indoor dining will soon no longer be a thing we had pre-covid. If you have more questions, it may be helpful to check out the National Restaurant Association FAQ page for COVID.
GIDEON is one of the most well-known and comprehensive global health databases for infectious diseases. Data is refreshed multiple times during the day, and the GIDEON API allows medical professionals and researchers access to a continuous stream of health data. Whether your research involves quantifying health data, learning about specific microbes, or testing out differential diagnosis tools– GIDEON has you covered with a program that has met standards for accessibility excellence. You can also review our eBooks on Alkhurma, Botulism, Cryptococcus, etc. Or check out our global status updates on countries like Algeria, Canada, Iceland, and more!