Earlier this week, we asked SouthCoast Health's Infectious Disease Expert, Dr. Eliesel Lacerda De La Cruz about whether or not take-out food was safe to bring home during social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He told us that it was, but offered the important tip that the packaging is where the risk lies.

Dr. Lacerda De La Cruz told us that we need to take special care in handling the take-out packaging, even cleaning it with a wipe if possible, in case it had germs from the coronavirus on it.

Later that night, we ordered take-out. I found myself wishing I had asked some follow-up questions about how to safely unpack take-out food for your family. Then I found this incredibly informative video that gets into the specifics. The video is hosted by Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, who recommends using sterile technique, a practice that is widely used in the medical field for surgeries.

The simplest way to clean packaging, says Dr. VanWingen, is to picture glitter covering it. Your goal is to figure out how to unpackage the take-out food or groceries without getting glitter in your house, on your counters, your hands, and especially your face. In this scenario, also picture that disinfectants like soap have the power to dissolve the glitter.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Put a strip of duct tape down the center of your counter or island (or wherever you drop your food).
  2. Sanitize your kitchen counter or island using a standard disinfectant like a Clorox or Lysol kitchen spray bottle. He suggests saturating a handful of paper towels to wipe down the counter.
  3. After cleaning the entire counter, one half of the counter will be considered dirty (and ready for objects from the outside world) and the other will be considered clean and sanitized.
  4. Wash your hands
  5. You can then carefully sort the food away from the packaging, discarding the dirty containers and putting the food on your clean plates.

The good news is that you don't have to worry very much about the actual food. The COVID-19 coronavirus does not live very long on food. The wrappers and packaging are what need to be handled with care.

An added layer of precaution could be to give your food a quick little zap in the microwave or heat it up on the stove. However, some coronavirus strains (not the COVID-19 one) have been known to live frozen for up to two years! You are better off choosing a hot meal from a take-out restaurant during this pandemic.

The video demonstrates with fine detail how to properly sort out the food. It is certainly a process, but one that is worth doing to avoid getting sick.

The doctor acknowledges that all of these measures seem a bit time consuming, but that's the one thing most of us have right at the moment: more time.

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