Can a virus spread through the food? And are you putting drivers at risk? We asked experts what to do.

By Natasha Hinde

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Friday is ‘takeaway day’ for many households. Who doesn’t love to ring in the weekend with a treat, whether your go-to is a curry, chow mein or pizza?

But how does it all work, now we’re on lockdown? Is it ethical to order a takeaway right now – or are you putting delivery drivers at risk? Can the virus get on the food? We asked hygiene, food, and ethics experts what theythought.

Here’s everything you need to know.

So, is it safe to order takeaways?

Restaurants should be taking extra precautions to keep staff and customers safe. Ibrahim Dogus, chair of the British Takeaway Campaign, tells HuffPost UK new safety measures include: only taking orders over the phone or online, and leaving deliveries at the door to keep customers and staff two metres apart.

As with anything you do right now – including receiving non-essential deliveries or buying food from shops – you should also, personally, be taking extra precautions if you order a takeaway.

When you pick up your food from the doorstep, there’s a possibility you could come into contact with the virus on the bag or boxes, says Sally Bloomfield, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. If the delivery driver is infected with the virus, which they won’t necessarily know themselves, “that will be very fresh virus on the surface”, she adds.

Bloomfield’s suggestion is to take the bag immediately into the kitchen, open up the packaging and – without touching the food – transfer your meal onto plates. Throw away the packaging immediately and wash your handsthoroughly. 

What about recycling the plastic boxes?

You might be tempted to wash out and reuse the boxes your food comes in, but Bloomfield says, given the current climate, it’s not worth the risk – especially as one study showed the virus could live on plastic for up to 72 hours.

“I know we’re all environmentally conscious but we have to balance risks – and this risk is now taking priority,” she says. “We’re all having to do things we hate doing.” She gives the example of hospitals using disposable PPE, because the risk of the virus spreading is so high.

Can the virus get on the food?

Freshly heated and cooked food should be fine, says Bloomfield. Anything cold however – like your poppadoms or side salad – should be avoided.

“My inclination would be if you’re buying takeaways, buy freshly-cooked stuff,” she says. “You just don’t know who’s been handling it. They might have good hand hygiene, but they may not know they’re infected, so for your own safety I would stick to freshly-cooked food.” Sorry, sushi fans.

With finger foods, like samosas and spring rolls, you could always reheat them in the microwave: “That should kill any lingering surface germs on them.” 

To minimise risk, order your food from reputable takeaways and chains that have food hygiene ratings attached to them, she adds. 

Is it even ethical to order a takeaway right now?

It’s a complicated one to answer, says Professor Andrew Smith, an expert in consumer behaviour at Nottingham University Business School. “You’re keeping someone in a job, but you might be putting them at risk,” he says. “But you will reduce your visits to food shops, meaning less social contact.”

One way of looking at it, is whether you really need that takeaway. “If you’re vulnerable, self-isolating or haven’t been able to access a delivery slot then takeaway deliveries are meeting a societal need,” argues Professor Morven McEachern, of Huddersfield Business School. 

“While some bigger brands may be accused of protecting their reputations by closing, many local eateries have stayed open to support local populations that need access to cooked food,” she adds.

Dogus reminds us that the government has allowed some eateries to stay open for a reason – whether that’s to deliver food to frontline workers or people at home, or for collection of meals ordered in advance. “Takeaways have a crucial role to play in keeping the nation fed during this crisis,” he says. 

But, customer and employee safety must be the number one priority, he adds, which is why the British Takeaway Campaign has advised establishments to think carefully about whether continuing to trade is practicable under the social distancing rules.

Ultimately, Prof Smith believes people will probably do what they want to – and justify it accordingly. His research suggests people will operate what he calls the ‘law of the ledger’ – “in other words, people weigh up the good and bad in a way that allows them to justify the decision that they want to make,” he says.

“So, someone will emphasise the positive ethical aspects – keeping someone in a job – and use them to ‘cancel out’ the ‘bad’.”

Ultimately, the decision is yours. But if you do order a takeaway, it’s vital to keep in mind the social distancing rules for your safety and the delivery driver’s. If you don’t order one, why not cook a “fakeaway” at home, instead?

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