Truth vs. Fiction: Will Microwaving Your Takeout Protect You From Coronavirus?

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By Paul Feinstein

It’s time to talk about food and coronavirus. There are a million rumors out there about how you can catch the virus, and we’re here to confirm or contradict them. If you want to know whether you can contract the virus from your food, read along and get informed. Also, for the love of god, wash your hands.

Rumor #1: Microwaving Your Food Can Kill the Virus

Yes and no. Maria Konnikova, award-winning science journalist, Ph.D. in psychology, and author of the upcoming book, The Biggest Bluff, says “Heat kills the virus. But I’d suggest the oven rather than the microwave because the length of time exposed to heat also matters. Per the WHO, ‘heat at 56 degrees Celsius kills the SARS coronavirus at around 10,000 units per 15 minutes (quick reduction).’ Also, a 2003 study of SARS says that it becomes non-infectious within 30 minutes at 75 degrees Celsius (about 167 degrees Fahrenheit). Bottom line is that the freezer doesn’t destroy it, but heat does. So, heat it through and heat it hot.”

In addition to Konnikova’s breakdown, according to experts at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and even Consumer Reports, the virus is not transmitted in food, but it could be transmitted on food. For instance, if someone with the virus sneezes or coughs on your sandwich, it’s theoretically possible to still get it—but unlikely.

So, will microwaving your food in that very specific instance kill the virus? The answer to that is…maybe. According to the CDC, microwaves have been proven to kill bacteria and viruses when zapping the food from 60 seconds to five minutes. But not all microwaves emit the same power and cook in the same way. Have you ever had a Hot Pocket that destroys the roof of your mouth with the power of a thousand suns and then you get to the middle and it’s ice-cold? Yeah, that’s not killing anything.

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It’s the packaging you should be worried about, not the food.

Here’s some very loose guidance: With fruits and vegetables, wash them like you normally do, but for takeout and delivery, err on the side of cooked foods, and if you’re feeling at all uneasy about it, microwave the crap out of it for more than five minutes (also do this if you want to destroy any flavor and texture your food was ever intended to have).

Rumor #2: The Virus Only Lasts a Few Hours on Surfaces

The answer here is: It depends. They call this a novel Coronavirus because it’s new, and all studies of it are new. But here’s what we kind of know about surfaces: According to WebMD, the virus can last on metal for at least five days, wood for at least four day, plastics for at least two day, stainless steel for at least two days, cardboard for 24 hours, glass up to five days, ceramics five days, and paper up to five days.

So, what does that mean for your takeout and delivery food that’s wrapped in plastic, paper, or cardboard? Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, an MD in Grand Rapids, Michigan says, “I would show more concern with the packaging than the food. Do the best you can to mitigate your risk. But the fact of the matter is, we have to eat.” VanWingen advises using a disinfectant on the outer surfaces of takeout and delivery packages if you want to be truly safe. And he also advises leaning more towards hot foods over cold foods. Does that mean you can’t order a salad? No, you can order a salad, just know that there’s a bigger chance of contracting anything from the packaging than the food itself.

Rumor #3: The Virus Can Spread From Inside Food

This is simply untrue. Unlike food bourn viruses that grow and multiply on or in the food itself (think Hepatitis A, Norovirus, Rotavirus, etc.), according to the CDC, coronaviruses are respiratory diseases that are spread by droplets in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes and you inhale those droplets.

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Rumor #4: Drinking Alcohol Can Protect You

It’s actually the opposite. The World Health Organization (WHO) says, “Frequent or excessive alcohol consumption can increase your risk of health problems.”

There you have it. If you want to be 100% germaphobic about everything you eat, blast it in the microwave, fry it in a pan, or toast the hell out of it in the oven. But in reality, it’s the packaging you should be worried about, not the food. Just remember, your local restaurant workers are doing everything they can to mitigate the risk. They’re washing their hands more than ever. They’re wearing gloves and masks. And they’re disinfecting every surface in their establishments. So, feel safe in your ordering, continue to wash your own hands and disinfect surfaces to be on the safe side, but ultimately, support restaurants because they truly need your help and won’t be getting you sick because their livelihood depends on it.

Published on 4/14/2020

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