Should I eat it?
March 20, 2020 7:17 PM   Subscribe

"[P]lenty of folks—myself included—have been confused or curious about the safety of allowing restaurants to continue preparing and serving food. Is it actually safe? Should I reheat the food when I get it home? Is it better to support local businesses by ordering food, or am I only putting workers and delivery people at risk? And if I’m cooking my own food, what guidelines should I follow?" J. Kenji López-Alt, of Serious Eats, gives us answers in Food Safety and Coronavirus: A Comprehensive Guide.
posted by MonkeyToes (52 comments total) 103 users marked this as a favorite
Consider your local cooks. Order to-go. (Or grab-and-go, the current obnoxious phrase.) Tip. Servers and cooks are dependent on tips.
posted by kozad at 7:37 PM on March 20 [4 favorites]

that's a good essay. And he's totally right about going to small local grocery stores.
posted by suelac at 7:46 PM on March 20 [11 favorites]

Thanks for posting. And I agree about the small grocery stores – a remarkably normal-feeling shopping experience these days.
posted by Beardman at 8:37 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]

In my earlier life I was a line cook and chef. At no point across multiple restaurants were cooks ever included in tip sharing, let alone dependent on tips. Has that changed?
posted by spitbull at 9:01 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]

How come this guy isn't in charge of the US government's response?
posted by spacewrench at 9:48 PM on March 20 [16 favorites]

Fascinating and well-written.
posted by davidmsc at 10:23 PM on March 20

I’m a chef. My restaurant just laid off our entire FOH workforce so they could collect unemployment. Most of my cooks are still getting hours, but not very many. Business is all take out, and down nearly 90%. Please order to go food from your local favorites. Order perishable things like salads so they can make money off of product they ordered before this shit hit the fan. Give them your business so they can rehire everyone when this is over.
posted by Grandysaur at 10:27 PM on March 20 [43 favorites]

This is a fantastic post. Thank you.
posted by Beholder at 10:35 PM on March 20

My oldest brother has a couple restaurants in the Chicago area, and he keeps posting on social media about how they are still open for takeout, and I wish to hell I could get some of their beer- batter-fried cheese curds delivered to the Bay Area. Damnit.
posted by suelac at 10:36 PM on March 20

I ... I just ... I just .... love the way commenter GaryZee (on the article) completely misses the fucking point in his desperate attempt to fall all over his own goddamn feet in order to be cooler than thou.
posted by aramaic at 10:45 PM on March 20 [7 favorites]

We ordered from Pitfire (LA) last night though we are stocked for food for a couple weeks. My thinking (and concern) is that because so many people panicked and over-bought everyone is having absurd home meals and in two weeks they will be bored or out of food and once everyone hits their april rent payment there will be mass closures.

This was very sobering and helpful - we were a little wary of ordering and this was some helpful, scientific grounding and good incentive to spread our support around.
posted by 99_ at 10:46 PM on March 20

How the Coronavirus Could Take Over Your Body (Before You Ever Feel It) - "You call a friend and arrange to meet for lunch... And as he talks, the passage of his breath over the moist lining of his upper throat creates tiny droplets of virus-laden mucus that waft invisibly into the air over your table. Some settle on the as-yet-uneaten food on your plate, some drift onto your fingers, others are drawn into your nasal sinus or settle into your throat. By the time you extend your hand to shake good-bye, your body is carrying 43,654 virus particles. By the time you're done shaking hands, that number is up to 312,405."

also btw...
"best single source of information out there right now" (via)
posted by kliuless at 11:04 PM on March 20 [8 favorites]

once everyone hits their april rent payment there will be mass closures

This drives me nuts. If a restaurant can't make the rent right now you aren't going to be able to replace them. Same with renters or people who can't make the mortgage.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 11:27 PM on March 20 [17 favorites]

landlords don't give a shit about that, they just want their sweet pocket full of pure profit right now when their mortgages are on hold.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:23 AM on March 21 [23 favorites]

This is really helpful, thanks for sharing it.
posted by harriet vane at 12:44 AM on March 21

I eat mostly at home, esp since this thing kicked off. Simple food, peasant food, rice and beans and lentils, canned tomatoes, bananas, eggs by the fistful, sardines by the fistful, frozen organic peas, corn, broccoli, blueberries. Any cooking and/or salads I use avocado oil.

What I eat that isn't peasant food is protein shakes (good quality organic vegetable stuff, seems expensive but it isn't really, a buck and a quarter each, not a meal but nice after a bike ride or just to knock off a bit of hunger here and/or there throughout the day) Grass-fed, no antibiotic sirloin from cows/steers that have had a life (again, might seem expensive, probably it is, but it's tasty as hell and really good food. IMO;YMMV). Salmon, the best wild-caught that Trader Joe's sells frozen.

I use limes a lot, to flavor foods, they can take a simple dish and make it better. I drink iced coffee, flavored with limes, which might sound strange but I sure love it. I drink a lot of powdered sports drinks to replenish electrolytes lost from riding that bike -- if I don't drink this stuff I get unreal cramps in my legs especially, my arms sometimes, but not at all if I drink this stuff, and eat bananas. When I go out it's to vegetarian joints; until reading this article I hadn't thought to support them through take-out but I will now.


I confess it -- I like to eat Burger King cheeseburgers, extra tomato. Not often, I mostly eat pretty well, but those Whoppers are a weakness.
As are Snickers candy bars -- gawd. And, five years ago, give or take, they actually made Snickers candy bars with dark chocolate -- those things were spawn of Satan. It literally was difficult to walk out of anywhere that sold them without one (or more) in my grubby hands.

The local BK is open for drive-through, I got to the window to order, saw that no one inside is wearing gloves, or masks, drove on my way.

It's actually A Good Thing, probably, I know it's junk food and I know I'm supporting Bad News when I shop there. Still, I miss those damn cheeseburgers....


Thx for posting this, I'm going to forward a link to this thread to friends/family.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:21 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]

I just spotted this and read through it, and it's a pretty solid article. As far as patronizing local, definitely. I was saying to Mrs. Ghidorah last night that if we still had our little burger shop going, there's almost no way we would be able to make it through this.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:23 AM on March 21

We got an announcement that our favourite coffee spot was shutting down on Tuesday so I raced out and bought a couple bags of house beans and four freezer-stable GF treats that we'll ration out. It was like six times as much as we usually spend there but it's what we could do.

We need Universal Basic Income now or everything is going to be even more fucked when the pandemic winds down than it would otherwise be.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:48 AM on March 21 [14 favorites]

Great post, Kenji is such a good guy
posted by mumimor at 5:20 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]

How the Coronavirus Could Take Over Your Body (Before You Ever Feel It)

btw: don't read the above kiuless link if you have any anxiety about this disease/pandemic.....
posted by lalochezia at 6:33 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]

I ordered take-out from my local diner last night and they gave me the biggest piece of carrot cake I have ever seen. Profit margins aren’t a concern right now it seems.

If this stretches on to the summer, I have no idea how there will be any restaurants left, once normal life resumes.
posted by Automocar at 7:57 AM on March 21 [9 favorites]

This was helpful as I have been wondering about the safety of takeout/delivery. Well written, accessible, calming and also full of excellent information. Wish more of our govt resources could follow this model.
posted by alleycat01 at 8:15 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]

I baked some pandemic-related bread last night and set it on the stove to cool off. An hour later, I heard a thud and saw that our cat had tried to carry it off in its mouth but dropped it on the floor. I cut out the crust with visible cat saliva on it. Metafilter, do I eat this loaf of bread? The article did not answer this question.
posted by Maarika at 9:03 AM on March 21 [35 favorites]

Look, I love Kenji Lopez-Alt as much as the next person - he's my go-to source for reverse-searing steak and preparing roasts of all kinds in the oven. However he admittedly reveals that he is a part-owner of a restaurant, so there is going to be a bit of bias.

I also really, really want to support local business as much as i can, so I really, really wanted to have this article convince me that I can do so, safely.

But it didn't.

Despite the article's honourable attempts to keep us as informed about the virus as possible, it just doesn't feel prudent to be relying on a food and cooking blog (as honourable as it is) for information on personal safety during a pandemic.

I also don't like that paragraph on 'food sterilization'. I question whether any of the methods he describes technically sterilize the food, and i worry that it gives a false sense of security to people.

I don't know that we know enough about the virus to be making any kind of claim. So i will probably refrain from restaurant take out for the time being.

(although once this is all over - and it will be - i made a promise to spend a lot more money on local businesses and services of all kinds, even for things I don't normally consume)
posted by bitteroldman at 9:41 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]

Metafilter, do I eat this loaf of bread?

we need to see photo evidence of said cat with said loaf of bread in its mouth before we can make an accurate diagnosis.
posted by bitteroldman at 9:43 AM on March 21 [22 favorites]

There's been a lot of dumping of US pork in Canada, I'm like "oh, under $2 a pound for meat?" and then "oh look at that a USDA label NOOOOPPPEEEEEE"
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:48 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]

Metafilter, do I eat this loaf of bread?

yes but to appease the gods you must also share it with the cat
posted by poffin boffin at 10:55 AM on March 21 [11 favorites]

Can't find them now on mobile, but two stories passed by me the other day, of restaurant survival tricks.

Restaurant turns General Store. You've still got distributors, right? Or food inventory that will spoil? And people are making limited trips, to stock up on staples? Start spreading the word that you've got eggs and bread, even if the butter is in one pound blocks.

Cheap prepared meals To Go. Make and sell several daily batches of boxed lunches, combo fried rice, etc. Cost out ingredients and sell them for $5 each passed out the door. Folks are stuck with whatever is today's plate, and the restaurant is stuck with whatever margin they have on 50 orders of spaghetti and meatballs, but it's a hot meal and you're doing business. Easier on staff quarantining too, if working your shift reduces to coming in for just a few hours to plate enough chicken caesar salads to cover a twelvetop.
posted by bartleby at 11:51 AM on March 21 [7 favorites]

Photo of the bread burglar.

We got hungry and are eating the bread.
posted by Maarika at 12:03 PM on March 21 [26 favorites]

Jessica Fu, The Counter, Pre-existing conditions, no sick leave and health insurance put farm workers at increased coronavirus risk:
Because we still know so little about the virus, scientists have not ruled out the possibility of it spreading through food, though they believe it highly unlikely. The agriculture industry is already bracing for a labor shortage: On Monday, the Department of Labor announced that it would suspend all visa services in Mexico as part of a social distancing plan. This will disrupt the H-2A program, which U.S. farms are increasingly reliant on for temporary foreign labor. The American Farm Bureau, a farmer advocacy group, told the Food and Environmental Reporting Network that this move could lead to domestic food shortages.

I reproduced that paragraph's link about yes/no food transmission, which goes to a Harvard Health Publishing page dated March 20/20. If you click it & scroll to almost halfway down, it says, "Can I catch the coronavirus by eating food handled or prepared by others? . . . we currently cannot rule out the possibility of the infection being transmitted through food by an infected person who has not thoroughly washed their hands. In the case of hot food, the virus would likely be killed by cooking. This may not be the case with uncooked foods like salads or sandwiches."

I've been looking up raw vegetables and COVID-19 for a couple of weeks. Pre-COVID-19 advice said that washing vegetables/fruit in soapy water could leave GI-distress-causing soap residues (and definitely don't use antibacterial soaps). This week, I'm seeing some doctors say basically "Yeah sure wash them with soap and water." CBC video. NBC video. Conclusion: it's still up in the air. Using soapy water on avocado skins should be fine; for things like kale I guess it's a matter of trying it and seeing if anything happens with the GI tract.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:18 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]

I would rather cook my lettuce than was it with soap. Yuck. What's wrong with cooked food?
However, my lettuce has been picked days ago, and I'm going to believe the risk of contagion is minimal at this point.
posted by mumimor at 12:23 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]

This was useful, though I'm a little confused by this:
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assesment (BfR) reports that it is also possible—but unlikely—that the virus could be spread through "smear" infection. In these cases, a healthy person would touch a contaminated surface with their hands—say, a can of soup, a touchscreen ATM, or a subway turnstile—then transfer the virus to their eyes or nose. There have been no known cases of this method of transfer, and it is thought to be far less likely than droplet infection. Washing your hands before touching your face further reduces this likelihood, as coronavirus cannot be absorbed through your skin.
While in the next section:
This means that if a delivery person or package handler infected with the virus coughs or sneezes on packages or envelopes, the virus can stay on those packages for up to a day, while plastic take-out containers or steel work surfaces can hold the virus for three days.
That said, there are other risks associated with cooking at home, particularly in shopping at supermarkets and handling potentially contaminated food packaging.
So like... are we or are we not super concerned about 'smear' infection? Considering we've all been instructed to wash our hands regularly and thoroughly after touching things, I'm guessing the risk is more than 'unlikely'?
posted by thebots at 2:43 PM on March 21 [8 favorites]

I was confused by that as well.
posted by great_radio at 3:06 PM on March 21

Photo of the bread burglar.

clearly a hardened criminal
posted by poffin boffin at 3:57 PM on March 21 [12 favorites]

"So like... are we or are we not super concerned about 'smear' infection? Considering we've all been instructed to wash our hands regularly and thoroughly after touching things, I'm guessing the risk is more than 'unlikely'?"

We've also been told to disinfect all of our frequently touched handles and surfaces. TF?
posted by Selena777 at 4:34 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]

To counteract smear infection:

Get takeout (once you touch containers, do not touch face)

Put takeout containers on counter

Wash hands

Transfer food from takeout containers to your own clean plates/bowls

Takeout containers into trash/recycling

Wash hands

Enjoy food

When doing cleanup, clean counter where containers were
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:02 PM on March 21 [8 favorites]

Right, I understand how to counteract smear infection. But the article says that smear infection does not pose a substantial risk and that "there have been no known cases of this method of transfer", which goes against basically all of the recommendations and information we've been told so far - including later on in the same article.
posted by thebots at 7:44 PM on March 21 [5 favorites]

Metafilter, do I eat this loaf of bread? The article did not answer this question.

Microwave bread, until steaming. Let cool. Eat.

Same basic idea for takeout/takeaway food. Only buy hot food, and reheat it as soon as you get home.
posted by Pouteria at 10:38 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I think the article is pulling from multiple, sort of contradictory sources. My impression is that "smear" infection is generally considered vastly less likely than infection by breathing in coughed/breathed particles, but it's not *impossible* and therefore not something we can rule out as a mechanism of transmission. So the advice is to take precautions to avoid it when those precautions are not costly (stopping touching your face, an extra handwash, extra care with delivered packages, a few contortions with dishes) but not to let fear of smear transmission disrupt your life much past that. You don't have to maintain social distance from your takeout. It's not going to cough virus particles on you. You would have to be very unlucky to get infected that way. But... we all have our unlucky days.
posted by potrzebie at 11:36 PM on March 21 [7 favorites]

Microwave bread, until steaming.

Truly these are the end times.
posted by away for regrooving at 11:38 PM on March 21 [9 favorites]

We do not know how thousands and thousands of cases were physically transmitted. We think we know that was most were carried in respiratory secretions. But of course smear infection is possible and “no known cases”’is a total dodge. Of course not. No one has studied the etiology of most cases
posted by spitbull at 3:56 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]

Also in my view you’re crazy to eat takeout right now. And it sucks for the workers. They want to go home and hide and make aesthetic social media posts too. They’re scared and mad about being too poor to stay home. That’s also true of your UPS driver and postman. So STOP ordering tons of shit from Amazon or anywhere else non-local too, really. It’s bad of you. The warehouse workers are terrified and working so hard. They need government payments and sick leave and we need to stop assuming their labor is willing.

We are not taking shelter in place nearly seriously enough in the US. It far too late now.
posted by spitbull at 4:01 AM on March 22 [6 favorites]

Sorry to shout, there, I’m just really worked up about this. But it is making me crazy. This ain’t a staycation. Non-office workers are — very justifiably —- scared and having to choose between risk and money. We are helping the government get away with their massive failures here by viewing it as economic charity to these workers. Their bosses are MAKING THEM WORK. It isn’t their choice.

They’re being sacrificed for being working class.
posted by spitbull at 4:06 AM on March 22 [5 favorites]

I mean get what your family needs. But minimize the exposure vectors up the chain. Nothing you do not NEED.
posted by spitbull at 4:12 AM on March 22

I live in a city with mandated paid sick leave and until it closed last week, worked at a retail establishment owned by people who own multiple businesses, including many restaurants. They did not follow the paid sick leave laws when I was there. As I was leaving on my last day, I got up my courage and mentioned to the person who oversees all the businesses that it would really be prudent to start following the paid sick leave laws going forward, when/if we re-opened. He quoted the rules back to me (as far as how paid sick leave is accumulated) and swore up and down that they were already following them. I didn't belabor the point but as I was leaving I checked with two longtime employees at the restaurant next door (also owned by this company and overseen by this person) if they had ever been told about paid sick leave and they gave me blank stares.

I don't have the money to eat restaurant food anyway, but I have generally low confidence that sick people aren't preparing or handling restaurant food, even right now, even in places with laws that are supposed to help.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:27 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]

It's like this article was written just for me... but I'm still not convinced. If touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face is a vector (which the article itself seems ambivalent about but w/e), then why wouldn't putting contaminated food in your face be? If the virus can migrate from your eye, nose, lip, or cheek to your lungs, what's stopping it from doing the same thing from inside your mouth? I mean, your windpipe and your esophagus are both right there. I don't buy it (and I really want to).
posted by Rhaomi at 3:25 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]

As I was leaving on my last day, I got up my courage and mentioned to the person who oversees all the businesses

Report it to your local department of labor or attorney general.
posted by praemunire at 8:56 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]

I want to believe this article but with the speed of change in conditions and recommendations I don’t feel safe interacting with anyone or leaving the house. Take-out and grocery stores are beyond the safety zone.
posted by Jode at 1:22 PM on March 23

If the options are months of privation without a foreseeable end and a fatal flu, I am hard pressed to make a rational choice.
posted by Jode at 2:54 PM on March 23

The Serious Eats article was updated March 30 to include helpful info like this:
Respiratory viruses reproduce along the respiratory tract—a different pathway than the digestive tract food follows when you swallow it. And while you might say that you just inhaled that salad, more likely you ate it with a fork and swallowed it.

Dr. Rasmussen concurs, adding that when actively eating—that is, producing saliva, chewing, and swallowing—we are protected from infection in two ways. First, saliva contains proteolytic enzymes—chemicals that break down proteins—which help break down our food and pathogens. Second, the act of chewing and swallowing minimizes the amount of time that any potentially infectious viral load is in contact with mucosa or the upper respiratory tract. The less time a pathogen spends in contact with potentially infectable cells, the lower the likelihood of actual infection.
OK. The risk is not zero, but low. I'm still steaming my vegetables until the curve flattens.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:18 PM on April 1

"Don't worry, you'll swallow the coronavirus before it can infect you" is maybe not the most reassuring thing I've heard...
posted by floomp at 10:29 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

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