Elon Answers: Is take-out restaurant food safe?

This is part of a series of articles featuring responses by Elon University faculty members to questions about the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) submitted by Alamance County community members.

I’d like to support local restaurants during this tough time, but my husband is immunocompromised and I’ve been trying to stay home as much as possible. How significant are the risks of contracting this virus by picking up take-out food during this time, and what can I do to minimize those risks?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, “there is no evidence of food, food containers, or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.” In other words, scientists do not know of anyone getting the virus after handling food or food packaging, including take-out food from restaurants. The spread of COVID-19 occurs primarily through person-to-person transmission.

Yuko Miyamoto, associate professor of biology

The evidence behind the safety of food packaging is not yet conclusive. A study published March 17 in The New England Journal of Medicine detected tiny amounts of virus on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and for up to two to three days on plastic. Future studies should resolve whether there is any risk from food packaging. Precautions you might take include disinfecting the surfaces of the food container, washing your hands after handling packages from the stores, and removing the food from the take-out container before eating it.

To read the most current information on food packaging in the context of COVID-19, click here.

Have autopsies revealed information about the virus that might help scientists develop a vaccine, or that might help people avoid catching COVID-19?

Autopsies help scientists understand what types of cells and organs the novel coronavirus targets in the body. Since COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, it was not surprising to find large amounts of virus in the lungs. Scientists also learned the virus targets cells possessing a special protein called ACE2, which is used as a point of attachment for the virus. The virus uses ACE2 to enter into the cells.

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Knowing this detailed information helps scientists to develop vaccines and drugs for treating COVID-19 patients. For example, the National Institutes of Health is working with a biotech company, Moderna, to develop a vaccine that targets the genetic sequence of the virus that causes COVID-19. Additionally, the company AbMax has found an antibody, a protein, that can recognize this virus. This is useful because having an antibody provides another tool for scientists to detect the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19.

In addition to hand washing and social distancing, are there physical preventative measures you would recommend that might build lung strength, immunity, etc.?

Other than trying to stay healthy overall, there is currently very little we can do to change our lung strength or immunity. Focus on getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and taking care of yourself. If you smoke or vape, consider quitting, or perhaps reducing the amount you use. This is particularly important because people who smoke seem more likely to have worse symptoms if they get sick. Getting fresh air and exercise can also help with immunity and stress.

Yuko Miyamoto is an associate professor of biology at Elon University. Reach her at ymiyamoto@elon.edu


To submit a question to our team of scientists, visit tinyurl.com/eloncovid19, email us at eloncovid19@gmail.com, or use social media with hashtag #eloncovid19. Answers will be published as available in the Times-News, at www.thetimesnews.com, and on Today at Elon.