As people hunker down in their homes to stay safe from the coronavirus, they’re relying more and more on food delivery and take-out. But the question remains: How clean and safe are the deliveries arriving at your door?
According to Google Trends, the topmost searched term this week was “can I get coronavirus from…?” If you were wondering, “can you get coronavirus from food?” was number one, followed by “can you get coronavirus twice?”)
In short, many are wondering what role mail and/or package deliveries may play in the risk of coronavirus transmission.
To better understand the risk, and what you can do to reduce it, it helps to think about how your phone or mail might come into contact with coronavirus - and what the evidence says about how long it lives on various surfaces.
So what do we know about how long the coronavirus can survive on surfaces. Not a whole lot yet.
There has been some general media reporting on the role that surfaces play in the transmission of this coronavirus, termed SARS-CoV-2. But the main peer-reviewed journal paper on this topic was published about a week ago by the New England Journal of Medicine.
That paper found: SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces.
It also noted: On copper, no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 4 hours […] On cardboard, no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 24 hours.
These might be underestimates. The virus may survive even longer on these surfaces, depending on conditions. That’s because these studies looked at how long the virus would survive when in a “buffer” (a solution in which viruses live in the lab). In real life, they would be in mucous and would be more stable.
The fact that the viruses seemed to last longest on plastic is something of a worry and means that, on phones, the virus could potentially last for days.
It is important to remember this is a new virus and we don’t yet have all the data. New findings are emerging every day.
It’s also possible that, in reality, the virus may last longer on phones than indicated in the recent lab experiments.
CDC data published yesterday detected the faint genetic signature of viruses (viral RNA) which had survived 17 days on surfaces in cruise ships. That doesn’t mean infectious virus particles were found after 17 days – only a part of the virus was detected in this study – but it does suggest there may be some cause for concern regarding how long this coronavirus can last on surfaces. More research is required on this question.
What can I do to
reduce my risk?
For starters, do the obvious things: wash hands frequently, reduce your contact with others (and if you do see other people, stay at least 1.5 metres apart, particularly if you are talking). Definitely don’t go out at all if you’re unwell.
When it comes to mail and package deliveries, try to keep apart from the delivery person. Many delivery people are already forgoing the customary signature on the tablet, meaning you don’t have to touch a device or e-stylus that many others have already handled. You could consider wiping down a package before opening it, and washing your hands well after disposing of the packaging.
At the end of the day, the risk is never zero, and the world is a nightmare if you go too far down this route of worrying about every single surface.
What about mail packages?
It is technically possible a package or mail coming to your house is contaminated with virus picked up somewhere along the way by people handling or coughing on it. I think, though, the infection risk is very low because, as the New England Journal of Medicine study found, the survival time on cardboard is thought to be around one day.
And unlike plastic surfaces, cardboard is porous. That means a droplet would probably penetrate into the material and may not be so easily picked up when you touch the package.
If you are worried, however, leave cardboard boxes that were delivered outside for 24 hours before bringing them inside.
Can you spread coronavirus through food delivery?
According to the CDC, there’s no evidence of food or food packaging associated with the spread of COVID-19. It’s only known to be spread from person-to-person contact and possibly spread by touching a contaminated surface, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
That’s why food delivery services are offering “no contact” options by leaving meals on porches or doorsteps.
If you are worried, however, you can: Use your own dishes and toss out take-out containers, reheat your food, even if it’s already warm, wipe down the surfaces your grocery bags and delivery boxes, then wash your hands.