COVID-19 Health Challenge - are we taking a risk by eating out in restaurants?
21st August 2020 by Anne Sakoane
Author: Mei Lee, Senior Scientific Advisor, medDigital
One of the many social activities we all missed during lockdown was the simple pleasure of dining out in a restaurant with friends and family. The UK government has been so eager to encourage the public to return to eating out, that throughout August, they have offered to pay for half of our meals via the “Eat Out To Help Out” scheme in anticipation of reigniting the struggling hospitality industry.
Despite this incentive, there are still customers reluctant to return to the restaurant scene. Government guidance for the hospitality industry includes an array of COVID-19 safety measures; from socially distant tables, face masks for staff and customer guestbooks to enable any track and tracing of diners following a suspected outbreak.1 Even if a venue is considered ‘COVID Secure’, a term that describes measures to limit, but not eliminate the risk of infection, what other concerns may the public have?
Could I get COVID-19 from the food served at a restaurant?
The European Food Safety Authority and the United States Food and Drug Administration both have concluded that there is no evidence that food is a likely route of transmission.2,3 However, transmission is indeed possible if an infected individual touches food, and shortly afterwards, another individual collects it and touches their eyes or mucous membranes of the mouth or throat, emphasising the importance of handwashing.4
Is al fresco dining safer?
Given the option, you may want to consider eating at venues where outdoor seating is available or request a table adjacent to an open window. Reports suggest window ventilation can effectively limit the concentration of the virus.5 This practice is also supported by a study conducted in a restaurant inside a building without windows in China, where 12% of customers became ill with COVID-19. Airborne transmission was considered the origin of the outbreak; air circulation caused by the air-conditioning might have aided droplet transmission and viral spread among the customers.5
So, eating out does come with risks and whether you wish to eat only your home-grown produce, grab a take-out or sit in a crowded restaurant in the middle of the West-End will ultimately depend on one’s risk aversion and tolerance.
- Galanakis CM. The Food Systems in the Era of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Crisis. Foods. 2020;9(4):523. Published 2020 Apr 22. doi:10.3390/foods9040523
- Rizou M, Galanakis IM, Aldawoud TMS, Galanakis CM. Safety of foods, food supply chain and environment within the COVID-19 pandemic. Trends Food Sci Technol. 2020;102:293-299. doi:10.1016/j.tifs.2020.06.008