Pizza lovers were shocked this week by photos showing Domino’s workers preparing food without gloves and ignoring social distancing rules.
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Now more outlets are preparing to deliver food, as KFC, Burger King and Pret A Manger reopen their kitchens after reorganising to take in social distancing guidelines.
Food hygiene expert Sarah Howarth says that, providing you take precautions, you can keep enjoying your takeaway.
“There is no evidence that respiratory diseases can be transmitted via food,” she tells the Sun Online.
“Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food – they need an animal host to multiply.
“Current evidence indicates transmission comes via close contact through respiratory droplets, usually through coughing and sneezing or touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes.”
The Food Standards Agency, the government body which overseas catering businesses, advises that workers with any symptoms should stay off work and those preparing and delivering food should wash hands regularly for 20 seconds and frequently disinfect surfaces to avoid cross contamination.
Here expert Sarah – who has worked in food hygiene for 35 years and is now a food safety consultant for multiple companies – reveals the tips on keeping your takeaway safe.
Check out the restaurant & keep local
The first step is to check out the Food Hygiene Rating (FHR) – the “Scores on the Doors” – for the takeaway outlet you're ordering from.
The scores, compiled by the FSA from local authority inspectors, rate the businesses from five – meaning “hygiene standards are very good” – to zero, which means “urgent improvement is needed”.
They should be displayed above the door of the premises and on the outlet's website, as well as being available on the FSA website at ratings.food.gov.uk.
“All businesses on the FHR scheme are registered to sell food to the public,” says Sarah.
“The online tool allows you to see the ratings of each venue with the date of the last assessment with a search tool allowing you to look by business name and /or local area.
“It is also best to choose a local business in order to limit the delivery time.”
What Food Hygiene Ratings mean
5 – Hygiene standards are very good
4 – Hygiene standards are good
3 – Hygiene standards are generally satisfactory
2 – Some improvement is necessary
1 – Major improvement is necessary
0 – Urgent improvement is required
Even within major chains, the results can vary wildly. For example, the majority of the 1,128 Domino’s Pizza branches have a high rating – with 936 earning five stars – but one, in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire has just one.
Manjaro’s come in at four or five stars – barring the Manchester branch at two – with the Preston outlet where Tyson Fury recently bought his £557 family feast getting a top score.
Papa John's pizza chain has a more mixed bag – with three scoring one and one branch, in Northamptonshire, rating zero.
Order online or by phone – and pay ahead
The days of bowling into a McDonald’s or KFC and perusing the meal deals before ordering are obviously over, for now.
The Food Standards Agency guidelines say all orders must now be taken remotely, even if the food is being collected by the customer.
When you go to collect, the restaurant should have a queue management system in place and you should only enter the building when you are told the order is ready to collect.
Ideally, payment should be taken over the phone or online when you order but if that is not possible, contactless should be used.
Stay distant at deliveries
Takeaways delivered to the door come with their own risks but as long as the driver is following the government guidelines, there should be no issue.
“The driver should not be showing visible signs for being infected with Covid-19, such as sneezing and coughing,” says Sarah.
“They should be clean and tidy with disposable gloves or sanitiser for hand hygiene.
“The driver should ensure the 2m social distancing rule is maintained when making the delivery. This is easier when paying by card and avoiding cash payment at the doorstep."
Is it hot enough?
“Any food must be distributed in a way which ensures the food does not become unsafe or unfit to eat," says Sarah.
In order to ensure that bacteria and viruses are destroyed in hot food, it should arrive on the doorstep piping hot – at 63°C or above – and in insulated packaging.
Chilled foods must be kept cool during transport, at 8°C or below.
In his latest Talk Radio Q&A, Dr Hilary Jones said hot food is safe to eat but you should be more cautious with cold.
"If the food is prepared well, it’s presumably been cooked thoroughly, then the virus will be killed off," he said.
"You certainly want to be able to trust the restaurant. If it’s salad, if it’s cold food, you want to make sure it’s been thoroughly washed and prepared by someone who is wearing gloves."
Unpack, throw away and wash your hands
Once the takeaway has been handed over – ideally left on your doorstep to observe social distancing – it’s up to you to minimise the risk.
The length of time the Covid-19 virus lasts outside a human host depends on the surface, with the World Health Organisation reporting survival on plastic and steel for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours.
So, while cardboard is slightly less likely to cause cross-contamination, it’s unknown whether it is completely safe.
“It’s best to take the same precautions as when bringing home your food shopping,” says Sarah.
“Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water on entering your house. Then unpack the food into your own crockery and throw away the outer packaging. Then wash your hands again.
“Don’t forget to sanitise hand touch points in your home on a regular basis such as door handles, taps , light switches and so on.”
Reheat if you're worried
The coronavirus is sensitive to heat so it won’t survive in well cooked hot food.
“If food has been cooked properly – at a minimum of 70°C for at least two mins – and delivered in a hygienic manor, above 63°C, there should not be a risk,” says Sarah.
However, Dr Hilary Jones says you might want to consider reheating if you are not completely comfortable.
"You don’t know who has touched the packaging, who’s done the delivery," he says. "You should take the food out of the packaging and you might want to reheat it. "
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Make sure mobile vans are legit
The FSA rating scheme also covers mobile catering businesses and street food traders.
Providing you know the name of the vans covering your area, you should make the same checks as you would when ordering from a local restaurant.
For new businesses which are not yet on the rating scheme, you should check that they are registered to sell food to the public and ask for the food registration number.
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