The outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus has taken the world by storm, sparking major concerns amongst consumers and citizens of the world. Being a new disease, there is still much research to be conducted into its transmission, and its ability to survive on a variety of surfaces. Amid all of the uncertainty surrounding the disease, the food and delivery industry struggles to find its footing, while around the nation, millions are dependent on home-delivered food to tide them over through these difficult times. How far, then, shall we put our faith in the food industry in the age of Covid-19?
To step out into the open today, even for a simple grocery run, feels a little like preparing for war. Clad in makeshift protective gear comprised of full-sleeved clothing, face-masks and rubber gloves, and equipped with mini-sanitiser bottles, the streets of our cities have taken on the appearance of an eerily deserted warzone, and none of us can be completely sure if we are fortified against the virus’ guerilla tactics. As we stroll the aisles of our corner essential stores, picking out items from the remaining products that still occupy the sparsely-laden shelves, it can be hard not to think back to the times when a delectable meal was only a few taps away.
Food delivery services, which have been declared essential services, are still operational around the country, adding groceries to their offerings for the citizens of the nation, and with a number of food-delivery giants the likes of Zomato, Swiggy, Scootsy and more, introducing such initiatives as contactless delivery and hygiene ratings to ensure consumer safety. In the era of COVID-19, however, how much should the general population trust food items that they haven’t prepared themselves?
The Food Industry and Foodborne Illnesses
The global food industry operates on a number of strict guidelines that exist for the express purpose of preventing the spread of foodborne illnesses to consumers. These measures include a number of basic hygiene checks, including frequent hand-washing of those involved in the preparation process, maintaining a tidy work-space, the routine cleansing of utensils and cutlery, and ensuring that the food is cooked at optimal temperatures for human consumption. More often than not, these measures in themselves are enough to limit, or entirely eradicate the slightest possibility of transmission.
The biological makeup of the disease too, is an important factor to consider, which, studies indicate, make it unable to survive on surfaces for extended periods of time. Unlike most bacterial foodborne outbreaks, the likes of E. Coli, viruses do not have the ability to grow in food substances. This means that even if the food items were to come into contact with the infection, the potency of the virus is likely to deteriorate over time, rather than grow and develop within the food.
The global food industry has been focused on limiting the spread of disease for much longer than the current pandemic has been around, and is therefore more likely to be better equipped in tackling it than we are led to believe.
Pankil Shah of Neighborhood Hospitality, a Mumbai-based hospitality group behind much-beloved eateries the likes of Woodside-Inn and The Pantry, explains that he has been ordering-in regularly since the beginning of the lockdown, and that he believes it is safe to do so, as long as one is ordering food from reputed, quality brands which have safety and hygiene systems in place.
“We’ve taken some very serious steps to ensure safety and hygiene.” He explains, “Our kitchen team is limited to ones who live close-by or in non-Coronavirus affected clusters. Masks and gloves are used in food preparation to ensure no-contact with food. We push our delivery partners to use hand sanitizers which we keep at the entry points. We also conduct mandatory temperature checks for all our team members and delivery partners everyday.”
The Packaging Debate
Recent studies have demonstrated that Covid-19 is able to survive on a number of surfaces for anywhere from a mere couple of hours to a few days. Analysis shows that the virus can remain viable in the air for up to 3 hours, on copper for up to 4 hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours and on plastic and stainless steel up to 72 hours, with allowances being made for statistical data collected from other types of coronaviruses. If we were to allow that the food preparation process is 100% germ-free, how do we then ensure that the package has not been contaminated on its way to our doorsteps?
There are a few simple measures that can help ensure you are making the right decisions for your health and for that of the general population, which include simple disinfecting and sanitizing practices. When picking out groceries, it is considered to be a good practice to rinse fresh produce to eradicate stray debris, dirt and pesticides, which is also a great way to ensure any lingering virus particles are washed away or deactivated. Do not wash your veggies with soap, however. Soap is meant for the skin, and not for organic produce, and can lead to the compromising of the produce’s natural makeup of minerals and vitamins.
While food ordered in from well-reputed restaurants is likely to be low-risk, keeping in mind the strict food safety standards in place to regulate them, one cannot be too careful when bringing foreign items into the safety of one’s home in the current global climate. When receiving a package of take-out, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after discarding packaging materials. Whenever possible, try and reheat your food at a temperature of 65 degrees Celcius for a minimum of 3 minutes, in order to limit any existing virus particles that may be present within.
Food Delivery Services and the Novel Coronavirus
The food delivery industry has taken its own measures to ensure zero-contamination from the restaurant to the consumer. Delivery giants the likes of Zomato and Swiggy are currently operating on a limited basis, while providing helpful information on restaurant hygiene and safety standards. These include mandatory temperature checks of delivery executives as well as restaurant professionals, thorough sanitization practices at hourly intervals, the use of protective gear and precautions including 3-ply masks, rubber gloves, hand-washing stations and sanitisers, packaging regulations that ensure no contact is made with the inner packaging of the food during delivery, and staff safety regulations that require staff members who are displaying symptoms to be quarantined at home.
Contactless Delivery is the need of the hour, with delivery outfits both small-scale and large, offering customers the option to pick up their food from their doorsteps, after it being left there by an executive. This ensures that no one-on-one contact occurs between the customer and the delivery executive, keeping both parties safe from possible infection.
“I think it’s important to take every extra step possible to ensure that guests who are ordering food get it in a safe and hygienic manner.” Explains Pankil Shah of Neighbourhood Hospitality, “The CDC, WHO and ICMR have all prescribed precautionary measures which should be implemented at all times.”
Despite these measures being in place, safety is not a bulletproof guarantee. Just recently, a 19-year-old delivery professional in Delhi tested positive for the novel coronavirus, sending 72 families and 20 delivery professionals with whom he had interacted over the previous 15 days, into quarantine. The restaurant, where the rider worked, has also been shut down for 14 days.
“After all precautions and vigilance, in an unfortunate turn of events, a delivery partner of our Malviya Nagar kitchen in South Delhi had tested COVID positive yesterday. We have shared all required information with authorities and they have reached out to all customers who had come in indirect contact with the affected,” the restaurant said in a statement, “While we serve the society, one of our delivery partners has taken the hit. We stand by him and are doing everything to support him,” added the eatery.
When asked about how this incident will affect the food industry, particularly delivery services, Pankil of Neighborhood Hospitality explains that the news is likely to put some fear in the hearts of customers. “This will affect confidence levels in the consumers for some time, but it’s good to remember that out of the millions of deliveries that might have happened in the country, this is a sole reported case.” He says, “Currently, there’s a risk element to everyday life and everyone needs to be careful about everything. “
While there is still much to be learned about the Novel Coronavirus and its transmission, necessary precautions are in place to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the process. That being said, individual responsibility is key to public health, and we must all take added measures to ensure our safety and that of those around us.
Food delivery professionals are amongst the other heroes on the frontlines ensuring we are all kept well-fed and safe. If you are in a position to help, consider donating a small sum to your delivery professional while ordering your next meal, as they are likely struggling to make it through this difficult period, just as you are.
TheVibe implores you to make the right decisions for your health and safety, and hopes that together, we can get through these grim times, and emerge stronger, and united as a people.
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