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Is it safe to cook for people I don’t live with during the coronavirus lockdown?

Here’s what you should know about food delivery amid the COVID-19 outbreak
WATCH: Here’s what you should know about food delivery amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Millions of Canadians have been holed up at home for weeks now, practising physical distancing in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. As a result, more than half say they feel lonely and isolated.

People are trying all kinds of ways of staying socially connected, from video calls with friends to “driveway parties” with neighbours.

Now, some are cooking and baking for friends and family, leaving treats at people’s doors as a way of caring for others during this difficult time — but could this spread the virus?

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Should I disinfect groceries before bringing them into the house?

“The food safety community [doesn’t] really see any issues with cooking for other people,” said Jeff Farber, professor of food science at the University of Guelph.
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However, that doesn’t mean you can forgo sanitation and hygiene procedures when cooking.

“People should be paying attention to sanitation and cooking procedures they normally would in non-pandemic times,” Farber said.

Cooking hygiene and sanitation

A study published in March determined the new coronavirus can live in the air for several hours and on some surfaces for as long as two to three days.

For this study, researchers used a nebulizer device to put samples of the virus into the air, imitating what might happen if an infected person coughed or made the virus airborne some other way.

They found that viable virus could be detected up to three hours later in the air, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

Grocery stores add measures to protect staff and public
Grocery stores add measures to protect staff and public

“We do know that the coronavirus can survive on plastic for up to 72 hours,” Dr. Jeff Kwong, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, previously told Global News.

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For this reason, practising good hygiene in the kitchen is more important than ever — especially if what you’re cooking is intended to go to another household.

“This means washing your hands well before you prepare foods and keeping your cooking space clean,” Farber said.

READ MORE: Quarantine that stress — Limit screen time during coronavirus outbreak, experts say

It’s also, as always, important to follow proper cooking instructions to avoid giving someone a foodborne illness (like food poisoning).

“Ensure you’re not cross-contaminating cooked meat with raw meat,” Farber said.

“You don’t want to give somebody [food poisoning] right now.”

Preparing food for people who are vulnerable

Preparing homemade food can be a thoughtful way to tell friends and family you’re thinking of them. It can also be an easy way to help the elderly during this time of self-isolation.

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However, if you are dropping food off for people who are elderly or otherwise immunocompromised, there are some precautions you should take.

The first step is to ensure you’re maintaining physical distancing at all times. This means keeping six feet (or two metres) between you and the other person.

READ MORE: Sore back, neck from working at home? Quick fixes to improve your workspace

“We generally recommend that you should be phoning ahead,” said Farber.

When you arrive, place the food container at the person’s front door and then step away. Try to avoid touching doorbells, door handles or other areas of high contact.

Only once you’re a safe distance away, call the receiver to let them know the food is there.

Coronavirus: Shoppers caught not physical distancing at grocery stores
Coronavirus: Shoppers caught not physical distancing at grocery stores

If you’re the person receiving the food and you’re considered “high-risk” for contracting the virus, Farber says it’s smart to disinfect the container the food came in and any surfaces the container may touch in your home.

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“Let’s say you place the food on your kitchen counter,” he said. “After you put the food away into the fridge or the cupboard, use disinfecting wipes to wipe down the surface the containers touch.”

After this, be sure to wash your hands.

“The risk I’m talking about here is very low, but it’s still good to reduce the risk as much as possible,” Farber said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

Meghan.Collie@globalnews.ca