Don't Let Coronavirus Stop You From Going Out to Eat

COVID-19 has tortured the stock market, travel, and now the food industry. On March 6, a Starbucks employee at a downtown Seattle location tested positive for coronavirus, according to a company statement. The worker is now isolated at home, and the store is closed and has been deep cleaned.

First, it’s important to know that the novel coronavirus is spread from person-to-person. It’s unlikely—but possible—for food service workers like servers and kitchen staff to spread the virus, says Rodney Rohde, chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) Program and Associate Dean for Research for the College of Health Professions at Texas State University.

“I don’t think it’s anything to panic about or any reason to stop going out to eat,” he tells Men’s Health. However, if the virus escalates in your area and there are thousands of cases, then it may be time to consider dining at home, he says.

Rohde says you should be more concerned about using public touch screens to order your food than the food itself.

Washing your hands after using screens, before eating, and as soon as you get home are simple ways to avoid getting sick.

For the most part, the food service industry hasn’t seen a decline in business—yet, says Roslyn Stone, chief operating officer of Zero Hour Health, which advises restaurants and companies on health and wellness.

“There’s a concern that people might not want to eat in restaurants,” she tells Men’s Health.

Sit-down restaurants may face a challenge, Stone says. “People might want to grab their food and want to go.”

However, restaurants that already follow good food safety practices to ensure you don’t get sick from food-borne illnesses won’t pose a risk to consumers, according to Stone. “We are as concerned about Hepatitis A as we are about coronavirus,” she says.

Stone says restaurants need to focus on ensuring touch points—like door knobs—are sanitized often, employees wash their hands, and that sick workers stay at home.

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At Starbucks, the company has increased the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing in all of their stores. Personal cups, which customers could previously use for coffee in exchange for a discount, are no longer permitted. Large meetings in their U.S. and Canadian offices have been postponed or modified, and business-related air travel is restricted, according to a company statement.

Other chains are taking precautions, too. One Dunkin’ Donuts location in Chicago switched to disposable paper towels instead of using rags to clean dirty tables, Bloomberg reports. A Chicago Noodles & Co. has replaced all metal flatware with plastic to alleviate fears of picking up the virus from a dirty fork or spoon, according to the outlet.

Even small independent businesses are taking extra precautions, like Dubrovnik Restaurant in New Rochelle, New York. The state’s governor Andrew Cuomo called the city a “hot spot,” because it has 98 cases, according to CNBC.

“We are proactively doing some extra deep cleaning and sanitizing of all surfaces, especially menus, check presenters and door handles. We also provide hand sanitizers and wipes by our hostess stand,” says Matija Zarak, general manager of Dubrovnik.

Staff has been instructed not to come to work if they are sick. Employees who show up to their shifts showing signs of illness, like coughing or sneezing, will be sent home, says Zarak.

Although Rohde agrees people should exhibit caution by washing their hands, he doesn’t think there’s any reason to let coronavirus dictate your life.

“There are way more dangerous things going on around you on a daily basis,” he says.

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