April 8: MIT Medical answers your COVID-19 questions. Got a question about COVID-19? Send it to us at CovidQ@mit.edu, and we’ll do our best to provide an answer.
Could I get COVID-19 from eating take-out food that had somehow become contaminated by airborne viral particles?
We can’t answer this question with an absolute “no,” but we can tell you it is very unlikely that you would become sick in this way. Although we are still learning more about the virus, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.
This is not surprising based on what we know about the different paths organisms take to make people sick. Respiratory viruses, like COVID-19, typically attach to cells in places like the lungs and cannot survive the acidic environment of the digestive system. In contrast, the microorganisms that cause digestive illnesses, like norovirus and salmonella, survive the acid in stomachs and make people ill by attaching to the cells inside their intestines.
In addition, we wouldn’t expect viral particles landing on food to remain viable for very long. Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot grow inside food, so any amount of virus that ended up in food would diminish over time, rather than grow.
When it comes to take-out food and COVID-19, your biggest risk is contact with other people — like cashiers, restaurant staff, or delivery people. Minimizing or completely eliminating those contacts will greatly reduce any risk associated with restaurant take-out.