How to organize a meal at home without risk to the guests?
Text updated on 2020-10-05
A meal can be prepared, served and shared without contaminating the guests. Family meals or meals in restaurants have been a proven source of contamination, so precautions must be taken. The most important thing is to cook and serve with a mask and disinfected hands, and to keep guests at a safe distance from each other. Finally, it is preferable to plan the meal outside. If this is not possible, ventilate by opening the windows.
Preparing the meal
It's easy to prepare coronavirus-free food. The precautions to be taken are the same as in a collective kitchen (restaurant, cafeteria, etc.): wash your hands well, put a mask on while cooking, and before putting the dishes on the table (see Note).
- Cooking food destroys the coronavirus. To avoid contaminating the prepared dish, leave it in the pan and cover it.
- Wash food eaten raw (salads, raw vegetables, fruit): careful washing with running water followed by rinsing is a general hygiene tip, even outside the pandemic. Serve in a dish covered with a towel (paper or cloth).
- The bread comes out of the baker's oven, almost sterile. It is often sold in a paper bag on which the virus does not survive long.
- Packaged cheeses are, a priori free, of coronavirus, especially if they are kept out of the fridge.
- Tap water and bottled drinks are, a priori, free of coronavirus.
During the meal
It is not so easy to avoid contamination between guests as they talk to each other, pass along food dishes, and breath in indoor spaces. The greater the number of people and the longer the meal lasts, the more the virus circulates in the area and the more susceptible guests may become. Let's look at some ways to avoid contamination between guests to be adapted according to the risk.
- Since the guests are not wearing masks, the air in the room will be charged with a potentially contaminating aerosol. It is therefore preferable to plan the meal outside, in a garden or courtyard. If this is not possible, it is important to ventilate by opening the windows wide. If it is cold, bring warm clothing.
- How to avoid touching flatware and cutlery and infecting them with your saliva when serving yourself? You can divide each dish into several small dishes, each for two or three guests. Only touch the dishes and cutlery using a clean paper towel and serve yourself without talking. The service can be served by a "masked waiter", with well washed hands. It is more likely to contaminate your hands than the food.
- In order to talk, eat, and drink without too much restraint, it is preferable that the guests of the different homes be separated by about two meters. If this is not possible, consider wearing transparent face shield that block droplets but allow people to see and talk to each other and eat without too much discomfort.
- Finally, precautions independent of the meal are to be taken as well: no hugging, no exchange of objects.
- Bathrooms: Leave the windows open so that there is enough air between each visit. If this is not possible, recommend that everyone wear a mask to the bathroom. See the question Can you get the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus from going to the bathroom?
- The use of disposable gloves is less safe than hand washing with soap and water.
- At the beginning of October 2020, we found NO scientific article describing a case of contamination of COVID-19 by a food, and even no "preprint" (draft article submitted for evaluation, but not yet validated). We are well aware that "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". However, this coronavirus and its transmission are being studied by thousands of doctors and scientists around the world. Since no publication shows any transmission through food, this means that this route of contamination is rare or non-existent. We have therefore modified our answer to this question (written before the summer of 2020) to take this fact into account. However, the sharing of meals is often contaminated by vectors other than food (sprays, aerosols, contacts).
SARS-CoV-2 is inactivated in 5 minutes at 70°C, but it resists well at 4°C.Chin, A. W., Chu, J. T., Perera, M. R., Hui, K. P., Yen, H. L., Chan, M. C., ... & Poon, L. L. (2020). Stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions. The Lancet Microbe, 1(1), e10.
In one restaurant, a pre-symptomatic person with COVID-19 contaminated at least two other people more than 2 meters away, who were eating at two adjacent tables. Note that the space was enclosed and that ventilation must have contributed to the spread of the viral particles.Lu, J., Gu, J., Li, K., Xu, C., Su, W., Lai, Z., ... & Yang, Z. (2020). COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in Restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 26(7).
Several cases COVID-19 in January-February 2020 in South Korea were due to contamination following a family meal or at a restaurant/café.Kong, I., Park, Y., Woo, Y., Lee, J., Cha, J., Choi, J., ... & Kim, T. (2020). Early epidemiological and clinical characteristics of 28 cases of coronavirus disease in South Korea. Osong Public Health Res Perspect, 11(1), 8-14.
Several people from the same family were contaminated after two family reunion dinners.Ye, F., Xu, S., Rong, Z., Xu, R., Liu, X., Deng, P., ... & Xu, X. (2020). Delivery of infection from asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 in a familial cluster. International Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Several cases of contamination at family meals in China.Liu, Y., Eggo, R. M., & Kucharski, A. J. (2020). Secondary attack rate and superspreading events for SARS-CoV-2. The Lancet, 395(10227), e47.