A University of Missouri Extension food safety specialist offers safety suggestions for volunteers delivering food to those in need during the COVID-19 era.
“Many people at high risk of being severely affected by COVID-19 due to age or underlying health conditions depend on the generosity of friends, family members and volunteers for food and other necessities,” said Londa Nwadike, who holds a joint extension appointment with MU and Kansas State University.
Research indicates that COVID-19 is spread most commonly by contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person, even if the person is not displaying symptoms, Nwadike said.
Though it is not thought to be the main way the virus is spread, it may be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or possibly eyes, she said.
Nwadike has safety tips people should consider to protect their own health as well as the health of the people they are delivering to when providing this vital service:
• Wear a cloth face covering when picking up and delivering food. Wash face coverings between trips and do not share them with others.
• Try to stay at least 6 feet from other people at all times. If possible, leave food and supplies at the doorstep then step back at least 6 feet when the person receiving the supplies comes to get them. Ideally, call ahead to let the person know you are coming.
• During pickups and deliveries, limit contact with frequently touched surfaces such as countertops, doorbells, elevator buttons and door handles. “Try to avoid using your hands to open doors,” Nwadike said. “If you can, use an elbow, hip, forearm or foot instead.”
• Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, particularly before and after pickup and delivery; before, during and after preparing food; before eating; after using the bathroom; and after coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose.
• Before and after your trip, clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces, including food preparation areas, cellphones and pens, and items in your vehicle such as the steering wheel, turn signal and windshield wiper levers, gearshift, and dashboard controls.
In addition to minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19, Nwadike said, volunteers should take care to avoid spoilage and cross-contamination when preparing and transporting food:
• Use appropriate containers to keep foods at safe temperatures. Transport hot foods in properly insulated cases. Pack cold foods with frozen gel packs, ice cubes or dry ice.
• Separate any raw foods from cooked and ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination.
• Routinely clean coolers, insulated bags and other containers used to deliver foods.
Nwadike and Susan Jones-Hard, MU Extension county engagement specialist in nutrition and health, have developed a printable tip sheet that is available for download at extensiondata.missouri.edu/ExtensionWay/Docs/covid-19/VolunteerFoodDelivery.pdf.
MU Extension maintains a regularly updated collection of COVID-19-related resources at extension2.missouri.edu/covid-19-resources-public.
• FDA: “Best Practices for Retail Food Stores, Restaurants, and Food Pick-Up/Delivery Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” bit.ly/2KVhJXi.
• CDC: “What Food and Grocery Pick-up and Delivery Drivers Need to Know About COVID-19,” bit.ly/3fh6MNG.