Monday, March 16, 2020

Pandemic Takeout Rule of Thumb

If your pantry is thinning out and the supermarket is madness...

Or if you want to support local business without taking undue risk...

Or if you're simply craving some variety...

Let's talk takeout.

But first let's talk germs. Slog technical advisor Pierre (a biochemist by training) says it's madly overboard to worry about touching stuff another person briefly touched (unless, of course, they're visibly ill). First, touching is not infecting. If you wash hands and don't touch your face (perhaps you've heard those suggestions?), the risk is arguably manageable.

And "manageable" is satisfactory here, because it's likely useless to imagine you won't eventually be infected. The virus will find you. We socially distance right now to level the curve of contagion in order to prevent hospital meltdowns (i.e. as much for society as for ourselves). But we needn't imagine the clerk handing us change to be passing along a ripe handful of Dengue Fever.

In terms of food service, here's where I'm drawing the line. I won't eat in restaurants, where three or four people might touch my food after it's cooked. That's too much potential virus going directly into me. Pierre might shrug it off, but I won't. Call me hysterical. But yesterday, for example, I got takeout chicken stew from a Latino steam table. The server certainly never touched the stew (it's hot, and has been hot ever since it was cooked - i.e. sterilized). She did touch my takeout container with her bare hands, and gave me back change with her bare hands.

I returned the change as a tip (she'll need it when such places shut down in a week or three), and disinfected my hands before getting in my car. I doubt viruses thrive on styrofoam, but from an abundance of caution, I transferred the food to a plate when I got home, threw out the styrofoam, and washed my hands. And the stew was delicious (I also picked up some frozen tamales; I'll similarly discard the foil wrapper and wash my hands. That's all.)

In my view (I'm neither a doctor nor a virologist), that's sufficiently prudent, especially considering the ultimate futility of avoidance. I'd be a whole lot more careful with dengue, but I'm normally much less careful with colds and flu.

I declined the tortillas, which were not heated and might have been handled by multiple people...though I certainly could have taken them and heated them up at home (they're tastier that way, anyway). Heat kills pandemic viruses, just like it kills everyday ones.

So my Pandemic Takeout Rule of Thumb is as follows:

1. Anything heated thoroughly during cooking...and

2. served hot enough that nobody would have stuck their fingers in it...and

3. comes to me via a single person not hacking up bits of throbbing lung okay.

4. Same for any exceptions to the above which I can very thoroughly reheat on my end.

And that leaves many options. No tacos or sushi or sandwiches, which are hand-assembled from stuff that itself was handled, and/or is uncooked, and can't be thoroughly reheated. But, still, that's a big segment of takeout.

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