Can I Still Cook for My Family If I Feel Sick?

updated Aug 3, 2020
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Remember when our biggest kitchen questions were centered around whether or not it was okay to eat ice cream with freezer burn and what to do with a pound of ground beef? Our questions have changed dramatically as the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold. A couple big questions we’re hearing and wondering ourselves revolve around when it’s okay (and not okay) to cook for others, especially if we don’t feel well or think we may have the virus. We went searching for answers — and here’s what we found.

Related: All Your Urgent Coronavirus-Related Grocery Shopping Questions, Answered

Can I still cook for my family if I feel sick?

For many families, there may be one primary caregiver, or one person who knows their way around a kitchen. What should they do if they aren’t feeling well? 

We asked Bethany Hodge, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor with the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Louisville and Norton Children’s Medical Group. First, she reminded us that the CDC says there’s currently no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. “The FDA has weighed in as well and is reassuring that our food supply chain appears to be intact and not a vector of transmission,” she says.

“So while there is some evidence that the COVID-19 virus can stay alive on surfaces — such as cardboard and steel — for a long duration, there are no current recorded transmissions of the disease from packaging or from food itself,” Hodge says.

The real issue here lies with living under the same roof: “All household members are considered ‘close contacts’ and risk transmitting the virus person-to-person, so the greatest risk is just being in the same house, breathing the same air, using the same bathroom, etc,” Hodge adds.

Given this concern, Hodge offers the following advice if you’re feeling sick: “If cooking duties can be transferred to someone else so you can self-quarantine away from vulnerable family members, then the CDC does recommend separating yourself — even within the same house. If staying away from family by keeping yourself to one room and using a separate bathroom is recommended.” This is important, not only for your family’s sake, but also for your own.

Hodge recognizes that this isn’t really feasible for every family. If you’re unable to isolate, and still need to prepare food for your family, “start with clean hands, wash produce, and cook meats thoroughly as you usually would. If you have a mask, you can wear it when cooking food or being around family members while you are ill,” she suggests. 

So, final answer? “If there are no other options for take-out or others helping with cooking, I think that making sure you and your family members eat healthy meals during this time of stress would give benefits that outweigh the risks of transmitting the virus.” In other words, as a last resort and if you are cautious to follow all best practices, yes, you can still cook for your family if you must. 

Credit: Linda Bestwick / Shutterstock

Can I bring food to my neighbor if I’m not sick?

Many of us may live near people who need help for one reason or another. A default and long-held tradition, of course, is to cook for them. But we’re all asking: Is that still safe, even if we’re not sick? 

Some heartening news here. “It’s fine to cook for other people if you are not sick,” says Hodge. 

It’s what we do next that matters as much, if not more: “Delivering food to others is where you may run into problems with transmitting or catching the virus,” she says. “So it would be best to leave it on a doorstep and let the recipient know it is there to avoid any contact.”

From there, of course, they should follow best practices and wash their hands after touching the packaging to remove the food and before eating it.  

What other food-related questions do you have about the coronavirus? Leave them in the comments below and we’ll try to get answers!