Is It Okay to Bring Food to People During This Pandemic? (And All Your Other Food-Sharing Questions, Answered.)

updated Nov 13, 2020
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My sister works as an art therapist at Mt. Sinai in New York City where she’s considered essential personnel. Today, she took a much deserved day off and offered to bring my mom half a loaf of banana bread that she had baked earlier in the morning. She drove 15 minutes from her house to our house, carefully left the goods on the porch, and waved to us through the door.

The saddest part of the story isn’t the fact that we couldn’t hug my sister. The saddest part is that, once my sister left, and we brought the treat inside, my mom and I questioned whether or not it was safe for us to eat. Could we catch coronavirus from my (presumably uninfected) sister’s banana bread?

Unsure of the answer at the time, we sliced off a sliver of the exposed end of bread and threw it in the trash. We then suspiciously ate the rest of the banana bread, as if it were a Trojan Horse filled with potential viral agents. Our paranoia didn’t make the banana bread any less delicious, but it certainly took away from an exchange that, 8 months ago would have simply been a gift of happiness.

Now that the holiday season is around the corner, and our country is yet again experiencing another spike, celebrating safely is top of mind. Experts recommend avoiding travel and gathering altogether this Thanksgiving, which means our feasts are going to look a lot different than what we’re used to. If we can’t celebrate by eating around the the table, can we still share the gift of familiar food?

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Right now, when there are so many people in need — people who need food and might not have access to it, people who feel the need to help, and people who feel the need to stress cook/bake — it is really tough to feel unsure about sharing food. I wanted to resolve this confusion for myself and for everyone else. So, I consulted with a few experts.

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

Is it okay to bring a homemade dish (or pie, or whatever) to my neighbor?

Yes! Yes, it is! The CDC says there’s currently no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with foodDr. Donald Schaffner, a Food Science professor at Rutgers whose research specialties include quantitative microbial risk assessment, predictive food microbiology, hand-washing, and cross-contamination, agrees. “This is actually a really nice thing to do if you know someone who maybe can’t get out, or doesn’t like to [or can’t] cook for themselves. It’s absolutely just fine, as long as you practice appropriate social distancing.”

Following his advice, you’ll want to leave your homemade dish on a porch or someplace where you can have contactless delivery. Drop the dish off and send your neighbor a text (or make an actual phone call) to let them know it’s there.

Of course, you’ll still want to take proper precautions when making food for someone else, even if you don’t feel sick. Make sure the high-touch points in your kitchen are properly disinfected, wash your hands often (especially after touching packaging), and follow the usual food safety guidelines.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Is it safe to share my sourdough starter?

I know that many Kitchn readers are getting into the sourdough game. It’s fun and it’s something we can all do together, virtually. A lot of you have been asking our editors if it’s okay to share your starter. And it is! Again, there is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread through food — and the starter will ultimately get baked in the oven (which is believed to kill the virus, should it be living in there).

I sound like a broken record here, I know, but again: Be sure to wash your hands, place your sourdough starter in a clean container, and deliver it to the intended recipient in a socially distanced manner.

Is it okay to bring homemade food to someone who is pregnant or just had a baby?

The CDC has an entire section on its website about pregnancy and babies and the coronavirus. Unfortunately, there’s a lot we still don’t know: “We do not currently know if pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public nor whether they are more likely to have serious illness as a result.” We also do not know if a woman who tests positive for COVID-19 can transmit it to her baby via breastmilk.

Says the CDC: “Pregnant women should do the same things as the general public to avoid infection.” And, if you’re bringing food to someone who is pregnant or just had a baby, it is safe as long as you take the proper protocols mentioned above. When you deliver the food, you can remind them to wash their hands after opening the packaging, and let them know that you also took the proper precautions.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Can I bring food that doesn’t get cooked (like sandwiches or salads)?

Did you see that little line in the sourdough answer about how the heat from your oven will likely kill the virus? That might have you wondering about stuff that doesn’t get cooked — like sandwiches, salads, breads that you’ve made and then touched to wrap up and won’t be heated up again, etc. Once again, I’d like to remind you that there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. If you are preparing, say, a salad (for yourself or someone else!), take appropriate precautions and wash your hands before, during, and after preparation. The recipient should do the same both after removing the packaging and before eating. From there, all systems are go.

Is it okay to bring food to someone if I am feeling sick?

First of all, this is very thoughtful of you! When I’m sick, I want to hide in bed and do nothing — and you’re talking about bringing food to someone in need. The experts we’ve spoken to say, ideally, you’ll take time to rest (you need it). But if you absolutely have to cook for a neighbor or loved one, it’s likely fine. “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 while you are ill,” suggests Bethany Hodge, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor with the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Louisville.
Related: Can I Still Cook for My Family If I Feel Sick?

Have a question we haven’t answered yet? Let us know in the comments below.