Can You Get Coronavirus From a Public Restaurant?


Coronavirus is sweeping the globe, and people are wondering how they need to alter their daily routines to avoid contracting it. One thing people are curious about is whether you can get Coronavirus from a public restaurant. The short answer is yes.

Dr. Kristen Gibson, an associate professor of Food Safety and Microbiology at the University of Arkansas, tells Heavy, “Absolutely, Coronavirus can be spread in a public restaurant as it can be spread in any public space.” She continues, “If there is an infected person in that space then both person to person transmission can occur as well as transmission from a contaminated surface if someone touches it and then touches their mouth, nose, etc.”

Dr. Rachel Graham, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, tells Heavy, “The novel coronavirus (or any respiratory virus) can be transmitted by droplet, which means nasal and lung secretions. These are best disseminated in crowded environments where the space between individuals is low. The virus can also be transmitted via fomite (touched surface) transmission, such as bathroom and building doors, stairwell handrails, etc. Additionally, a fellow restaurant patron or employee at the restaurant may be infected and could transmit. In those senses, the virus can be transmitted at public restaurants. However, commercial businesses nationwide are going public with their sanitation and cleaning policies. Awareness of cleanliness is at an all-time high. These measures are mitigating factors that can reduce the potential for spread.”

It is worth noting that this time, there is no evidence to support that COVID-19 is associated with food. However, exposure to other people and surfaces touched by an infected individual at a restaurant could pose a risk.

Wash Your Hands Before Handling Food

The CDC writes, “Before preparing or eating food it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety. Throughout the day wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or going to the bathroom.”

Dr. Gibson seconds those sentiments, adding, “I think the same rules apply as always. Employees should not work when sick and people should not be going out to eat when sick. And of course, any susceptible population should take the same precautions as always though maybe be a little more diligent. And if you do go out…wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands!”

Asked if she recommends people stop visiting public restaurants, Graham says, “In my opinion, I don’t think we’re at the point yet where people should be locking themselves at home and avoiding public places like restaurants. However, awareness is key. Be aware of the people surrounding you and of yourself. If you’re about to eat, wash your hands. Wash your hands after using the restroom. If you’re concerned about the cleanliness of your table, ask the server to wipe it down for you.”

The National Restaurant Association Is Engaging With Federal Officials to Address Coronavirus

The National Restaurant Association has dedicated a page of their website to “Corona Information and Resources,” to address questions about the Coronavirus, such as what it is, whether it can be spread through food, and how restaurants are responding to the crisis.

In response to the latter, they write, “The foodservice industry follows strict local public health guidelines. To meet these guidelines, restaurants have safety protocols and best practices in place, including guidance from ServSafe. Owners and operators should contact their state and local health departments for the latest advisories/information about coronavirus in their community. The Association also has a fact sheet in English and Spanish with information specific to the industry.”

Similarly, ServSafe, a food and beverage safety training and certificate program administered by the National Restaurant Association, offers a downloadable PDF on Coronavirus.

Citing the CDC, they recommend hand washing, avoiding touching the face, covering the nose and mouth, and getting a flu vaccine to help prevent against COVID-19.

In terms of what to do if an employee shows flu-like symptoms, they write, “It is highly recommended that any employees who are showing flu-like symptoms should be excluded from the operation until they are symptom free.”

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