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Food inspector explains why takeout and drive-thrus are safe despite coronavirus
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Food inspector explains why takeout and drive-thrus are safe despite coronavirus

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TWIN FALLS — As the COVID-19 pandemic forces widespread social distancing and Idaho sits under Gov. Brad Little’s stay-home order, people are only supposed to travel for essential services.

Some of the few places people can still consistently go are restaurants where takeout and drive-thru options are available.

But just how much risk is there of catching the coronavirus by grabbing some to-go food and coming home?

According to Idaho’s South Central Public Health District and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s not very high, as long as the employees and customers practice proper sanitation and distancing techniques.

Even while the health district is spending much of its time and resources dealing directly with the coronavirus, it is still responsible for regular restaurant inspections. Idaho health codes require at least a yearly inspection.

Jacob Ward, an environmental health specialist in the district’s Twin Falls office who oversees restaurant inspections, said the frequency of inspections has not gone down during the pandemic.

“The COVID investigations are taking up most of our time, and we’re doing the food inspections right after that,” Ward said.

He said that techniques during inspections have changed a bit to accommodate social distancing rules, but much is still the same. Hand-washing and hygiene practices are critical, especially now.

The CDC said that it is unlikely that the coronavirus is transmitted through food. So Ward said that while it’s not infected food that is a potential danger at restaurants, coming in contact with other people is much more of a threat. That’s why to-go options are relatively safe.

“The thing about drive-thru and carryout is that the restaurants can control the six feet of distance between people,” he said. “That really helps.”

The district also recommends that restaurants check with their employees about their health before their shifts begin in order to make sure no one who may be carrying the virus brings it in.

So while the coronavirus’ main transmission threat isn’t through food, safety regulations that restaurants already much abide by can help to contain the overall threat.

“It does still help that there are already protections against something that might be transferred through food,” health district spokeswoman Brianna Bodily said. “There are people that are very concerned of course about grocery shopping and getting their food in safe ways through safe methods, but social distancing is one of the top ways that they can protect themselves.”

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