Coronavirus: How to stay safe while cooking your own feeds under lockdown

While there's no evidence the virus behind COVID-19 can be transmitted through food, experts are saying we should take care when preparing and eating just in case.

SARS-CoV-2 has infected more than a million people and killed nearly 60,000 since emerging in China late last year. 

The primary way it's spread is in droplets expelled via coughing and sneezing, but there is increasing evidence you can catch it just by breathing in air near an infected person.

"Touching surfaces and objects and then your eyes, nose or mouth may also be a way to transfer the virus," said Cathy Moir, chair of the Food Safety Information Council of Australia. 

Of course, this is also how we eat. 

"The good news is that Food Standards Australia New Zealand states that there is no international evidence so far that the virus causing COVID-19 is transmitted through eating food," said Moir.

Still, she says we should be taking extra precautions when preparing food - which we're all doing a lot more of, with most restaurants and takeaways shut.

Firstly, if you're sick, get someone else to make dinner.

"Cover all coughs and sneezes so you don't contaminate the kitchen environment and food. Wash hands regularly and clean benches and utensils. If you are the only available cook, eg. a single parent, cook a frozen meal or something simple that requires minimal handling, or order a home-delivered takeaway."

Fresh produce will help boost your immune system, but make sure you wash it thoroughly beforehand.

"Don't use hand sanitizer or body soap to clean produce as these may contain chemicals you don't want to consume (and it will taste nasty!)," said Moir. "If you grow your own food, don't water it with 'grey' water from washing machines, baths, showers or handwashing."

Try to stick to food that's not past its 'use-by' date. Stuff that's past it's 'best-before' date is fine, it just might not be as good. 

"Put newly purchased items at the back of the pantry shelf or fridge so you use older items first," said Moir.

"If you and the kids are stuck at home you might want to tidy out the pantry, freezer and fridge and see who can find the most out-of-date item."

We're all doing a lot more of this now. Photo credit: Getty

If you're bulk-cooking, Moir says to package leftovers up as soon as possible, to stop bacteria growing.

If you defrost something then change your mind, she says it's fine to stick it back in the freezer - as long as it hasn't been sitting out too long. 

"Refrozen food may be slightly watery and lose a little quality as freezing breaks down the food structure."

Above all else, wash your hands, utensils and surfaces before and after cooking - especially if you're having meat, poultry or eggs. 

"Eggs are nutritious and convenient but raw or slightly cooked egg dishes such as mayonnaise, eggnog, health shakes, steak tartare and mousses are a food poisoning risk and best avoided."

If you're heading out to get something, follow social distancing rules - stay at least 2m away from anyone outside your home 'bubble' - and use sanitiser and soap where possible.

"Don’t put unpackaged fresh fruit and veg directly into your trolley but use the plastic bags provided for your fresh produce," said Moir.

"Don't handle produce items and put them back for others or taste test the grapes as you touch your mouth with your hands. 

"Shopping bags should not be placed on any food preparation benches to prevent contamination. Wash your hands immediately when you return home from shopping and again after putting away groceries."

Follow these guidelines, and you increase the chance of staying well and being allowed to dine out the minute the lockdown is lifted.