It’s the holiday season, and as we’re all making adjustments to our plans due to COVID-19, you may be wondering whether it’s safe to give and receive baked goods from friends, acquaintances and loved ones. We consulted two experts to help answer your burning questions and, spoiler alert, you can go ahead with baking your holiday cookies.
When it comes to preparing food for others, pandemic or not, it’s important to follow proper food safety practices. This includes basic things like washing your hands, working on sanitized surfaces, using clean utensils and packaging food in clean containers.
“Keeping the process clean is top tier advice when preparing food for yourself and especially when preparing to gift food to others,” Tamika D. Sims, senior director of food technology communications at the International Food Information Council, told HuffPost. “Washing your hands is always important to reduce any germ transfer from you to a food or vice versa.”
While no evidence has emerged that COVID-19 is transmitted via handling or consuming food, some folks on your gift list may be uncomfortable about receiving food as gifts this holiday season.
“My advice would be to ask if they are OK with receiving baked goods as gifts,” Jessica Briggs, a clinical fellow in infectious diseases at UC San Francisco, told HuffPost. “Then everyone will feel better about the giving and receiving.”
If you’re not feeling well, do not bake ― especially if you are coughing or sneezing. “Practically the only way transmission might occur is if you sneeze or cough on the packaging and the person receiving the gift touches the packaging in less than 24 hours and then touches their nose, mouth or eyes,” Briggs said.
Is food made by someone in their home kitchen safer, less safe, or just as safe as food bought from the grocery store, a restaurant or a bakery?
Sims said that as long as the home cook is utilizing proper food safety protocols, what they prepare in their kitchen is just as safe as store-bought food. “If you suspect a person has not been using proper safe food handling practices, it is best to not eat food they have given you,” she said.
Briggs said that she tells friends “to wash their hands for 20 seconds before eating what I make, which they should be doing before eating regardless!”
Can the heat of the oven kill the virus? Should you heat already-baked goods in the oven to kill any virus on the surface?
While your oven can reach temperatures that would be hot enough to kill the virus, it isn’t necessary to heat already-baked goods made by someone else before consuming them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “does not think it is necessary to reheat baked goods in order to inactivate the virus, because the risk of transmission by food is so low,” Briggs said. “There is one review paper that suggests that heating at over 160 degrees Fahrenheit for three minutes should be sufficient to inactivate SARS-COV-2, but this research was conducted primarily on non-food materials such as clothing, masks, cardboard, etc.”
While there is no scientific evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted by food consumption, Sims noted that the virus is sensitive to heat and can be killed by cooking foods or reheating them to the recommended safe temperatures.
What are the risks of touching or eating already-baked goods?
You can rest assured that any baked goods you receive as gifts this holiday season have a low possibility of transmitting the coronavirus. As always, make sure you’re washing your hands before eating.
“It is possible that a person could get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, including food or food packaging, that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes,” Briggs said. “However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, and I would consider this a very low-risk activity as long as you wash your hands before eating the baked good.”
Washing your hands is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from the virus. “Because the coronavirus has relatively poor survivability on surfaces (less than three days), there is a low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated and frozen temperatures,” Sims said. “Still, it’s important to wash or sanitize your hands after handling packages, since research has found that the coronavirus can survive up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel after contact.”