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But as more restaurants reopen dining rooms with social distancing measures in place, health experts say the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is still there. However, outdoor dining from a distance may be a safer alternative.
"Outside is better than inside, you get a little more oxygenation," Dr. Dean Hart, a New York-based microbiologist, tells FOX Business. "The virus is delicate, it'll live better inside, but if someone is sick or asymptomatic there's still a risk of being exposed to germs in the air or outside if, say, the wind blows even if someone is seated six feet apart."
The Food and Drug Administration has not found the coronavirus to be spread through food packaging or through food, however, Hart stresses the importance of not sharing food, drinks, utensils or communal table items like menus and washing hands before and after meals.
"This is not a foodborne illness [to worry about at restaurants], this is a social distancing issue," he said. "Keep the same sort of concerns that you would in any other social setting whether it be shopping at the grocery store or while eating outside at a restaurant. Be aware of the high-touch points and be cognizant if the facility has someone who is sanitizing."
Restaurants in harder-hit COVID-19 regions such as New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Connecticut have started to allow eaters to dine outside at restaurants. Here's how to do so safely.
Be diligent when dining out
While restaurants are mandated to follow health and safety guidelines for state and local authorities, it doesn’t hurt to do your own analysis if there’s a local restaurant you know and trust and want to consider dining out.
Be sure staffers are upholding CDC guidelines for health and safety. Are servers wearing masks? Are tables free of shared items like salt and pepper shakers? Are there paper menus and tables separated at least 6 feet apart? All of these measures are things to consider.
Todd Frantz, a food safety manager for UL, a global safety company, notes that many restaurants have already retrofitted restaurants with sanitation stations and dividers to separate diners.
"Restaurants have always had to follow health and safety guidelines, but now sanitizer is being made available for guests, plexiglass dividers are being installed between booths and eating spaces, there are certain things that the restaurant industry is going to be able to roll with pretty easily. There's a pretty good safety net in place if they're all being followed," Frantz explained.