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Is It Safe to Share Stress-Baked Sourdough with Neighbors?

The etiquette for sharing food during coronavirus, from cookies to casseroles 

Homemade sourdough bread Thuy Nguyen

Welcome to Ask Eater, a column from Eater SF where the site’s editors answer specific or baffling dining requests from readers and friends. Have a question for us? Submit your question in this form.

Dear Eater SF,

What’s the etiquette for sharing baked goods right now? I’m doing a lot of quarantine baking, but my partner and I can’t eat it all. Normally I share these treats with my coworkers, but now, I don’t know! Is it safe to drop off packages for friends and neighbors, as long as they feel comfortable accepting them?

Sincerely,
Quarantined Pastry Queen

Your Majesty,

As a home baker who’s been taking comfort in chocolate chip cookies and mocha cupcakes, and right now is contemplating a fresh batch of currant scones, I feel you. My partner doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth at the best of times, which means it’s just me, personally, cramming cookie dough into the freezer every day, and polishing off cupcakes every night. I sympathize with the sourdough bakers in particular. It’s a wonderful impulse to want to share loaves with family, friends, and neighbors, especially during these trying times. And yet — is it safe?

The authorities don’t directly answer this question. Again, the new coronavirus (COVID-19) primarily spreads from person to person, when someone coughs or sneezes within six feet. There is currently no evidence to support the transmission of the virus through food, according to both the CDC and the FDA. From that perspective, if your neighbors already feel comfortable ordering takeout and delivery, they might also feel comfortable accepting homemade food.

As with takeout, you should drop it off on their doorstep and maintain social distance. And they should transfer the food to their own plates, toss the containers and packaging, and wash their hands before digging in. As already covered, heat can kill bacteria, and might help kill the virus, so it’s worth reheating casseroles and lasagnas until bubbling, and simmering soups and stews for a few minutes. This might not be an option for baked goods, if you normally enjoy them at room temperature, but it couldn’t hurt to toast sourdough.

Digging into the differences between restaurant takeout and homemade treats, a few thoughts. Again, I’m no virologist, and this is not medical advice. But as a cook myself, who’s worked out of both restaurant and home kitchens, I’ve got to say, I personally have way more confidence in the cleanliness of pro kitchens. Restaurants have steel countertops, with sanitation buckets tucked underneath, and particularly right now, cooks are wearing gloves, wiping down, and are professionally trained in hand washing. That said, in terms of social distancing, there are more people in and out of those kitchens. As a home cook, you might be baking solo.

Even under normal circumstances, most people can’t see inside the ghost kitchen they’re ordering takeout from, and don’t know whether their coworker’s kitten dug through his litter box before strolling across the kitchen counter. When it comes to coronavirus, there’s a low risk of transmission through food, provided you’re smart about social distancing, containers, and handwashing — but other foodborne illnesses haven’t gone on vacation just because coronavirus hit the scene, and this is not the time to need to go to the doctor with a case of food poisoning. The best etiquette in all circumstances is to politely ask friends and neighbors before dropping off food. Anyone who wants to fully avoid every risk shouldn’t accept homemade treats.

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