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Donald Schaffner, an expert on microbial risk assessment, counsels the public on hygiene dos and don’ts.

Donald Schaffner, an expert on microbial risk assessment
According to Donald Schaffner, you can safely order takeout from your favorite restaurant. And if drop-and-go delivery is an option, take it.
Photography by John O’Boyle

He debunked the “5-second rule” for dropped food on the floor (it’s not safe to eat), a finding reported worldwide in 2016. So, it’s no wonder that microbial risk assessment expert Donald Schaffner—professor at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and food science extension specialist—became the guy to weigh in on conventional wisdom, risk, and everyday life during the COVID-19 outbreak. Yahoo, NJ.com, and Discover magazine were among the media outlets that came calling.

In one Yahoo story, Schaffner recounted his trip to the grocery store, offering top tips for safety. Job one is to plan your shopping in advance so you can speed through the store, Schaffner says. Buy only what you need to minimize time in the aisles. If you’re just picking up a few items, grab those reusable bags from home. That way, you don’t have to touch a cart or the store’s plastic bags or baskets. If you expect to fill a cart, bring wipes or use ones that the store supplies to clean the cart handle and remember to wait before using the cart; it takes a few minutes for the wipe’s disinfectant to dry and become effective. At checkout, choose self-checkout. You’ll come into contact with a touch pad but that’s safer than face-to-face contact with a checker or bagger.

So now you’re home, you’ve cooked some of that food, dinner is done, and you’re ready to clean up. Yahoo asked Schaffner which kitchen areas should get the most attention. Focus on high-touch areas, he advised, so tables, chairs including backs, knobs, light switches, door handles, microwaves, sinks and faucets, and don’t forget the remotes.

It’s been six straight days of cooking and you need a break. NJ.com wanted to know if you can safely order takeout from your favorite restaurant. Schaffner’s answer: “a resounding yes.” If drop-and-go delivery is an option, take it. Pay with a credit card online or over the phone. If your delivery person must come to the door, minimize your contact. Wash your hands before you attack the food, and put the food on your own plates if you can. If you can’t, wipe down the containers before eating.

Another day is done, and if you followed Don Schaffner’s advice, it likely was a less risky one.