From drive-thru to grab-and-go, we asked experts about the safest way to score your caffeine fix.

Karla Walsh
April 06, 2020
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Everyone's trying to figure out what's safe and what's not as we practice social distancing to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Snagging coffee from the corner shop or neighborhood drive-thru is practically a morning ritual for more than a third of Americans polled in a recent Reuters survey (or at least it was before COVID-19). But in light of quarantine orders, is it time to adjust your java agenda and stay home?

Getty / tomazl

There is no evidence, as of yet, of food, drink or related packaging being linked to the transmission or positive cases of the coronavirus, explains Brian Katzowitz, M.S., a health communication specialist for the CDC. It's spread most often directly from person to person when an infected person talks, sneezes or coughs respiratory droplets that the well person inhales, according to the CDC (hence the 6-foot social distancing rule). So the most risky part about ordering carryout or drive-thru coffee is your interaction with the human taking your money and handing you your drink.

We are learning, however, that coronavirus can survive for up to three days outside of the body on surfaces like plastic or stainless steel, and up to one day on cardboard, but we're not sure if it can do so in "viral loads" enough to reinfect another person.

"To reduce risk of potential transmission, try to touch as little as possible when shopping, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands," Katzowitz says.

To be safe, it's best to touch only what's necessary and to follow all of the CDC guidelines for proper hygiene and prevention:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home as much as possible
  • When in public, wear a cloth face cover
  • Clean and disinfect frequently-used surfaces each day

Both Katzowitz and Natalie Seymour, a food safety extension associate at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, agree that it's A-OK to still support your local roaster and get your coffee to go. Check with your local coffee shop to see what they're doing to support limited contact. Starbucks, for example, has closed their in-store cafes, but some drive-thrus and grocery store locations remain open. Many other coffee shops have pivoted to online bean orders or curbside pickup for coffee drinks and pastries.

If a coffee shop is still open in your neighborhood, here's how to pick up a cup safely:

  • Opt for drive-thru over in-store ordering, if possible, to limit contact with other people.
  • Use hand sanitizer after exchanging money and your cup. Wash your hands when you get home.
  • If possible, pour the to-go coffee out of the takeout container and into a clean mug from your own kitchen. Try stashing a thermal mug like this Contigo Insulated Travel Mug ($11.99, target.com) in your cup holder, and remember to pour very carefully and only when you're in "park" to avoid hot coffee spills).

If it creates a sense of much-needed normalcy in your routine or feels like a special treat, it's fine to get coffee during the coronavirus pandemic. But if you'd prefer to be super-safe and stay at home, Bean Box will deliver to your door (and $2 from every bag now goes to the Feeding America® COVID-19 Response Fund). Be sure to follow our 9 rules for a perfect cup of DIY coffee when you're brewing at home.

The situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change quickly; it's possible that information or data has changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDCWHO and their local public health department as resources.