First, cookie. The cookies themselves shouldn’t be a concern. COVID-19 isn’t a foodborne illness. That is, unlike salmonella, E. coli, or another bug that tends to live in food, the coronavirus doesn’t remain viable in food for long because, like any virus, it can’t reproduce outside of animal cells. However delicious the cookies may be, the virus won’t be able to feed off of them and will degrade pretty quickly. The exact length of time depends on how much virus is there to begin with, but the fact is that this one seems not to persist in sufficient quantities to infect people.
Read: How you should get food during the pandemic
You also have another safety consideration working in your favor: Baking is essentially the same process that hospitals use to sterilize medical instruments. Extreme heat can quickly kill the virus. Just three minutes at above 149 degrees Fahrenheit has been shown to do the job. I don’t recommend baking if you know you’re sick, but even if you were unknowingly contagious and breathing heavily and singing while mixing the ingredients, any viral particles you managed to plant in the dough should be destroyed within seconds in a 400-degree oven. This cookie exchange should not turn into a Typhoid Mary situation.
Once you take the cookies out and let them cool, use a spatula to put them onto trays, and you should be in the clear. If you use your hands to dole out the cookies, you could hypothetically transfer some microbes onto the cookies. Theoretically, if your hand was coated in the virus, and you aggressively palmed a cookie and handed it directly to someone who immediately ate it, that could be dangerous. But so far, there have been no documented cases of food poisoning with the coronavirus. Surface transmission hasn’t factored as heavily in transmission as we initially believed.
Keep in mind, though, that other microbes can live on baked goods, sometimes for months. You can transfer common gastrointestinal illnesses such as hepatitis A by touching food with your hands and then giving it to other people. Washing your hands regularly during the baking process can help minimize that risk. If you have to use your finger to slide a sticky cookie off the spatula, don’t panic. But for the most part, pandemic or not, avoid touching communal food of any sort.
While the cookie part of this isn’t an issue, the exchange part is. The real concern about cookie exchanges comes from gathering with people. I know it’s tempting to watch people eat the cookies you’ve made and to have them tell you they’re delicious. You deserve it after making seven kinds of cookies. But don’t get caught up in the moment and let things escalate into a cookie festival. Nothing resembling a traditional holiday party will be safe, even under the auspices of exchanging cookies.