Even as coronavirus lockdown restrictions begin to lift, grocery shopping as we know it may never be the same. The fact remains that social distancing is key to helping prevent the spread of coronavirus, and until there’s a vaccine, taking extra precautions when buying food makes sense.
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At the Store
If you venture out, follow these general guidelines:
Wear a Mask
While cloth face masks don’t provide 100 percent protection, the CDC recommends wearing them to help prevent the spread of coronavirus when outside of your home, especially in closer quarters where proper social distancing is difficult—like in a grocery store. You should wear them even if you don’t feel ill; consider it a courtesy to your fellow human beings (because it’s not just about protecting yourself). And you definitely don’t want to be one of those tantrum-throwing adults immortalized on social media.
Use Disinfecting Wipes on Cart Handles and Other High-Touch Surfaces
If you have hand sanitizer, that also works, but if you have neither, no need to panic.
It’s possible to make your own disinfecting wipes, or you can use a tissue as a simple physical barrier—but even if you take any of these precautions, you should still (always) be extra certain not to touch your face until you have a chance to wash your hands, as those basic things are also two of the very best ways to prevent illness.
What counts as a high-touch surface? Potentially everything in a store, but particularly: freezer and refrigerator case door handles; bulk bin areas; self-checkout kiosks; electronic pin pads; and those aforementioned cart handles.
You can use gloves if you have them, but they may give you a false sense of security (you can still transfer germs from surface to surface while wearing them, after all); also, it should go without saying, but please don’t toss your used gloves in parking lots and other public places.
Related Reading: The Best Soap, Hand Sanitizer, and Hand Lotion to Buy
Don’t Use Cash
Money is notoriously dirty at the best of times, and it may be possible for bills and coins to transmit viruses, so best avoid it just now (some businesses are not accepting cash, or at least urging against its use). If you can’t avoid handling cash, be sure to wash your hands afterward. Yes, you are sensing a theme.
Don’t Use Reusable Bags (Depending on Your Local Store)
Keep Your Distance
Staying six feet part from other people is still the generally recommended amount of personal space to maintain, but it’s easier said than done, especially in large urban areas. Just use caution and good judgment—let people leave an aisle before you approach the same shelf—and remember the no-face-touching and frequent-hand-washing rules.
Limit Use of Public Transportation to Get There (If You Can Avoid It)
If possible, it’s best to walk, bike, or drive to the store (preferably in your own vehicle, though ride-sharing services are a good middle ground, but be sure to wear your mask).
If you can’t avoid buses and trains, per the CDC recommendations, you should also definitely be wearing a mask—it’s simply one of the most effective ways to prevent or limit the spread of COVID-19. But remember that masks are not 100 percent effective, which doesn’t mean they’re not worth wearing, just that you shouldn’t let it lull you into a false sense of security. Be sure to continue to keep your hands away from your face (i.e., no fiddling with your mask) and wash your hands as soon as you can. Be sure to take proper care of your mask as well.
Related Reading: Where to Buy Masks Online
Shop During Off-Peak Hours
Generally, this would be early in the morning when the store opens or late at night not long before it closes. Of course, everyone else has likely heard this same advice by now, and many stores continue to have modified hours (in part to devote more time to deep cleaning and restocking shelves), or have reserved early morning hours for seniors to come in to shop, so off-peak times may change. However, you can always Google your store name and location and see a live estimate of how busy it is at any given time. If you have the luxury of going whenever you’d like, monitor that data and head out when it’s less busy to minimize your exposure to crowds.
What About Using a Grocery Delivery Service?
If you feel at all ill, or if you are part of the population considered high-risk, you should not go out unless absolutely necessary, but grocery delivery services (and food delivery in general) can be helpful in other cases too. You might have qualms about whether or not having someone shop for you during a pandemic is ethically sound, which is a valid (and somewhat complicated) question. But the bottom line is that many workers depend on the money they’ll make from such orders, and some people cannot get to the store themselves.
Here are a few things you should do when using a grocery or food delivery service right now:
Opt for “No Contact” Delivery
We initially recommended this if it was offered as an option; at this point, it seems to be more the rule than the exception. “No contact” delivery just means that your shopper or delivery person will leave your bags outside your door so there is no face-to-face interaction between you two. If you are going to answer the door, mask up before you do.
Be Sure to Tip Well, Just Not in Cash
This supports true no contact delivery, after all, but also, see the above point about avoiding cash at the store (and in general). As for the amount, we’re in favor of adding as generous a tip as you can afford (even more so than usual), because these workers are putting in long hours and exposing themselves to potential risks for your benefit.
Even if you normally hate settling for anything but a specific brand, now is a good time to be flexible. For one thing, there’s a greater chance that your store may be out of certain items, so allowing substitutions will ensure you still get all (or most) of what you need. Also, if items are simply removed from the order, the amount is often deducted from your shopper’s total, meaning they’ve wasted valuable time and risked exposure in potentially crowded public places for little reward.
Do You Need to Wash Your Groceries?
While this may not be strictly necessary in most cases, for peace of mind, it’s a good idea to clean and sanitize your groceries (and restaurant delivery items) during the pandemic. Research shows that the coronavirus can potentially survive for up to 24 hours on cardboard and for up to three days on plastic and stainless steel—although the risk of contracting COVID-19 from packages is still thought to be low.
At the very least, don’t use any of your newly purchased items right away (unless you do wash them first), and be sure to wash your hands after touching them, even if you’re just putting them away for later.
You can wash nonporous cans, bottles, plastic containers, and the like with soap and water and wipe down cardboard and paper and plastic bags. You should also clean your counters, and should always be washing fruits and vegetables before eating them anyway (but the risk of contracting coronavirus from food is considered low).
What to Buy
It’s surprisingly easy to forget even essential items, so write out a list of all the things you’d like to cook (and snack on) for at least two weeks and figure out every last thing you need for every recipe—but don’t forget backup choices or non-food items for that matter. Add fresh foods to enjoy within the week, but make sure your non-perishable stores are robust too (that does not mean start hoarding).
See a more in-depth guide to what to buy at the grocery store during the COVID-19 crisis, but in general, you’ll want to lean heavily on these items:
- Pantry staples (including canned goods, cooking oils, stock or broth, and flavorful condiments and extras)
- Proteins you can freeze
- Frozen veggies and fruits (since a lot of fresh produce has a relatively short shelf life)
- Root veggies that store well (potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash)
- Hardy fruit like apples
And don’t forget:
- Citrus (a little spritz of lemon or lime does wonders for even a drab dish)
- Hard cheese that will last a while
- A few treats or baking supplies
- Pet food and litter
- Personal hygiene items, any toiletries and first aid supplies you’re low on, and cleaning supplies for the home (be sure to check smaller local stores if the larger chains are sold out)
Related Reading: The Best Sites for Restocking Pantry Staples Online
If you need a little inspiration while figuring out your shopping list, check out these links for specific ideas:
- 11 Easy Dinners to Make with Basic Pantry Staples
- 11 Reasons to Always Keep Canned Chickpeas on Hand
- The Best Ways to Use Canned Tomatoes
- Our Favorite Grown-Up Tuna Salad Recipes
- 15 Snacks to Make with Sardines
- Freezer-Friendly Meals You Can Make Ahead
- Basic Baking Recipes You Can Make with Pantry Staples
For other timely tips and intel, read more about social distancing, and see the latest coronavirus updates on the WHO site.
Header image courtesy of Jupiterimages / Stockbyte / Getty Images