No matter how scary the word quarantine is, the fact remains that social distancing is key to helping prevent the spread of coronavirus. But even if it’s easy for you to work from home and self-isolate, you’re still going to need groceries. So these coronavirus shopping tips may help with any questions or concerns you have when it comes to the practicalities of buying food.
Whether you’re going out to the grocery store or using a delivery service, here’s how to stay as safe as possible (and keep everyone around you safe as well).
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At the Store
If you venture out, follow these general guidelines:
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.
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 simple things are two of the 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.
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.
Try to Stay 6 Feet from Other People
That’s 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—and remember the no-face-touching and frequent-hand-washing rules. Also, avoid going near anyone who is actively coughing or sneezing (it could be seasonal allergies, but no need to take your chances).
Limit Use of Public Transportation to Get There (If You Can Avoid It)
If you can’t avoid buses and trains, masks probably won’t do much good, but keeping your hands away from your face and washing them as soon as you can certainly will. If you can, walk, bike, or drive to the store (preferably in your own vehicle, though ride-sharing services are a good middle ground).
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 are now modifying their hours (in part to devote more time to deep cleaning and restocking shelves), 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 if Available
Many services are offering this option; all it means is 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 feel ill or are considered high-risk for infection, you should absolutely use this option. But even if you’re feeling fine, it’s a good idea just in case (both for you and your delivery person).
Be Sure to Tip Well, but 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).
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?
This is probably not strictly necessary, but for peace of mind, you may want to. Recent 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 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)
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
- 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 others 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