Food is an essential part of our health. And now, due to the current pandemic, Americans are now cooking at a proportion not seen in over 50 years - which is great news, but when a simple grocery store trip is as precarious as it is right now, how do we shop while staying safe?
We’ve gathered a few tips today to reduce your concerns while shopping for food. Whether you are at the grocery store or at the farmers’ market, there are ways to reduce the risk of infection from COVID-19 to keep you and your family as safe as possible. Read on for shopping tips that may help you to safely shop, cook, and eat nourishing meals at home so you can keep you and your family happy and satisfied.
What is the safest way to shop for food?
Although there are many factors that impact food safety and the risk of infection during this time, the goal of ‘social distancing’ is to reduce the number of interactions you have with others to lessen the degree of exposure to, and spreading of, the coronavirus (COVID-19). Therefore, if you live in an area and have access to grocery delivery services - it may be best to utilize this service at this time. But if you need to do your shopping in person, below are some helpful tips that will reduce your exposure and risk of infection:
- Plan ahead: Make a list of what you need so that you can minimize the time you are at the store or market.
- Avoid peak times: Head to the store when it’s less crowded. Usually, this is early in the AM or mid-day. Avoid heading to the store in the afternoon or right before they close when stores are usually busy. Many stores are also providing 'senior hours' (usually the first hour or two when the store opens for business) so try to take advantage of extra services provided for you if you belong to certain groups or demographics.
- Access open-air markets like the farmers’ markets: If you have access to a farmers’ market near you, getting your food from your local farmers is great. Farmers’ markets in an open-air setting may:
- Increase your vitamin D levels (may help support a healthy immune system);
- Provide more space between customers, which may aid in reducing the risk of infection from the virus;
- Provide access to hand washing stations and disinfectant before you shop at the stalls;
- Allow shoppers to follow the 6 feet rule during shopping and when checking out.
If you feel unwell (coughing, fever, etc.) or have any symptoms of COVID-19, stay home and get your groceries delivered. In addition, if you have underlying medical conditions (e.g. lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, or have compromised immune system, etc.) or if you are 65 or older, having your groceries delivered or scheduling a curbside pickup may be best.
What can I do at the store to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19?
Distance yourself from others: At the store, try to stay at least 6 feet away from other shoppers. The primary concern at the store is not food (or packaging per se), it’s the other shoppers!
What to wear and what not to wear: Wear a mask and disinfect the handle on the basket and cart that you are using when you enter the store. Gloves are not necessary and are not recommended when shopping. It may, in fact, increase the chance of infection if they are taken off improperly, and gloves also provide a false sense of security. In addition, most do not replace the gloves often enough and gloves are unable to be properly washed or sanitized.
Wash your hands (and counters) after shopping: Wearing gloves (if you feel you must wear them when you're out shopping) does not replace the need for proper hand washing. So wash your hands when you get home after you put away your groceries, and after touching the shopping bags. Also, it’s good practice to clean and disinfect your kitchen counter and other surfaces that you’ve touched after you’ve put away the groceries.
Follow the one-way aisle rule: Some grocery stores (hopefully most by now) are also implementing one-way aisles to increase the space between shoppers. If your store does not have one-way aisles, it may be helpful to ask the manager to organize the store so that it’s safer for customers to maintain appropriate amount of distance between shoppers.
There is new information emerging about COVID-19 on a daily basis, but following sound advice put forth by reputable organizations will create some stability and calm in your life. Plan ahead and shop enough for two weeks if possible to reduce the number of times you need to hit the store or market. Do eat foods that keep you and your family healthy - fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, but also leave some space for pre-made meals and take-out. They save time, reduce stress, and also help your local restaurants to stay in business.
Stay well, keep cooking, and let’s take care of each other!
Please note that the information shared regarding COVID-19 is sourced from various evidence-based and trusted experts and organizations. However, we are unable to provide specific advice on infectious disease prevention, management, or treatment. The data and advice on COVID-19 are changing frequently. For the most up-to-date and expert-guided information, visit the WHO and CDC websites, and make sure to check with your local health organization for further advice.