Tips for safe grocery shopping during coronavirus pandemic

Last Updated Mar 27, 2020 10:13 AM EDT

Roughly half of Americans are under stay-at-home orders as coronavirus cases climb, with officials urging the public to only go out for groceries and other essentials. So how can you keep your grocery trips safe and efficient? Carolyn Cannuscio, director of research at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, offers these six tips for food shopping during the coronavirus pandemic.

Plan ahead

Don't wait until the pantry and refrigerator are empty to do your next shop. This will allow you some flexibility, which is much-needed in a crisis. If the store is crowded, you can turn away and come back another time. If stock is running low (e.g., no more bread), you won't have to panic, knowing that you can try again another day soon. 

Go to the store with a clear list

Now is not the time to amble through the aisles and see what looks interesting. Make a meal plan and prioritize items that will keep well and provide healthy and hearty options. 

Bring your own disinfecting wipes to the store 

Don't count on the store's supply, which may have run out. And not all wipes and cleansers work equally well. Check the EPA's list of products that will destroy SARS-CoV-2. Wipe down all cart handles, which are a central repository for bacteria and viruses. If you opt for self-checkout, wipe down the touch screen and buttons with your disinfecting wipes. 

Additional tip: If you carry a reusable cotton bag, throw it into the wash as soon as you get home, and then dry it thoroughly in the dryer.

Research food alternatives if you have any allergies

If you or someone in your family has food allergies, shopping will be especially challenging now. Research alternatives to your usual purchases so that you have some idea what is or isn't safe before you enter the store. For example, my son is allergic to tree nuts. In addition to our usual brands, I now want to know multiple alternatives, e.g., for bread and cereal, that are nut-free, so that I can quickly scan my options at the store, rather than lingering in the aisles reading labels. Since this is a stressful time, and people are overloaded, I highly recommend having a second person read the labels once you return home.

Try "contactless" shopping

Better than all of this would be to do a "contactless" shop. Order ahead, pay ahead, then swoop in quickly to pick up your purchases. Many of our local markets are offering this option, and I think it's safer for the market employees and for the shoppers. Now is not the time to meander through the supermarket. Go infrequently, shop efficiently. Get home, shoes off, wash hands, disinfect, and jump in the shower.

Stay home as much as possible

Still, I think the greatest risks are those that accrue with each additional person we encounter face-to-face. So stay home as much as possible, and be prepared to do that for some time to come. We will not be back to normal by Easter. Take this one day at a time, and be kind to yourself. (Don't forget to put something delicious in your grocery basket.)