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Tips for Grocery Shopping During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Here’s how to shop safely

woman shopping for groceries during COVID-19

Remember the days when you could head to the grocery store on a whim or craving? These days, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has made grocery shopping a carefully thought out, detailed excursion.

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Despite the stay-at-home orders, we all need to venture out from time to time to get our essential items (that is if you aren’t subscribing to delivery services). Whether you need to get baby formula, to stock up on canned goods or to snag a package of coveted toilet paper – you’ll likely need to brave the store at some point.

We asked infectious disease specialist, Frank Esper, MD, to share some tips for safe grocery shopping during the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Minimize the amount of trips. Maybe you despise grocery shopping or maybe you secretly love it. Whatever you prefer, you should be limiting how often you go. Weekly or every other week is best, but you shouldn’t be going every day. Use your trips wisely and to purchase essential items that you need. (Unfortunately, running to the store to get a candy bar just because you’re craving one doesn’t really count as essential right now.) Remember, every time you go into a store it’s exposure to an enclosed space, which is a breeding ground for the virus.
  • Wear a face covering & don’t touch your face! Wearing a face mask protects other people from you and vice versa. We know there’s evidence that you can spread the virus to others without even showing symptoms. Wearing a mask can cut down on that risk. It’s also a visual reminder to practice social distancing and to not touch your face.
  • Designate one person to grocery shop. If you can, limit one person to do the grocery shopping in your house. (Especially to avoid high-risk people in your household having to go out.) You might be tempted to bring the whole family because after all, everyone is cooped up. But it’s best if one person goes to limit exposure in the store.
  • You really don’t need to wear gloves. Unfortunately, many people don’t wear or dispose of gloves correctly, which defeats the whole purpose of wearing them. Cross-contamination and self-contamination happen easily when wearing gloves (hello to those talking on their cell phone while wearing said gloves!) Plus, wearing gloves can give you a sense of false security. Your best bet is to wash your hands or sanitize before going into the store, after your leave and again when you get home.
  • Limit the surfaces you touch. Now’s not the time to be picking through every piece of produce or digging in clearance bins. Take note of the items you’re shopping for, carefully look for them and try to only touch what you need.
  • Shop quickly & be efficient. Know what items you need before heading into the store. This way you have a plan and aren’t just perusing the aisles aimlessly, which can increase your exposure.
  • Know the real danger. Experts agree that coronavirus is mainly spread through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. With that being said, focus on maintaining at least six feet between you and other people and be mindful when someone is in the same aisle as you. Be aware of the items you touch and be diligent about washing your hands. But know that the real danger is being in close proximity with other people in an enclosed area. Get in, stay six feet away from everyone else, get what you need and get home.

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Often we hear about avoiding the store during peak times. The problem with that is deciphering when exactly the peak times are. Instead, try to focus on practicing safe guidelines.

“Everybody’s been told not to go during peak store times, so everybody is showing up early in the morning and everybody’s showing up late at night,” says Dr. Esper. “When you’re at the store, the main thing is to try to avoid contact and make sure that everybody keeps themselves a safe distance apart.”

Should you disinfect all your groceries?

There’s not really a ton of evidence out there right now that says we’re getting infected from the items that we’re bringing home from the grocery store, says Dr. Esper.

Luckily for us, time is on our side when it comes to the virus surviving on surfaces. Often times, it only lasts a day or two before the virus loses its infectiousness and dies.

That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wiping off a box of cereal or a bag of chips if it makes you feel better, but don’t drive yourself crazy trying to disinfect every last inch of your grocery haul.

If you’re still concerned and if it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, try letting the items sit out for 24 hours before putting them away.

And when it comes to produce, Dr. Esper says that it’s best to wash everything with cold water, but there’s no need to sanitize your fruits or veggies.

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