Experts say to avoid the grocery store for the next 2 weeks—but that may be impossible for some
During a recent coronavirus press briefing at the White House, Dr. Deborah Birx, a leading physician on the federal coronavirus response team, emphasized the critical importance of social distancing over the next two weeks. Referring to the guidelines issued in March by the White House, Dr. Birx has been widely quoted as saying:
“This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe, and that means everybody doing the 6 feet distancing, washing your hands.”
Dr. Birx’s comment has been interpreted as advising Americans to avoid grocery shopping in stores for the next two weeks. While most people already know the importance of doing their part to slow the spread of coronavirus, following this particular advice may be a challenge for many families.
Snagging a grocery delivery spot or curbside pickup slot has become next to impossible in most areas (assuming delivery is available), and online grocery services are struggling to keep up with demand. And with a growing number of at-risk delivery service workers demanding better on-the-job protections, you may be having second thoughts about using delivery services, even if you can find a slot.
You may find, despite your best efforts, that you just have to go to the store.
If you do need to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy during this time, here’s what you should know in order to shop safely.
1. Have a plan
Minimize your trips to the store as much as you can, and time your shopping trip for a day and time that foot traffic is as low as possible (so, not on Saturday afternoon, if you can avoid it). Early in the day is a good time to go, since aisles tend to be less crowded, and stores are at their cleanest right after opening. Many stores are offering special hours for older and immunocompromised customers—if you’re pregnant, consider shopping during these hours. Shop by yourself if at all possible.
2. Make a detailed list
In order to complete your shopping as quickly as possible, make a detailed list in advance, and organize your list by grocery section—produce, dairy, meats, baking needs, household items, and so on—so that you can move swiftly through each section of the store. For in-demand items such as bread, meat, sauces and pasta, think of alternatives in advance so you can grab “plan B” if you need to. Experts suggest making a paper list that can be disposed of rather than using your phone in the store.
3. Wear a mask
The CDC and the White House have advised Americans to wear homemade masks to add an extra level of protection when out and about. To protect yourself and the grocery store staff who are working hard to provide much-needed supplies during a stressful time, wearing a mask is now the recommended (and considerate) choice.
4. Follow hygiene and social distancing guidelines
You know the drill, mama. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after you shop. Many stores are offering wipes for shopping cart handles, so make sure you use them to wipe down the cart handle. (You may want to bring your own wipes just in case, if you have them.) Bring hand sanitizer, and use it after you touch freezer case handles or other surfaces. As you can guess, now’s not the time to squeeze half a dozen avocados to check for ripeness—touch only the items you intend to buy. Maintain physical distance between yourself and other shoppers as well as grocery store workers.
5. Bag your own groceries
Follow your store’s guidelines for reusable bags (which have been temporarily prohibited in some stores), but whether you bring your own bags or use the bags provided by the store, be prepared to bag your own purchases.
6. Don’t make yourself crazy with disinfecting purchases
Should you wipe down every last strawberry and Cheerio when you get home? The good news is, it’s probably not necessary to disinfect every item you buy. Experts still say that the virus is much more likely to be transmitted person-to-person, rather than surface-to-person.
While there’s a lot that’s not yet known about the virus, here are the steps experts recommend when you bring your groceries home:
- Wash nonporous containers: According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.” But Consumer Reports suggests that there’s no harm in washing or wiping cans, plastic containers and glass based on its interviews with epidemiologists and experts.
- Wipe cardboard containers: A March 2020 study by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases suggests that the coronavirus can survive on cardboard surfaces for up to 24 hours, and on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to 3 days. So while experts say the odds of a box of pasta transmitting the virus are slim, wiping boxes with a disinfecting wipe can’t hurt.
- Wash fruits and vegetables with water: Experts say that food is unlikely to transmit coronavirus, but you should always wash produce anyway to remove pesticides.
7. Wipe your counters after you unpack and wash your hands.
Once all your purchases are stored, clean your counters with a disinfecting spray, and wash your hands again.