Most of us are hunkering down and sheltering in place at this time. But the reality is that we still need to shop for food, medicines and other essential items. It’s scary to be venturing out right now. Is it possible to do so while staying safe? Get your answer to this question, plus others.
Can coronavirus be transmitted by food or food packaging?
The good news is that it’s safe to eat food. The U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) states on its website that, “Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of the coronavirus.” The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Department of Agriculture and World Health Organization are in agreement, saying that food is not a known way for coronavirus to be spread. Likewise, there’s no evidence that food packaging transmits the virus.
The novel coronavirus is a virus that causes respiratory illness, unlike foodborne viruses that cause gastrointestinal, or stomach, illness (a good example of this is the norovirus). And the primary way that coronavirus is transmitted is via person-to-person contact. That’s why we’re all social distancing and washing our hands frequently. Research also confirms that illnesses caused by other types of coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, were not transmitted by food.
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How can I protect myself at the grocery store or pharmacy?
There are a number of steps that you can take to keep yourself as safe as possible when you’re at the store.
There are many options for getting home delivery of food and other necessities. Your local supermarket and pharmacy may provide delivery; you can also look into nationwide services such as Amazon Prime Now, Instacart, Walmart Grocery, Google and Fresh Direct. Plan accordingly, as it may take a number of days to receive your order. For more information on these services, visit the Forbes website.
Enlist someone to shop for you.
If you have underlying health conditions (such as diabetes), are 65 years of age or older, or are immune compromised, it’s best to have someone do your shopping for you. A family member or friend may be an option; you may also have a neighbor who can help out. Your community may provide shopping services. Check with your local town or city hall for information.
In other words, make a list of everything you need before you go. Your goal is to get in and out of the store as quickly and efficiently as possible. Avoid wandering the aisles. If you’re able, get enough food and other essential items for one to two weeks to minimize the number of trips that you have to take.
Go it alone.
Sure, it’s great to go shopping with the family, but it’s hard to social distance when you go with others. Plus, the more people you go with, the longer you’re likely to stay in the store. And many grocery stores are limiting the number of people who can enter a store at one time.
Time it wisely.
Many grocery stores are now offering special hours for older people and people with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes. For everyone else, try to go to the store when it’s likely to be less busy. If that’s not possible, shop at a store that limits the number of shoppers in the store at one time and that marks every six feet in the checkout line to remind people to social distance.
Wear a mask.
The CDC now advises everyone wear a face covering when out in public. You don’t need to wear a N-95 respirator or surgical mask, as these should be reserved for healthcare workers and first responders. Instead, fashion your own mask with materials that you likely have at home. You can find simple, no-sew directions for making your own masks online. Here’s one example.
Disinfect your cart or basket.
The store may provide disinfecting wipes to wipe down your cart or basket as you enter the store. However, it’s a good idea to bring your own, just in case. Wipe the cart or basket down before using it.
Heed social distancing.
Make a point to be aware of others near you in the store. This means avoiding crowded aisles and waiting for others to choose foods or items before you get your own. Also, only touch the items that you intend to buy rather than picking them up and putting them back.
Along with remembering to stay six feet away from the person in the line ahead of you, it’s a good idea to think about how you will pay for your items. Paying with cash or a credit or debit card means having to handle money or use a pin pad, neither of which is very clean. If these are your only options, again, avoid touching your face and use hand sanitizer or wash your hands right after paying. You can actually clean your credit or debit card after you use it with soap and water or a sanitizing wipe — just be gentle! The safest way to pay? Use a mobile pay app on your phone, such as Apple or Google Pay.
What do I do with my purchases once I get home?
Great job! You made it safely through your shopping trip. But you’re not done yet. You need to get your purchases inside and put away.
Wash your hands.
Once you get home, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Don’t forget to clean off areas that you’ve touched when you get home, such as door handles, the doorbell, light switches, counter tops, faucets and refrigerator handles.
Wash reusable bags.
Not all stores currently permit use of reusable bags, but if yours does, make sure to wash your bags with soap and water after you unpack your items.
Wipe down your items?
Maybe. The March 17 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine featured a somewhat disturbing study that looked at the stability of the coronavirus on different types of surfaces. Researchers found that the virus remained active on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, and on cardboard for up to 24 hours. But health experts believe that risk of packages having coronavirus on them is pretty low, as most virus particles will degrade quickly once on a surface. If you’re worried, you can certainly wipe down cans, jars and plastic containers with a disinfecting wipe.
Put groceries away immediately.
Contrary to some information out there, you shouldn’t be leaving dairy foods, meat, fish or poultry or any foods that require freezing or refrigeration outside or in your car, especially if it’s hot out. Doing so puts you and others at risk for foodborne illnesses.
Wash your produce, as always.
You should always wash your fruits and vegetables before eating or preparing them. However, the FDA does not recommend using soap or other cleaners as these can leave residue. And never use disinfecting products such as bleach. These are not meant to clean food and can be very harmful. The CDC recommends washing produce with warm water, which helps to quickly breakdown the coronavirus. You can also use a vegetable brush to clean produce, but again, use water, not soap or other types of cleaners.
Wipe down surfaces.
After you’ve stowed away your groceries, wipe down your counter tops, cutting boards and other high-touch surfaces.
Wash your hands — again.
Keep washing your hands throughout the process: before and after you put your items away, before washing your produce, and after wiping down your surfaces.
Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read “Coronavirus and Diabetes: What You Need to Know,” “Healthy Eating During Hard Times” and “Avoiding Coronavirus With Diabetes: Stock Up and Stay Home, CDC Says.”