As many communities remain under the shelter-at-home order, there are still places that everyone needs to visit at some point – one being, the grocery store. If possible, getting groceries delivered is a much safer route. “The biggest risk factor is really being around other people,” says Benjamin Chapman, a professor of food safety at North Carolina State University. However, it may be necessary to go to the store if there is something you need immediately.
The Wall Street Journal outlines 8 safety precautions to take if you must go to the grocery store.
- Maintain a buffer around yourself – maintain the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation of keeping a 6-foot distance; go to the grocery stores at off-hours
- Limit grocery shopping to one store and one trip – compile grocery list to make sure you get everything you need
- Use self- checkout when possible to avoid interaction with cashiers
- Many grocery stores are providing shoppers with wipes, but it would be a good idea to bring your own just in case – mainly to wipe down the grocery cart
- Use wipes for other high-touch areas in the store like freezer handles or tongs used in self-serve bins
- Wearing a cloth face mask of some sort can be useful in preventing the spread of the virus, especially for those who are asymptomatic
- Avoid exchanging money or credit cards – use credit-card reader when possible, wipe down your card after use
- Wash your hands once you get home
The Wall Street Journal also answered common questions about other precautions that should be taken:
If I’m a senior or have an underlying medical condition, should I try to go to the store during special senior hours?
People over 65 and those who have medical conditions that put them at greater risk of hospitalization and serious illness should avoid going to the grocery store, if possible. Try to order groceries online or have a family member or friend deliver them while taking precautions. If you must visit the store, go during hours reserved for seniors, when the store is likely to be less crowded.
When I get home, what should I do with any paper or plastic bags or packaging?
Though there have been no documented cases of transmission of the novel coronavirus through food packaging, a recent NEJM study found that the virus can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours and on hard surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel for two to three days. But experts noted that the studies were done in a laboratory with high doses of the virus, so it’s unknown if in real life the virus can be transmitted that way. Most likely if someone were to sneeze or cough on a cardboard container, the virus would degrade more quickly due to environmental factors, such as sunlight. Experts say wiping down cereal boxes and other packages isn’t necessary. “Use the wipes when you need them,” says Dr. Chapman. If you’re home, you can easily wash your hands. “That’s going to reduce your risk as much if not more than trying to wipe everything down,” he says.
What about food? Can I get Covid-19 from eating contaminated food?
Your mouth is a gateway to both your respiratory system (your lungs) and your digestive system (stomach). Respiratory viruses like the novel coronavirus are believed to enter the body and reproduce through the respiratory tract, not the digestive tract. Scientists are still studying the virus, so there is always the chance they could find otherwise. But doctors say getting the virus through ingestion of contaminated food seems unlikely. To be extra cautious, you could heat food in the oven or microwave, though this hasn’t been specifically studied so it’s unclear if there’s a particular length of time needed.
Do raw fruits and vegetables need to be washed with anything special?
Experts urge people not to wash fruits and vegetables with anything but water. The chemicals on wipes and chlorine solutions especially can be dangerous—don’t ingest those.
Will my clothes be contaminated when I come back from the store? Do I need to change my clothes as soon as I get home?
There’s no evidence that the virus can be transmitted through clothing, but it hasn’t been specifically studied. The good news is it can be killed by doing laundry. So if you were in a grocery store where people near you were coughing, it’s a good idea to remove your clothes when you get home. Don’t shake clothing. Place it in your laundry hamper. The CDC recommends laundering contaminated clothes in the warmest appropriate water setting and drying them thoroughly.