Almost every state now has an order for its residents to stay at home to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. One of the only reasons Americans can leave the house during this time is to stock up on essentials at the grocery store — but the thought of shopping for groceries can be anxiety-inducing.
GOBankingRates spoke to health experts about the best ways to minimize risks while stocking up on what you need at the grocery store.
Opt For Delivery If You Can
If it’s possible for you to buy groceries online via Instacart, Amazon Fresh or another delivery service, that’s probably your safest bet.
“Grocery shopping could be challenging in times of viral outbreak as it exposes people to potential pathogens on surfaces and other shoppers that may be carriers,” said Tatiana Larionova, MS, LDN, CNS, a medical advisor for eMediHealth. “Online shopping is a great solution.”
Wipe Down Your Groceries
Whether you buy your groceries online or in-store, Larionova said that you should clean your items before putting them away.
“Make sure to spray and wipe outer surfaces of boxes and packages with a disinfecting solution,” she said.
Wash Fruits and Vegetables Thoroughly With Water
“Washing fresh fruits and vegetables with water is a must,” Larionova said. “You may even scrub them with a produce brush, but don’t spray them with alcohol or Lysol — you risk ingesting chemicals.”
Wear a Face Mask When Grocery Shopping In-Store
“If you still need or choose to go to the grocery store, face masks may help protect you from inhaling viruses,” Larionova said.
If You Choose To Wear Gloves, Make Sure You Use Them Properly
“Gloves may help protect you from coming in contact with viruses; however, gloves need to be disposed of after using them at the store, and make sure not to touch your face while wearing them, as they can collect infection,” Larionova said.
She advises against wearing gloves for the most part, as they can give you a false sense of security that may cause you to neglect other safety precautions, such as staying at least 6 feet away from other shoppers and washing hands often.
“Some people rely on them too much, forgetting to use preventive measures not to contract infection from them,” Larionova said. “People tend to be more mindful without gloves, as they wash and disinfect their hands more often.”
Disinfect Your Shopping Cart or Basket
Many stores now have disinfecting wipes available by their shopping carts and baskets, and you should take advantage of these. If your store does not offer wipes, bring your own.
“Wipe shopping carts and baskets with a disinfecting wipe or cloth,” Larionova said.
Limit Your Grocery Store Trips to Once a Week or Less
“Try to limit your store trips to once a week to reduce unnecessary exposure to potential pathogens,” Larionova said. “Take an inventory of your pantry and fridge, and make a shopping list to cover all the necessities.”
Calling Ahead To Ask About What’s in Stock Might Not Be Worth the Hassle
If you’re on the hunt for an in-demand item like toilet paper or hand sanitizer, you might prefer to call ahead to save yourself a trip to the store, only to be faced with empty shelves. However, this might end up being a waste of time.
“You may try calling the store ahead of time to check for item availability, but be aware that their phone lines might be busy and usual procedures of updating the inventory may not be followed in a timely manner,” Larionova said.
If you’re worried about an item being out-of-stock, get to the store early in the day.
Go To the Store Right When It Opens or Right Before Closing
“Try to go grocery shopping during slow store hours — early in the morning, or late, right before store closing, to avoid large crowds of people,” Larionova said.
Check for Updated Store Hours
Some stores might limit early hours to at-risk shoppers, and/or close earlier than usual. For example, U.S. Costco warehouses now close at 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. They also have limited shopping from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday to members ages 60 and older and for those with physical impairments.
Trader Joe’s has implemented similar changes: stores now close at 7 p.m., and the first hour of operation every day is reserved for senior customers over the age of 60 and customers with disabilities.
Check your store’s website or call your local store to find out if it has implemented updated hours.
Stock Up on Nonperishables
The more items you buy with a long shelf-life, the less frequently you’ll have to go to the grocery store and potentially expose yourself to the coronavirus.
“Make sure to stock up on nonperishable shelf-stable items like dry grains and beans, pasta, frozen fruits and veggies, canned vegetables, fruits, beans, pasta sauce and soups,” Larionova said. “These foods last a long time and will provide you with necessary nutrition when nothing else is available.”
Disinfect Your Hands Before and After Leaving the Store
Just as you don’t want to contract the coronavirus, you don’t want to unknowingly spread it to others if you are asymptomatic.
“The fewer items you touch (and don’t buy), the better,” Mike Golpa, a hygiene and sanitation expert and the CEO of G4byGolpa, said. “Disinfect your hands before entering the shop and after leaving.”
Use a Contactless Payment Option If Possible
When it comes to paying at the checkout counter, “everything contactless is the safest these days,” Golpa said. “Contactless payment with a phone, e.g. ApplePay, is the best option. Definitely avoid cash. Cards are in the middle: be careful with the pin pad.”
If you pay with a card, disinfect it after use.
Don’t Buy More Than You Need
“Don’t stock up too much,” Golpa said. “It’s adequate to have food for two weeks — primarily non-perishables. Try to not waste any food before buying more.”
Know Your Store’s Return Policy
If you buy more than you need of certain in-demand items, you might not be able to return them. For example, Costco is no longer accepting returns of toilet paper, bottled water, sanitizing wipes, paper towels, rice and disinfecting spray.
Avoid Crowded Aisles
Not everyone will be as mindful about keeping social distance as they should be, so be proactive about maintaining space between you and other shoppers. This means avoiding crowded aisles.
“Avoid racing to get the last of an item on the shelf,” Dr. Craig Hedberg, a professor in the environmental health sciences division of the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, told Time. “Follow guidelines that may be posted at the store. Be patient.”
If possible, designate one person in your household to do the grocery shopping to limit the number of people who could be exposed to the coronavirus. This means leaving the kids at home if you can.
“We don’t really understand how kids transmit the virus,” Dr. Lauren Sauer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Time. “It could be that little kids are sick and we just don’t know, so you want to reduce their interaction more broadly.”
Do Not Go To the Grocery Store If You Are Feeling Sick
If you feel sick at all, do not go to the grocery store. Order groceries online or have someone do your shopping for you.
Don’t Put Produce Directly in the Shopping Cart
Use produce bags to minimize your groceries’ contact with the shopping cart, Hedberg told Time.
Make a List at Home To Minimize Your Time in the Store
The less time you spend in the grocery store, the less time you are exposing yourself to potential infection. Don’t wander up and down the aisles aimlessly — come to the store prepared knowing what you need to buy.
Golpa recommends a simple trick. “Make a list at home so you don’t spend in the store more time than necessary,” he said.
Most Importantly, Make the List on Paper
Instead of putting your shopping list on your phone, go the old-school route and make a paper shopping list that you can dispose of after your trip is done.
“The less you can touch your personal items in public spaces, the better,” Sauer told Time.
Wash Your Hands as Soon as You Get Home
You should be using hand sanitizer after you finish shopping — ideally before you touch your steering wheel — but you also need to do a thorough hand washing as soon as you get home.
Follow protocol from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after you’ve been in a public place — wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
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