While most of us are isolating at home as much as possible, there will be times when we will have to venture out. People have to eat, after all. Whether it’s take-out, delivery or a trip to the grocery store for supplies, there are ways to protect ourselves and the workers who serve, bag and deliver our food. Here are some tips from Consumer Reports and the food website Epicurious:

GET IT DELIVERED

Use grocery delivery services where possible.

This method has the advantage of allowing you to not leave the house at all. “For older people and those with underlying health conditions – the group that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends stay home – I would highly recommend using a grocery delivery service,” says Jim Rogers, director of food safety research and testing for Consumer Reports.

However, there are a lot of disadvantages to delivery. For one thing, it’s expensive. It’s not available for every location, especially if you’re in a rural area. Some have delivery windows days or weeks out because of higher-than-normal demand. And several stores have suspended delivery altogether to allow their employees time to restock shelves or handle the sudden influx of requests.

If it’s available and you choose to have groceries delivered, ask the delivery person to leave the packages at the door and call to let you know they’ve arrived. This keeps both you and the delivery person from having contact with each other.

And it should go without saying, but tip generously. More than usual. Use the electronic tipping function on the shopping app (most of the apps will have them) so the delivery person does not have to touch cash (and neither of you has contact with the other).

If you have ordered via delivery brought to your car in the store parking lot, open your car doors yourself if possible, rather than having the person bringing your items touch the handle. And once again, tip on the app if the employees are allowed to take tips. Try not to hand them cash.

If you are ordering takeout or delivered meals to your door, the same routine holds: Ask if the delivery person can call ahead and let you know when he or she arrives, and have them leave the meal at the door to minimize contact. Tip on the app or add the tip over the phone when you call to place the order.

IN THE STORE

If you have to go shopping in person, try to limit the number of family members who leave the house. That limits the potential exposure of people in the household, and keeps the number in the store to a minimum.

Don’t bring reusable bags. Some Maine towns have suspended their 5-cent fees for using the store’s plastic or paper bags instead of reusable plastic or cloth bags. If you do use your reusable bags, wipe them thoroughly before you leave home, and wipe them again when you empty them afterward.

Stay six feet away from everyone else in the store. According to the CDC, that is generally the distance within which people pick up coronavirus droplets through the air from a cough or sneeze.

Go shopping when it’s less busy.

Take hand sanitizer or alcohol wipes with you. Use them to wipe your hands and the cart before and after you shop, and don’t forget to wipe the handles of the dairy or freezer cases.

Make a list so you can shop fast and get in and out as quickly as possible. Touch only the items you’ll buy. Don’t buy items from help-yourself spots like olive or salad bars or bulk bins. Food safety expert Jeff Nelken suggests buying from gravity-fed bins that drop the food into your bag, but don’t forget to wipe the handle before you touch it.

If you use gloves, put them on before going into the store, and discard them after you leave the store. Don’t reuse them.

Use the self-checkout option if you can, to minimize contact with other people, and once again, clean the keypad and touch screen before you use them.

After shopping and before you enter your car or home, disinfect your hands with hand sanitizer. Wash your hands again once you get home.

If you have alcohol wipes with you, wipe the bags and handles before you put them in the car.

BRINGING GROCERIES HOME

Should you wipe down everything you bring home? CDC says that groceries and food are not considered to be the main way the virus spreads, noting that the risk of spread from “food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperature” is low.

That said, the virus can live on surfaces for a few days, including on cardboard, glass and plastic, though it degrades quickly. If you want to be extra-cautious, it can’t hurt to give each item a wipe with an alcohol wipe.

If you used disposable bags or boxes, unpack groceries outside and get rid of them without bringing them into the house at all. If that’s not practical, disinfect any surface where you placed the packages and then get rid of the packages. When handling bags and merchandise, don’t touch your face, and remember to wash your hands afterward.

Harvard’s School of Public Health suggests if you want to be very cautious, you could leave the bags of shelf-stable items outside or in an out-of-the-way place for a couple of days before handling them.

To do a proper wipe-down of your groceries once you bring them inside, Epicurious suggests this: clear a staging area with one designated spot for items that haven’t been cleaned, and another for those that have. You could lay out a towel or sheets to help separate the two groups (and put the sheets in the laundry afterward). Or you could use, say, a table and a counter as your staging areas, and make sure to disinfect both those surfaces when you’re done. Wipe down packaged goods with disinfectant wipes or a paper towel soaked with an EPA-approved disinfectant.

After all that, wash your hands properly. Wash them after putting the food away, wash them while you’re making a meal, wash them before you eat. And then again when you clean up. Even all that wiping down and disinfecting comes second to washing your hands – the single best thing you can do to prevent the spread of the virus.

“It all comes down to hand hygiene,” says Liz Garman, a spokesperson for the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology in Arlington, Va.

According to the FDA, there is no evidence that food is linked to the transmission of the coronavirus, but you should still adhere to basic food safety rules: clean, separate, cook and chill. Rinse your fruit and vegetables under running water and scrub firm fruits and veg before eating or cooking with them.

 

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: