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Shopping for groceries during the coronavirus pandemic can be a stressful task, with long lines at the registers or outside the markets, for those that limit the number of customers allowed in, and stores in short supply of specific food and toiletries. But staying informed about the safest ways to shop can help relieve at least some of the anxiety associated with your next supermarket visit.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with reputable doctors and organizations, have recently shared their guidelines for shopping during the pandemic, detailing the best practices for maneuvering through the markets, handling money, and even cooking it all once you get home.
The FDA begins by reiterating that there is currently no nationwide shortage of food, even though it may sometimes feel like it — especially in the bread aisle.
“Food production and manufacturing are widely dispersed throughout the U.S. and there are currently no wide-spread disruptions reported in the supply chain,” the FDA writes in its “Food Products” FAQ page, adding that the agency is “closely monitoring” that supply chain for any changes.
When it comes to handling the foods or food packagings themselves, both the FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) say there is currently no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be transmitted by handling either — though the FDA notes that it is possible the virus that causes the coronavirus may be able to live on “surfaces or objects.” The CDC adds that while it’s possible to become infected by touching a contaminated surface and touching the face, “this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
The FDA adds that there is no evidence to support the notion of contracting coronavirus from imported goods.
Despite this, shoppers should continue to protect their own health and safety by practicing good respiratory hygiene (coughing into the elbow, staying home while sick, etc.) and personal hygiene (refraining from touching potentially contaminated surfaces, properly washing hands, etc.) at all times during the coronavirus outbreak — even at the supermarket.
As noted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., consumers should also be “social distancing” when shopping — i.e., maintaining a distance of at least six feet between yourself and others — whenever possible. Other tips highlighted by the CSIS suggest wiping down the handle of the shopping cart with a disinfectant wipe before use; using a credit card to minimize the handling of cash; or even shopping at off-peak hours to avoid crowded marketplaces.
As for the types of foods to purchase, Ready.gov advises that anyone planning to remain at home for long periods of time should consider non-perishable foods such as canned goods or dry mixes that don’t require refrigeration, like “ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, [and] vegetables.” (Ready.gov also recommends keeping a manual can opener handy, too.)
And, as always, consumers should be aware of the safest practices for the storage and preparation of non-perishable and perishable items once out of the grocery store to prevent contamination or foodborne illness.
Non-perishable goods should be kept in cool, dry places, and preferably in containers for added protection if being kept in storage for long periods of time, according to Ready.gov. It’s also not safe to eat food from cans that have become “swollen, dented or corroded, even though the product may look safe to eat.”
When it comes to perishable items, the FDA recommends its four-step process — clean, separate, cook and chill — in order to keep illness-causing germs at bay.