With COVID-19 diagnoses on the rise, it’s more important than ever to follow stay-at-home orders and practice social distancing. Minimizing contact with others is the best way to reduce the spread of the virus. The fewer people who get sick, the fewer who will need to be hospitalized.
But what about when you do need to go out? Experts agree that stocking up for no more than two weeks’ needs is best for the good of everyone in our communities. Here are some tips to help avoid contracting viruses and staying healthy on your next trip to the grocery store or a restaurant for takeout.
Before going out
If at all possible, designate one person at a time to do the errands. If you do bring your family, there should be someone old enough to supervise them in the car so they are safe while you are in the shop. Taking the family out for browsing during stay-at-home orders puts everyone at greater risk.
- Put on a mask. Disease experts are now saying we should wear a mask whenever we go out in public – to protect yourself and to protect others. Under the new recommendation, healthy individuals are advised to wear mouth and nose face coverings. These can include homemade masks, scarves or bandanas. Medical quality masks are not necessary and should be saved for medical professionals.
- Make a list of where you need to go and consolidate your needs into one trip with multiple stops. Put grocery shopping as the last destination so food stays cold. If you are getting takeout, plan to swing by on your way home so the food maintains the appropriate temperature.
- Make a list of what you will need at the grocery store. Start by taking inventory of what’s already in your pantry, and then plan around these items to create meals.
- Plan your shopping trip during the bookends of store hours: early and late in the day tend to be less crowded at more stores.
- Be prepared with hand sanitizer or hand sanitizing wipes.
- Don’t take your reusable shopping bags.
At the grocery store
You may have seen videos with people cleaning groceries with near-surgical precision. While studies have shown that coronavirus can live on different surfaces for varying numbers of days, remember that those were laboratory experiments. The actual conditions in which the virus would have to live in the real world are very different.
There is currently no evidence that suggests that the virus has been or can be transmitted from groceries. The probability of this is extremely low, but there are some things you can do to promote safety at the grocery store:
- Don’t go shopping if you’re sick or if you think you might be sick.
- To limit exposure, consider curbside pickup or a grocery delivery service.
- Don’t panic buy. Stick to your list.
- Use disinfecting wipes on cart handles and other high-touch surfaces, like door handles. If you have hand sanitizer, that also works, but if you have neither, no need to panic.
- Whether you have disinfected or not – don’t touch your face.
- Physically distance yourself from others as much as you can in the store.
- Don’t browse. Get in, get out, and go home.
- Avoid touching products and returning them to the shelf. Only touch what you plan to purchase.
- Avoid exchanging cash and pay with a credit card instead.
- Clean your hands with hand sanitizer or wipes after you have loaded the groceries in your car.
Picking up takeout
There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or food packaging, according to the CDC and the FDA. While the virus may last on packaging for a few days, the general consensus is that the concentration of virus particles would be low and very unlikely to cause infection.
Instead, consider using caution to avoid transmitting the coronavirus from employee or delivery person to customer, or vice versa, through coughing, vaporized air particles or other direct contact. Many food delivery services are moving to contactless drop-offs or encouraging customers to take advantage of drop-off instructions to minimize the chance of spreading the virus. If you do stop for takeout:
- Pay with a credit card and not cash.
- Maintain social distancing with other patrons.
- Clean your hands with hand sanitizer or wipes after you have brought your takeout to your car.
When you get home
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, and avoid touching your face after bringing your food or grocery delivery inside.
- Wash your hands again after putting groceries away.
- Rinse your produce with water before you consume it to help remove dirt and pesticides. Experts have always recommended this, but the general consensus is not to use soap, as that could cause stomach upset.
While there are currently no guidelines for takeout, these practices may make you feel reassured and support overall good hygiene:
- Remove food from takeout containers and toss takeout containers and disposable cutlery that came in the bag.
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after eating.
- Recycle the bags that the food comes in, and disinfect your tables and counters before and after you eat.
No matter where you go and what you bring home, get in the habit of washing your hands frequently throughout the day. Always wash your hands when you come in from outside and before and after eating. Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Hand-washing and avoiding touching your face are the two of the best ways to prevent illness.
James Raczek, MD, FAAFP, is the chief medical officer at UPMC Pinnacle.
To learn more about COVID-19 and stay up to date with UPMC Pinnacle, please visit UPMCPinnacle.com/COVID19.