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E veryone needs to keep a certain supply of food, cleansers, medicines, and other essentials on hand. During a viral pandemic like Covid-19, however, these much-needed items may place you and your family at risk when they’re brought into the home.

Although food stores and pharmacies may have long checkout lines and limits on some items, such as toilet paper, weekly groceries still need to be purchased and meals prepared.

Limit your exposure to the germs that may linger on bags, cardboard boxes, and other packaging materials. A lot of people have previously handled the items you’re purchasing, from the wholesaler delivering the goods to the stores to the stock clerk and cashier working at the retail level. Shopping online for food and taking advantage of delivery services is probably the best option, especially for high-risk people with autoimmune diseases and other medical issues.

Many people choose to order their groceries online and have them delivered to their home or pick them up curbside rather than risk walking among other shoppers in the aisles. Someone who is a carrier for the virus Covid-19, for example, may not yet be exhibiting symptoms yet can still be contagious. It’s wise to remain at home if possible rather than expose yourself to crowds of shoppers.

A recent study has found that the coronavirus can live on plastic and stainless steel for 2-3 days and on cardboard for up to 24 hours. If someone has coughed droplets onto a shelved can or on another item in a store, the virus may still be living when you toss it into your cart and bring it home.

Whether you opt to have your purchases delivered, picked up curbside, or decide to go into stores and shop in person, it’s smart to take the following precautions.

Shopping at the store

Shop alone. Don’t bring the family along so as to lower exposure to your household. Also, do not go shopping if you feel sick. Ask someone else to pick up items for you instead. If you absolutely must go out to shop, and you feel sick, wear a mask to avoid spreading any droplets that can infect others.

  • Try to go to the store when it’s least crowded. Many stores have an early morning opening hour dedicated to shopping for senior citizens and those at risk. If you don’t fit into those categories, choose to venture out at other times when crowds are minimized.
  • Be sure to bring along cleansing wipes to sanitize the handle of a shopping cart before you touch it.
  • As you move about the store, use hand sanitizer, if you have it, to cleanse your hands every so often.
  • Avoid touching your face until you are home and can thoroughly wash your hands for 20 seconds.
  • Keep your distance, preferably 6 feet away, from other shoppers as much as possible. You are most at risk of catching the coronavirus from other people who may be harboring it. Some stores are enforcing social distancing within aisles, on lines for checking out, and upon entering a store. Shop at those outlets where retailers are making the shopping trip as safe as possible for customers.
  • Just place your hands on the actual items you are going to put in your cart. Touch only an item you know you want to buy so you’re not handling too many cans or boxes that other people have already touched.
  • Try not to use your phone while shopping in person. Use a paper grocery list that you can discard when done. It’s wise to avoid touching personal items like cell phones while in public spaces.
  • Avoid using a credit card or cash, if possible, to pay for your order. The best way to pay is to use a mobile payment service that lets you tap your phone to complete the transaction. If you don’t have that option, use a credit or debit card and wipe it with a cleanser before and after you swipe it.

Ordering online and picking up at store

  • Many stores allow you to park in a designated spot outside the store and wait for a clerk to bring your packages out to your car.
  • You may want to place an old sheet or blanket on the floor of your trunk where the delivery person will be placing the grocery packages. Launder this after your groceries are safely at home.
  • Have as little contact with people as possible. Open your trunk remotely if you can or stand 6 feet away from the person packing your items into your car.
  • Follow the next tips for unpacking groceries when you get home.

Ordering online and getting home delivery

This is probably the safest option for food shopping during the Covid-19 pandemic, although it does have its risks. Someone is still handling all of your items, ringing them up, bagging them, and transporting it all to your home.

You can order your groceries online from several different outlets and choose a delivery date and time. Think ahead, though, when deciding to order online, because many delivery time slots will likely be taken, and you may have to wait a number of days before you will receive your order.

  • Request that your delivery be left at your front door (contactless delivery). Most stores are delivering in this manner so neither party will come within close contact.
  • You should either get a phone call or text that the order is on its way. The deliverer will also likely ring your doorbell to let you know it’s arrived.

Unpacking your groceries at home

You now have your purchases either in your car or at your front door. Other people, likely several of them, have touched the bags containing your items and the cans, jars, bottles, and boxes inside.

  • Safely get the bags into your home, on your cupboards, and into your refrigerator/freezer.
  • Sanitize a kitchen counter or a tabletop using a cleansing wipe or soap and water. If you have two countertops free, dedicate one for bags and groceries that aren’t yet cleaned (let’s call it the “dirty” counter) and the other counter for items you’ve cleansed (the “clean” counter). If space is limited, use one side for clean and one for dirty.
  • Carry each grocery bag inside and place it on the dirty countertop.
  • Unpack each item and place it on the dirty counter. Wipe bottles, cans, cartons, boxes, and other packaging surfaces with a sanitizing wipe. Place each newly cleansed item on the clean counter. Your hands should be clean because you’ve been using a cleansing wipe.
  • Proceed with each grocery bag in this manner.
  • For fresh fruit and vegetables: either use a vegetable brush and water to clean produce or dip in soapy water and rinse well.
  • For packaged cold cuts and meats: wipe the outside wraps only with a sanitizer. Actual food doesn’t hold onto the virus for very long. The packaging and hands that have touched it are more worrisome.
  • Wash your hands well. Place your clean items in your storage areas before you touch anything on the dirty counter.
  • Gather the empty bags from the dirty counter and dispose of them or store them in the garage or other area.
  • Take another sanitizing wipe or a rag with some 70% alcohol on it and wipe down your refrigerator, freezer, and cupboard handles in addition to anything you’ve touched since coming home, such as light switches, and doorknobs. Clean the doorbell if the delivery person rang it.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds, using a foaming soap.

The takeaway

These tips should keep you safe and healthy, but every shopping trip, even home delivery, will have its risks during the coronavirus pandemic. Plan ahead, and shop as infrequently as possible.

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