Grocery Shopping During COVID-19: Tips for Staying Safe

April 23, 2020

Grocery shopping during COVID-19 can be stressful, but there are steps you can take to make the process as safe as possible.

Stephanie Meyers, MS, RDN, a nutritionist with Dana-Farber’s Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies and Healthy Living, provides nutritional advice for those in every phase of cancer treatment and recovery during COVID-19. She has some advice on how to safely grocery shop during this time.

How should I shop for in-store groceries?

Please note: People who are immunocompromised or are age 65 and older are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. If you fall into one of these high-risk categories, it is recommended that you have someone who is not high-risk go shopping for you. If you do not have anyone at-hand who can help you, please view this list of resources.

Otherwise, here are some general guidelines:

  • Wear a face covering. It doesn’t have to be a medical mask; it can be a homemade mask made out of fabric. This is to prevent a person’s droplets from contaminating areas or other people, especially when many people are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic and don’t realize they have the virus.
  • Wear gloves. It’s a good idea to sanitize the cart handle, even though there is a store employee designated to doing so. At home, wear gloves when storing your groceries. Wiping down your groceries is a personal choice, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states you do not have to wipe everything down since the transmission of the disease comes from person to person, and the likelihood of transmission from surfaces are very low.
  • Don’t rely on your phone for your grocery list. Instead, write down your list on a piece of paper.
  • Prepare to wait. Because there is a cap on how many people can be in grocery stores at a time, people may have to wait outside before shopping. This is to help physical distancing of customers and employees.

How can I be prepared for online food shopping?

  • Plan ahead and load your cart as early as possible. After you load your cart, you might be notified that there are no available delivery slots for your order. If you’re struggling to get a delivery slot for your online order (many stores are backlogged by a week or two), try logging on early in the morning (4:30 to 7:00 a.m.). This may increase your likelihood of not only getting a spot, but having different options for times to choose for your delivery.
  • Keep your phone or device on hand in case your shoppers (who usually shop about three hours before you get your order) have questions about your groceries that they can ask in real time.
  • Try for curbside pickup if you can’t get a delivery slot. In this case, you order your groceries online, drive to the store at a pre-arranged time, and an employee delivers your groceries to your car, usually in the parking lot.

What food should I buy?

  • Buy a combination of fresh and frozen produce.
  • Buy two, not ten, of the items you consume frequently.
  • If you are worried about the pre-handling of your produce, try looking for prepackaged produce (though the disease is not food-borne).
  • Try the frozen four: spinach, green beans, edamame, berries.
  • Opt for plant-based proteins like dried/canned beans, chickpeas, and lentils.
  • Try for canned salmon and tuna packed in water (they can be easily drained).
  • If you buy more than one chicken, ground meat, or fish, store some in the freezer for later use.
  • Choose hearty whole grains like quinoa, farro, bulgar, and steel cut oats.

What is a farm share/CSA?

CSA is short for Community Sustained Agriculture. In the case of a CSA, a farmer offers a certain amount of their shares to the public (in the form of a membership/subscription), and in return, the customer receives seasonal fruits and vegetables.

The sign-up season is right now and can be found online. The cost of a CSA tends to range between $28-46 a week for 16 to 20 weeks. This gets you a box of produce, typically 12 to 13 pounds, and is a great way to support small businesses. Some CSAs are flexible in orders and can allow for less frequent or individual orders instead of committing to 16 to 20 weeks.

Farmers are also being especially careful about the handling of their CSA boxes now.

What are produce box subscriptions? How are they different than CSAs?

A produce box subscription is similar to a CSA in that you subscribe to receive a box of produce. Some of these delivery services feature items that grocery stores and farmer’s stands can’t sell. This is because a lot of produce is turned away from grocery stores due to it being blemished, a surplus in items, low demand in particular items, re-branded items, or “short-coded” items with a short window to expiration date.

Produce box subscriptions also tend to be less expensive than CSA, starting from $22 per week plus a $5 delivery fee.

There is an increasing amount of subscription box services, but here are two that are popular:

  • Imperfect Foods: A similar service where you can customize your box and include non-produce items. Prices range depending on products ordered. This service accepts snap/EBT.
  • Misfits Market: At $22, you receive 10-13 pounds of produce box for either once a week, or twice a month. Delivery fees range from $4-6 depending on where you are located. This service does not accept snap/EBT.