How to Grocery Shop Without Stress Spiraling

Don’t scrub your oranges with soap, but do follow this smart advice

Sara Austin
Elemental
Published in
5 min readMar 30, 2020

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Photo: Chandan Khanna/Getty Images

“I“I have to go to the grocery store later, and I feel like Sandra Bullock in Bird Box,” a friend wrote this week. The Covid-19 outbreak has turned mundane shopping runs into the stuff of horror movies, and in response, a literally viral video featuring a scrubs-clad doctor would have us do everything short of wearing a hazmat suit to Whole Foods. Although knowledge of this new coronavirus is evolving quickly, here’s what infectious disease and food safety specialists say are the truly important steps to take (and where that video got it wrong).

Before you go

First consider whether you should go. Ideally, people at the highest risk of severe Covid-19 —people age 65 or older, the immunocompromised, and those with severe chronic medical conditions — should avoid crowded public places like grocery stores, says Tim Lahey, MD, an infectious disease physician and director of clinical ethics at the University of Vermont Medical Center. Anybody with flu symptoms absolutely should stay home, and if you are coughing, some stores may politely ask you to leave.

“The goal is to get in and out as efficiently as possible.”

Not you? Consider helping an older, infirm, or immunocompromised neighbor stock up. Just please don’t hoard for fear of a food shortage: Empty shelves are a temporary result of panic buying, not evidence of a problem with the food supply chain, according to the FDA and the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Because social distancing means spending as little time as you can in close proximity with other people, trips should be as few and as short as possible, says Ben Chapman, PhD, a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University.

Ordering online for curbside pickup or delivery is ideal — stores are rapidly adding these services, so check with yours even if it didn’t offer curbside pickup last week. If you go to the store, Chapman notes, go alone if at all possible.

Make a list. “The goal is to get in and out as efficiently as possible,” says Don…

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Sara Austin
Elemental

Sara Austin is a writer and editor in New York. She has held senior editorial positions at Real Simple, Cosmopolitan, Self, and Marie Claire.