Shopping in the Era of COVID-19, By Amy Block Joy, PhD, President, UCBEA

March 30, 2020

Shopping these days is stressful and overwhelming. Below are some tips that I hope will get all of us thinking about how we can stay safe in the era of COVID-19.

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge and thank all those grocery store workers who are out there working risking their own personal safety so that we can eat. Please be sure that you thank them when you are at the store. No need to start conversations. Just a simple "thank you" with a smile might be appreciated.

Second, be sure to follow all the safety procedures outlined by the CDC and Public Health officers who are guiding us to stay safe while "sheltering-at-home."

Personal guide to shopping at local grocery stores

In my career as a nutrition emeritus professor and educator, I teach a class I developed called "The Joy of Eating Green." I have studied the best practices for getting the best nutritional and economic value at the supermarket. But nothing has prepared me for the issues we now face when we venture out of our homes to shop for food and essential supplies. I want to offer some helpful guidance that I have found online and from personal experience.

Some Best Practices

Here's a list of some things that might be useful to do before, during, and after you shop:

1. Create a shopping list. Your list should contain the essentials that you need. For ease of reading, I circle these items so that they stand out when my mind becomes overwhelmed.

2. Plan for substitutions. Because many store items on your shopping list may not available, I have included an article from the LA Times containing a list of substitutions here.

3. Clothes, shoes, hands. When I go shopping, I wear washable shoes and clothes that can be quickly removed for washing. When I return, I take them off and put them into a separate laundry basket so that I can wash everything that might have been contaminated. I then wash my hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. There is no evidence (currently) that shoes or clothes can spread the COVID-19, but for me this practice has a placebo effect of feeling safe.

4. Repackage food items. I like to repackage all the food once I return home. Before leaving for the store, I put out all my plastic containers on the counter. When I return, I put the bag on the counter (so I can disinfect the counter when I am done) and begin the process of repackaging. Items go into plastic containers or plastic bags (bread) and then placed in the refrigerator or freezer. Some items can be washed with soap and water (canned foods, glass containers, etc.). To be completely safe, I wash my hands after each item is repackaged. I place all store containers in the garbage (or recycle) bag. After everything is put away, including the shopping bag, the counter is disinfected. If the shopping bag has been contaminated by being in the shopping cart, or on the ground, I don't re-use it for shopping. I used to take my own bags shopping but now stores are asking individuals not to put store items into their own bags before the purchase has been made. This protects the cashier. At this time, I pay the dime for a new bag from the store and after disinfecting it, I can reuse it.

5. Shopping simplicity. To avoid having to carry too much, I don't take a purse into the store. I take my keys, a credit card, cell phone, and driver's license in a zipped pocket. This way, I can focus on not touching things.

6. Trip preparation. After creating a shopping list, ask these questions: Which store? What day? What time? Senior only? Most stores use their inventory to refill the shelves in the evening before the store opens. This means the best time to shop is in the early morning. Going early may improve the shelf choices but it also may mean dealing with crowds. Going later in the day may mean that the store’s inventory is low.

7. Parking? I prefer outside parking. My desire to avoid crowds means avoiding underground parking structures.

8. Fresh fruits and vegetables. I do buy fresh fruits and vegetables. I also buy frozen fruits (and vegetables) as well as real fruit juice. The frozen fruits can be used to make fruit smoothies or be added to baked goods. Canned soups can be helpful to have on hand because they can be stored for a long time.

9. Local restaurants are suffering. I want to help them as much as possible. Berkeleyside has a list of restaurants offering curbside take-out meals. You order and pay over the telephone and drive to the curbside pick-up. This way you don’t have to touch anything or get out of your car. See details here.

10. Also, check out home delivery services, like Instacart.

And most of all, please stay safe at home and keep healthy!