But whether you buy groceries online or in stores,
there are several steps that you can take to limit your exposure to
coronavirus, and theyâ€™re not so different from what CR recommends you
typically do. Be sure to:
Wash nonporous containers. The FDA says there's no current evidence to support the transmission of the virus from food packaging. But if you're concerned, it can't hurt to wipe down non-porous containers like glass or cans with disinfectant wipes.
If that's not practical, wash your hands well after putting away all
packaging, including paper boxes and bags. "It all comes down to hand
hygiene," says Liz Garman, a spokesperson for the Association for
Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology in Arlington, Va.
It also doesn't hurt to wash your hands after opening the containers and using their contents.
"But if you use a pasta box a few days after you get it, there is
little likelihood that the virus could still be live on the box and
cause an infection," says Eike Steinmann, a virologist at
Ruhr-Universitat Bochum in Germany who has studied how long viruses live
on different surfaces.
One preliminary study found that the coronavirus responsible for the current pandemic doesn't survive on cardboard
longer than 24 hours. Results of the study, conducted by researchers at
the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and other
experts, were published on March 17 in a letter to the editor of the New
England Journal of Medicine.
Wash your hands, counter, and other surfaces youâ€™ve touched. Do this after you've put away the groceries. Keep in mind that using a disinfectant isnâ€™t necessary unless youâ€™re sharing a space with someone who is exhibiting signs of respiratory illness or has been exposed to the virus.
Rubbing fruit and vegetables under running waterâ€”and scrubbing those with hard skinsâ€”can help remove pesticides.
But there's no data to show that COVID-19 is spread by consuming
food, says James E. Rogers, Ph.D., Consumer Reportsâ€™ director of food
safety research and testing. "The risk of getting the virus from your
food is considered low," Rogers says. (Read more about coronavirus and the food you eat.)
Other steps may not make much difference. For instance, buying frozen
vegetables rather than fresh under the assumption that theyâ€™re packed
in a more sanitary way is not an approach that has been backed up by
evidence, Rogers says.If Youâ€™re Getting Your Groceries Delivered
Even if a grocery store or
warehouse is thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis, the delivery person
needs to take the same precautions to prevent the spread of a virus to
Among the six services in our review of grocery delivery services, AmazonFresh, Amazon Prime Now, Instacart, and Shipt
employ independent contractors for deliveries. Instacart has begun
offering up to 14 days of pay to all shoppersâ€”including independent
contractorsâ€”sidelined by coronavirus, plus sick pay to its part-time
(In response to a recent walkoff
by some of its shoppers who demanded more workplace protections,
Instacart also announced it was providing free "health and safety kits"
including a washable cloth mask, hand sanitizer, and a reusable forehead
thermometer that workers could order from the company.)
While those companies might recommend that deliverers wash their
hands often, practice other hygiene measures, and stay home when theyâ€™re
feeling sick, they canâ€™t monitor whether drivers are actually taking
those precautions, says Erin Hatton, an associate professor of sociology
and a labor scholar at the University of Buffalo. â€œAnd without paid
sick leave, workers are going to try to push through as much as they
can,â€ Hatton says. So follow these steps when ordering deliveries:
Avoid a direct hand-off. Arrange to have the items delivered
to your doorstep or a place nearby instead. Instacart added that option
last week; other companies have a way to indicate special delivery
instructions on their order forms. FreshDirect says its drivers will no
longer bring groceries into a home.
Tip electronically. One benefit of ordering deliveries online
or via an app is that you donâ€™t have to hand the delivery person money.
Opportunities to tip the delivery person are included in most of the
delivery apps and online ordering systems.
Order earlier than you usually do. Though it's not a safety
issue, you may find that in the midst of higher demand you have to wait
longer. FreshDirect, for instance, mentions on its home page that
delivery times are filling up faster than usual. Amazon Prime Now, which
chiefly delivers from Whole Foods, also mentions that â€œavailability may
be limited,â€ though itâ€™s not clear whether that means delivery times
are limited, items are limited, or both. (An Amazon representative
didn't respond to a CR request for comment.)
If Youâ€™re Picking Up Prepacked Groceries
The steps are basically the
same for this option as for delivery. If youâ€™ve ordered and are merely
having someone put the groceries in your car in a parking lotâ€”an option
at about 3,000 Walmart locations nationwideâ€”consider opening your car
door yourself rather than having the person bringing the items to your
car touch the handle. And if you can tip on a supermarketâ€™s app, do so
rather than handing over cash. (Walmartâ€™s employees arenâ€™t permitted to
If You're Buying Groceries in a Store
A key way to prevent the virusâ€™s spread is to stay 6 feet away from other people. The CDC notes that's generally the distance within which people pick up coronavirus
droplets through the air from a cough or sneeze. Such â€œsocial
distancingâ€ is a good strategy in any situation outside the home, Rogers
says. Other ideas:
Go shopping at a time thatâ€™s less busy. If you type in the
storeâ€™s name and location in Google search, a box often will pop up
showing when foot traffic there is highest.
Wear a face covering. The new advice from the CDC on face
masks is voluntary. The agency says the non-medical coverings can be
"basic cloth or fabric masks." The New York City Health Department,
which recently put out a directive to citizens to cover their faces when
outside their home, defines a face covering as "any well-secured paper
or cloth (like a bandana or scarf) that covers your mouth and nose," and
offers best practices for how to put it on, wear it, and remove it.
It's not necessary to use surgical masks or N-95 respirators, the CDC
stresses. "Those are critical supplies that must continue to be
reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders" the
Take germicide with you. Use it to wipe your hands and the cart before and after you shop.
Use a credit or debit card. That way, you donâ€™t have to hand
over bills or receive change. Also, use your own pen to sign receipts.
If you can, use a virtual payment system like Apple Pay so that you
don't have to open your wallet at all.
Editorâ€™s Note: This
article, originally published on March 9, 2020, has been updated to
clarify our guidance on how to handle produce and food packaging, as
well as news on Instacart's delivery service, how long coronaviruses
live on cardboard, and whether to use a face covering.