Pregnancy

Safe Grocery Shopping

Experts have said that when it comes to buying groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic, the best way to avoid transmission of the virus is to have your food delivered.

But grocery delivery simply isn’t always possible for every family, such as those who live in parts of the country with fewer delivery options, families on federal assistance programs like SNAP or WIC, or those who cannot secure a delivery slot. You may need to make a trip to the store — and when you do, here’s what you need to know to keep your family safe.

How to safely shop for groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Wear a face mask. According to experts, this is the single most important thing you can do to keep your family safe from COVID-19. Every member of the family who goes to the grocery store should wear a face mask, including children 2 and older. Choose a multi-layer, washable, breathable fabric that completely covers your nose and mouth, and fits snugly against the side of your face without gaps, says Elizabeth H. Mack, M.D., division director of Pediatric Critical Care at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone wear face masks or cloth face coverings in public.
  • Look into contactless pickup. Although some stores don’t offer delivery, particularly smaller chains, they may now be offering contactless pickup, even if they didn’t do this earlier in the pandemic. Call ahead or go online to place your order, pay and make sure you understand how the pickup process works (for example, will an employee bring your groceries to your car, or will they be placed in a neutral pickup spot?). Some retailers also now pickup easier for shoppers who need to pay with electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards; Walmart, for example, has enabled SNAP online purchasing for pickup in 44 states. 
  • Go during off-peak hours. It’s smart to go to the store when it’s least likely to be busy, such as early in the day. Just keep in mind that some retailers have specific times for elderly or immunocompromised customers to shop, so call ahead to check.
  • Wipe down your cart (or don’t use one). If you need to use a grocery cart, wipe it down first with disinfecting wipes, if you have them. Don’t need to buy many items? The safest option is to bring your own basket or bag and do your best not to let it touch anything while you’re in the store. Make sure you use wipes with more than 60 percent alcohol.
  • Social distance. Keep social distancing guidelines in mind at all times: Stay at least six feet or more from others, and if you see someone coming toward you in the grocery aisle, turn around and go the other direction to avoid a close encounter. It’s especially important to make sure you’re social distancing in the lines at checkout. 
  • Leave your phone in the car. You touch your phone constantly throughout the day, often without thinking about it, then put it directly to your face. As a result, it’s best to leave your phone in the car instead of bringing it into the grocery store because “[this often] leads people to touch their face,” says Dr. Mack.
  • Skip the gloves. While you might be tempted to wear gloves, they can carry risk of cross contamination, says Rajeev Fernando, M.D., director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital in Southampton, New York, and member of the What to Expect Medical Review Board. “Good hand hygiene is always best.”
  • Shop with your eyes, not your hands. Now is probably not the best time to be picky about choosing the perfect piece of produce. While you’re in the store, avoid touching anything that you don’t plan on buying.
  • Use a credit or debit card or a virtual payment system. If you can, it’s smart to pay with a credit or debit card instead of cash. The safest option, though, is a virtual payment system like Apple Pay, which lets you pay with a tap of your phone and doesn’t require you to interact with any high-touch surfaces at checkout, such as the touch screens or smart pens.

Of course, stay home and don’t risk getting others sick if you’re feeling unwell or have any symptoms of COVID-19, and get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you become eligible.

How to safely shop for groceries with kids

According to experts, it’s best to leave your children at home if you can, or with your partner or another adult in the car. But it’s not always possible to shop without your kids, particularly if you’re a single parent or if your partner is an essential worker.

If you do have to bring children to the grocery store, there are a number of steps you can take to keep them safe.

  • If you have a baby, put them in a baby carrier or stroller instead of in the grocery cart.
  • If you put your child in a stroller, use a plastic or cloth covering (babies and toddlers under age 2 should not wear face masks).
  • If you’re placing them in the cart, wipe it down first.
  • If your kids are walking, make sure they know to keep their distance from others and avoid touching anything.
  • Be as efficient as possible. “Go in with a list [and] shop quickly,” says Dr. Mack.

How to safely unpack your groceries at home

When you get home from the grocery store, Dr. Mack recommends making sure that you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (long enough to hum the tune “Happy Birthday”) with warm soap and water.

While it is possible for virus particles to get on food surfaces, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there’s currently no evidence of food, food containers or food packaging “being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”

Still, it doesn’t hurt to rinse fresh produce with water (do not use any disinfecting cleaner on fresh food, or bleach or ammonia on food packaged in cardboard or plastic wrap).

The virus most likely needs to live in a human cell to survive, and simple soap and water trumps hand sanitizer any day, says Dr. Fernando. And make sure you wash your hands well before preparing food.

Visit whattoexpect.com/news for the latest updates on COVID-19 as it relates to pregnancy and babies

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