At Saturday’s White House briefing, the coronavirus task force warned against even going out to buy groceries or medication as the pandemic is expected to hit its apex in the next two weeks.
“This is the moment not to be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe,” said response coordinator, Deborah Birx.
While most pharmacies in New York City are able to deliver items such as prescriptions, getting a delivery of food is no small feat. Many grocery services such as Fresh Direct, Peapod and Instacart so over-subscribed, many people are having a hard time booking a slot.
As a result, the solution appears to be to adopt best practices when you visit the grocery store as a way of keeping yourself and others healthy.
“The problem is that people have to eat,” Manhattan epidemiologist Dr Jiyoung Ahn tells The Post. “I agree with the White House directive to avoid going out shopping as much as you can, but in many cases, it is unavoidable.”
Here’s what Ahn and other experts say to do to grocery shop safely, and as little as possible.
Few and far between
People should plan their once-every-10 days or more visit to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Gristedes or wherever with military precision, says Ahn, who is also the Associate Director for Population Health, NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center.
They should practice social distancing, stick to the list of menu items they have drawn up and choose hours in the early morning or later at night when the stores are less crowded.
Not only that, they need to follow the CDC’s updated advice to wear masks and latex gloves and, according to Ahn, wash every item they buy in soapy water rinsed off with cold water the moment they arrive home.
“You also must be extremely cautious when you take off your gloves and remove them with one flip of the palm and wrist,” she says. “You need to copy the way you see surgeons do this on the TV.”
Meanwhile food scientist Kimberly Baker, food systems and safety program director at Clemson University in South Carolina, explains that wiping down your cart with sanitizing wipes – or paper towels soaked in sanitizer – goes a long way to stopping the spread of Covid-19.
“A lot of stores have run out of their own supplies of wipes, so bring your own,” says Baker.
One of Baker’s biggest concerns is people not properly handling the abnormally large amount of groceries they are buying – particularly meat. She warns that food-bourne illnesses such as salmonella could land consumers in the hospital. “That’s a place you really want to avoid at the moment,” she adds.
The answer is to freeze as much food as possible that you are not going to eat over the following days and then defrost them correctly in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter.
“If you don’t do it in the fridge, then the next best thing is to run the items under cold, running water,” she says. “You can defrost it in the microwave but then you get those uneven hotspots so you need to double-check it has been defrosted all the way through.”
Dr Ahn is more of a fan of the microwave, insisting that it can be a lifesaver if you heat foods to between 140 degrees Fahrenheit and 150 degrees Fahrenheit as that will kill Covid-19.
If you are ordering in, Ahn says to never eat the takeout out of the packaging it came in. “Instead, place the food on a plate or into a bowl and get rid of the boxes or containers,” she says.
Both experts recommended people shop at open-air farmers’ market or use CSAs as long as they practice caution over social distancing.
Baker even went so far to suggest that would-be green thumbs start planting their own provisions.
“Buy the seedlings now for things like peas, cucumbers and squash and you will reap the benefits in a couple of months,” she adds. “If you’re in a New York City apartment, consider growing your own herb garden in a pot or window box.”