Published in: Banks | April 2, 2020

8 Ways to Shop Safely During the COVID-19 Outbreak

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Many people need supplies and food now, or will need them in the coming weeks. These are the safest ways to stock up. 

A mother and her young son unpacking the groceries from a meal service kit in their kitchen.

Image source: Getty Images

The COVID-19 outbreak has turned American life upside down in more ways than one. It's hammered the stock market, tanked the economy, forced millions of workers out of a job, and turned otherwise simple tasks like food shopping into an utter nightmare.

The latter is a major concern for households who need to stock up on groceries, cleaning products, and other necessities to make it through the crisis. After all, how do you pull off social distancing when the supermarkets are jammed with people desperate for toilet paper and disinfectant spray?

The reality is that while shopping for basics has become a challenge, there are ways you can protect yourself while doing so. Here are some basic tips that could help preserve your health -- and your sanity.

1. Try getting your groceries delivered

Snagging grocery delivery these days isn't easy, because everyone is clamoring to do it. But if you don't luck out with major supermarket chains, or with services like Instacart, try calling small, local markets or stores and seeing what options they can offer. You may find that getting an order to your doorstep is more doable with a smaller market that most people outside your town don't know about.

2. Look into curbside pickup

A lot of stores like these are offering curbside pickup, where you call in an order and pick it up outside the store. In many cases, you don't even have to get out of your vehicle -- you simply drive up, give your name, pop your trunk, and wait for the store worker on duty to put your prepaid order into it. If you don't have a car and need to walk up to get your groceries, try to keep as much distance as you can between yourself and the person who hands over those bags. But either way, in that scenario, you're interacting with a single person rather than what could be a few hundred shoppers in a store.

3. Sign up for a meal delivery or subscription service

If you can't find a way to get deliveries or hand-pick your groceries and collect them curbside, your next best bet may be to order meal delivery kits or subscription produce boxes. That way, you get food at your doorstep without having to come face to face with anyone. The downside of going this route is that it could be a blow to your bank account. On the other hand, a lot of the meal prep kits out there are more economical than ordering in from restaurants, and offer healthier choices to boot. 

4. Find produce at local farms

If you live in a rural or suburban area, you may have the option to buy locally grown produce directly from a nearby farm. If that's the case, you may encounter some other shoppers while hunting for your favorite fruits and vegetables, but in many cases, you'll be outdoors or in a more open area than you'd be in at a supermarket. 

5. Aim to shop at off-peak times

Shopping off peak is easier said than done, because with so many Americans home from work, it can be difficult to predict when stores will be more or less crowded. But here are a few windows to play around with -- very early in the morning (as people still like to sleep in), late at night (assuming your town hasn't imposed a curfew), or during dinnertime hours, when people may be more inclined to be home. 

6. Don't touch your face while shopping

This is one piece of advice that health officials have been stressing since COVID-19 first took hold in the U.S. -- avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands, especially when you're out and about. COVID-19 can linger on surfaces like supermarket shelves and checkout counters, but if you touch a contaminated surface and avoid making contact with your face, you greatly mitigate the risk of getting sick. Of course, once you're done shopping, you'll want to wipe down your groceries with disinfectant and then give your hands a thorough wash -- think 20 solid seconds of scrubbing with soap. 

7. Only send one household member out at a time

If you live alone, then congratulations -- you're your household's designated shopper. But if you have a spouse or partner and kids, grocery shopping should not be a family affair. Rather, designate one person to hit the stores. If you're a single parent, see if you can enlist the help of a friend to pick up groceries for you and leave them at your door. Taking kids to the store is a bad idea -- especially young ones who have a tendency to stick their hands in their mouths as a matter of course.

8. Stock up on essentials while you're out

The fewer trips you make to the store in the coming weeks, the less contact you'll have with potentially infected people who could get you sick. If you're going to venture out, try to load up on extra products to avoid a repeat supermarket run a few days later. But don't buy so much that your fridge and freezer can't handle it -- wasting food won't do you any good at a time like this.

One month ago, grocery shopping was a non-event. Nowadays, it can be an ordeal. But if you follow these tips, you'll be doing your part to stay safe while ensuring that you and your loved ones have the food and supplies you need during the ongoing crisis.

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