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How to Safely Grocery Shop and Get Delivery During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the new coronavirus, COVID-19, sweeps the United States, many people feel anxious about routine aspects of everyday life, such as grocery shopping. If you wonder whether you might pick up COVID-19 from food or food packaging, you’re not alone. And what about food delivery packaging? Are meal kits or restaurant meals delivered by courier safe?

COVID-19 food safety
​Verywell / Lara Antal

Experts Say Food Is Safe

This anxiety surrounding food may be heightened by the fact that research is somewhat lacking about how COVID-19 travels from person to person. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says this transmission occurs through droplets: the microscopic particles emitted when someone coughs or sneezes. Contact (surface) transmission does not seem to happen often with COVID-19, and there is no evidence at all that it is transmitted through food or food packaging.

“Food itself isn’t likely to be a route by which coronavirus spreads easily, so the actual food you get in the package should be safe," says Verywell Health Medical Review Board Member Andy Miller, MD. "The packaging on the food—the plastic wrap on the chicken, for instance—might theoretically have some coronavirus on it, if the person packaging the chicken, or handling the packaged chicken, was infected. That’s possible, but not a very likely vector for transmission."

Just because food is generally thought to be safe doesn’t mean you should abandon handwashing hygiene or eschew precautions when handling it. Instead, follow the below tactics for minimizing your risk of COVID-19 exposure, whether you shop for groceries in person, order takeout, or have food delivered to you.

Grocery Shopping

Although experts do not believe food or food packaging transmit COVID-19, you should still take steps to reduce your risk as much as possible. Consider using grocery pickup or delivery, if possible, to avoid contacting other people inside a grocery store. If you must shop in person, try these strategies:

  • Prepare a list in advance so you can get in and out of the store quickly.
  • Wash your hands before and after you go into the store.
  • Use disinfectant to wipe down the handle of the cart or basket, as well as adjacent surfaces.
  • Maintain at least six feet of distance between yourself and other shoppers as best as you can.
  • Evaluate produce items only with your eyes. Avoid touching them, other than to place them in your basket. Consider using hand sanitizer before and after choosing your produce items.
  • Wipe down reusable shopping bags inside and out with a disinfecting wipe before and after each use. If using washable totes, wash them after each use.
  • Dispose of single-use grocery bags (if using) immediately after shopping.
  • Wash produce items thoroughly using plain water or a produce wash product before eating.

Takeout, Drive-Through, and Delivery

Not only is ordering takeout from a local eatery likely safe, but you’ll be providing vital economic support to these hard-hit businesses.

“Restaurants doing takeout/delivery should be following the same precautions for their employees that are recommended for other businesses: social distancing, frequent handwashing, frequent cleaning of high touch surfaces, etc.," says Verywell Health Medical Review Board Member Anju Goel, MD, MD, MPH.

That said, you should use handwashing precautions to avoid the remote possibility of picking up COVID-19 from the takeout packaging. Follow this procedure:

  1. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before picking up a takeout order. If having food delivered, opt for “no contact” delivery, paying ahead of time and asking for your meal to be left at the door.
  2. Wash your hands again before removing food from the packaging at home.
  3. Wash your hands after eating the food and disposing of the packaging.

Meal Delivery Kits

Using meal kits like Blue Apron, Purple Carrot, or Home Chef can be an excellent way to enjoy nutritious, home-cooked meals while avoiding congregating with people at a grocery store. These food subscription services deliver boxes to your doorstep with ingredients you need to eat well during quarantine.

“Meal kits are likely safer than standing in line with your cart at the grocery store," says Verywell Health contributor Robyn Correll Carlyle, MPH. "While there's still a lot we don't know for certain, the new coronavirus doesn't appear to be transmitted through food. I think the bigger risk might be if someone infected with the virus is preparing the kits or handling them in the process of shipping. "

Even if the latter is the case, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes the COVID-19 disease) can only remain viable on cardboard for 24 hours and plastic for three days.

Minimizing Meal Kit Risks

To minimize your risk from handling meal kits, follow these tips:

  • Wash your hands before opening the boxes.
  • Immediately place cold items in the refrigerator.
  • Observe safe food handling procedures, such as separating raw poultry from other foods during preparation.
  • Wash your hands after emptying the box and putting away the contents.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you opt for in-person grocery shopping, grocery delivery, takeout, food delivery, or meal kit subscriptions, you can do your family a service by focusing on your nutrition right now. Because maintaining a robust immune system plays a key role in helping your body fend off illnesses, you should eat plenty of fresh, whole foods that provide complete nutrition.

Eating well also improves your ability to manage stress and contributes to a general sense of wellbeing—so important during this time. And, of course, enjoying meals together offers a great way for family members to engage socially during this time of social distancing. So, don’t fear your food. Embrace it for the health and wellbeing of your family.

Feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, and uncertainty are normal during the COVID-19 pandemic. Being proactive about your mental health can help keep both your mind and body stronger. Learn about the best online therapy options available to you.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019, Frequently Asked Questions. Updated March 23, 2020.

  2. Van doremalen N, Bushmaker T, Morris DH, et al. Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. N Engl J Med. 2020;382:1564-1567. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2004973

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