Grocery Shopping During Coronavirus : Life Kit Grocery shopping during coronavirus is fraught with confusion. Do you need to disinfect your groceries? When are the best times to go grocery shopping right now? This episode gives tips about safe grocery shopping — and what you can stop worrying about.

How To Shop For Groceries During Coronavirus

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CHARLENE COURT: I am Charlene Court (ph) from Vienna, Va. My friends and I are following the guidelines and are carefully cloistered at home. To make coping easier, we have discovered the pleasure of driveway picnics. I take my own lawn chair and lunch and meet my friends in their driveway. We maintain a safe distance, enjoy being outside and appreciate some nonelectronic social time. Then I pack up my chair and wave goodbye. Now I'm leaving my chair in the car, always ready for the next picnic.


This is NPR's LIFE KIT. I'm Maria Godoy.


GODOY: The vast majority of the country is under lockdown right now, but stay-at-home orders come with a few exceptions, like grocery shopping. Many of us are still venturing out to stock up on food and toiletries. But what's the safest way to shop during this pandemic? And what should you do once you've brought your haul home?


GODOY: This episode, I sit down with All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly to explain what I learned from infectious disease, virology and food safety experts. I'll share tips about safe grocery shopping and what you can stop worrying about.


MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: So we've gotten lots and lots of questions from listeners on this topic, so many that I think I'm basically going to turn this over to them and let our listeners ask you most of the questions. Let's dive right in. The first one comes from Patty Milich (ph) of Davis, Calif. She called in with this question.

PATTY MILICH: My question is, what is the best way to stay safe while grocery shopping? I wonder about the question of contamination at the bottoms of carts and hand-carried baskets.

KELLY: Germy, gunky bottoms of baskets and carts - Maria, what should we do?

GODOY: Look; I have talked to a lot of experts about this, and they all agree that, actually, the biggest risk when it comes to grocery shopping is being in the store itself with other people because you don't know if they're infected or not, and they might not know, either. But given that many people do have to go to the grocery store right now, our expert Donald Schaffner of Rutgers University says don't make this a hangout trip. Think of it like a surgical strike.

DONALD SCHAFFNER: One very important thing to do is to, you know, be as efficient as possible in the store, right? Have a list. Move through the store, you know, quickly and efficiently. You know, keep moving. Get out of the way. Be respectful of other people. Maintain social distance while you're in the store.

GODOY: So another tip is look for a store that limits the number of shoppers allowed in at once, and that'll make it easier to practice safe social distancing so you can stay 6 feet away from people all the time. And, you know, go alone if you can because bringing the whole family shopping is just going to add to crowding in the aisles.

KELLY: That makes sense, OK. But once I am there, what is the advice? Do I get my Clorox wipes? Do I wipe down the whole shopping cart and everything?

GODOY: Oh, yeah. Absolutely do that, although a lot of stores now do this for you. But, you know, bring your own wipes or hand sanitizer just in case. Be sure not to touch your eyes, nose, your face while you're in the store or until you can wash your hands again. And that might be easier to remember now that the CDC is advising people to wear cloth face coverings out in public in the store. In fact, some stores require shoppers to wear them now. So remember; that's actually to protect other shoppers from you in case you're infected with the coronavirus and you don't know it.

KELLY: All right. What happens when I have made it through? I've got my groceries. I'm at the checkout line. How should I pay? Safer to use cash, credit? Does it matter?

GODOY: You know, if you've got a no-touch option like Apple Pay or Google Wallet, then use that. But otherwise, credit is going to be a better bet than cash. But regardless of what you do, make sure to wash or sanitize your hands afterwards, definitely before you touch your face again. And whether you use something like self-checkout or a cashier, really just look for the option that allows you the most room to maintain social distance, and that might vary depending on the store layout.


KELLY: All right. I have made it home from the grocery store, where I behaved perfectly and did everything right...

GODOY: (Laughter).

KELLY: ...And wiped everything down and socially distanced. My food is home. What do I do with it?

GODOY: OK. So I think a lot of us have seen a viral video out there that shows this elaborate disinfection process for your groceries. You wipe down everything, every last box of cereal or packaged fruit. But Rachel Graham of the University of North Carolina, she studies coronaviruses, and she says wiping all that packaging might not be a great idea.

RACHEL GRAHAM: I would not necessarily do a lot of disinfecting of the packaging itself, particularly with groceries because a lot of the packaging that groceries come in is really not meant to be sprayed with disinfectant. You could actually end up contaminating your food.

GODOY: You know, she says if wiping down the packages brings you peace of mind, then maybe just use soap and water. But all the experts I spoke with emphasize that the risk of getting infected with any virus particles that might be on your packages is really, really small. We know that very little virus is detectable on most surfaces after 24 hours and, really, none at all after three days. So the most important advice is wash your hands after you unpack your groceries and just wipe down your countertops.

KELLY: Next question. This one comes from Karen Adell (ph) from Roscoe, Ill.

KAREN ADELL: My question for the experts is this. Will refrigerating or freezing food kill the coronavirus?

GODOY: OK. So you are home with all of the stuff. You should just know that putting your food in the freezer or refrigerator could actually - well, it will help the virus survive longer, but the good news is...

KELLY: Longer, wow. OK.

GODOY: Well, freezing preserves virus. That's what they do in labs to preserve samples. But the good news is that heating the virus will inactivate it. So if you heat your food to a temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit, you - that will do the trick.

KELLY: Wow. OK. So what about fresh produce, Maria? Some people are wondering whether they should wash theirs with more than just water. Should we use soap and water? Is that a good idea?

GODOY: No, not according to Don Schaffner of Rutgers. He actually says that could be a bad idea because it's possible - if you ingest soap residue, it could lead to diarrhea or vomiting, which is no fun. He actually says the best thing to do now is the advice prepandemic, which is rinse your produce in plain water.

KELLY: All right. Last question comes from Martin Negron (ph) of Annapolis, Md. He's wondering this. What about people who have skipped the grocery store altogether? They're just ordering online.

MARTIN NEGRON: Since I buy all my groceries online, my question is how should I process the items in terms of cleaning and washing after being delivered?

GODOY: Well, if you're doing online delivery, that's great. You can do no-contact delivery. Just make sure to tip your driver really well. And once those packages are there, treat them the same as you would food you brought home yourself.

KELLY: Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands (laughter) is the headline again.

GODOY: Absolutely.


GODOY: So just to recap, when you go to the grocery store, remember the biggest risk is being inside the store itself. Focus on social distancing from people, not the food. Make sure to avoid crowds and shop quickly. Wear a face covering and don't touch your face while you're in the store until you can sanitize your hands again. Go alone so you can keep your household's risk of infection lower and avoid having more people in the store. Always sanitize the handles of your cart or basket. Use no-touch payment if you can. And don't go crazy with the disinfecting wipes and your groceries. You can use soap and water to clean some packaging. Rinse your fresh produce in plain water. And I know we keep saying it, but keep washing your hands.


GODOY: For more episodes of LIFE KIT, go to We have episodes on all sorts of topics from how to compost to how to budget. If you love LIFE KIT and want more, subscribe to our newsletter at


GODOY: Also, we want to hear your tips. What are you doing to cope right now? Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823 or email us at This episode was produced by Meghan Keane, who's also our managing producer. Beth Donovan is our senior editor. I'm Maria Godoy. Thanks for listening.


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