12 tips for grocery shopping safely during the pandemic

What has the pandemic made possible? was the question I raised in last week’s blog post, and this week I’ve been paying attention to just that—from the halls of government to the aisles of the grocery stores:

  • Legislative branches (federal and state) come together in a bipartisan fashion to pass relief bills and address some long-standing issues in access to health care, sick leave, labor laws, and education
  • School system dining services continue to feed under-resourced children despite school closures
  • School systems provide technology to make online learning accessible to those who might not otherwise be able to continue their education
  • Corporations figure out how to make it possible for all employees to work from home
  • Small independent grocery stores and restaurants make previously unavailable services such as delivery and curbside pickup an option

I get that in some cases, these adjustments come at a steep price—one we will be paying for in the decades to come.

And I can’t help but hope that because a bright light revealed many of the inequities in our communities, these inequities can no longer be hidden away, unseen or denied.

(On a personal note, as part of a half Chinese family, I was awed by the timing of a glorious new book, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, which came out April 7. The Universe never makes a mistake—and so it should not be a shock that this book appeared in a time when racist incidents against Asians and Asian-Americans is on the rise again.)


Three weeks ago, I was chatting with the manager of my local independent grocery, who was bemoaning the fact that they were losing huge amounts of business to the larger chains because they did not offer curbside pickup, and their customers were demanding it.

Two weeks ago, I got an email from the store announcing a new curbside pickup service.

This week, I recognized a few former cashiers turned into personal shoppers in the aisles.

Because when we are faced with a do-or-die situation, we figure it out. It may not be a great solution initially—and sometimes we can’t let the perfect stand in the way of the good enough.

I’m glad for those customers who will benefit and for the store, which can switch some employees over to the new program now that fewer of them are needed in the aisles and on the registers.

food choices

in the aisles

I personally don’t plan to use grocery pickup or delivery—I’m way too picky about my produce to let someone else pick it!

And to be perfectly honest, I’m not terrified of getting sick or infecting anyone else. No, I was not part of that mask-less crowd charging the capitol steps in Lansing (I’m not going to honor their actions with a link here), and I’m not racing to reopen the economy. However, I am leery of the media hype around the pandemic, and I believe that if we all take precautions, running essential errands will not kill us.

We also need to remember that at this point, science indicates that the virus enters our bodies through our eyes, noses, and mouths; for now, there is no evidence that it enters through our skin.

So for those of you still braving the grocery aisles, here are some tips to keep yourself—and others—safe:

  1. Some stores are only allowing a few people in at a time: if you’re in a rush, don’t get in that carefully-spaced line and spread your negative hurry-up-what’s-the-holdup energy to others. It’s a fact that stress lowers our immune response—yours and everyone else’s. Go to another store or come back when the line is shorter. A quick phone call to the store will get you the answer to when is the best time to shop.
  2. Limit how often you go to the store by maximizing the amount of food you buy on each trip: even fresh produce will keep for a week or more. Gone are the days when we could be in the habit of running out for just one ingredient—it’s time to get really organized, make your list, and check it twice.
  3. For the sake of your wallet and your pantry, don’t stockpile or hoard shelf-stable foods: if you have 2 cans of tomatoes that have been in your pantry for a few months, do you really need to add 6 more? Your neighbors also need to eat!
  4. Shop for yourself—and for someone who might be at higher risk. Many neighborhoods are organizing lists of seniors and the immuno-compromised who can use your help.
  5. Wear a mask or tie a bandana around your nose and mouth and, if you’re really nervous, add goggles. I know that cloth masks don’t necessarily protect us completely; however, they probably do provide a little protection. (Not convinced? Consider wearing one as a political act: I wear mine in part as a symbol of solidarity with the Chinese, who don them regularly to keep out pollution and other allergens and to protect others when they are sick. You know—those people we initially laughed at until we were told masks are a good idea. Then we suddenly had to have them and were dismayed when they were unavailable. America, I need you to be better.)
  6. Wash your hands before going to the store, and honor the store’s guidelines: for example, where I shop, they ask that you use plastic gloves (provided) in the bulk section.
  7. Try to touch only what you are going to put in your cart. (Don’t be the little old lady in Tampopo, in other words.)
  8. If you’re a believer in disinfecting wipes, use them (almost always provided now) on the grocery cart before wheeling it into the store.
  9. Keep your distance from other shoppers as much as possible—this is not the time to be crowding others or weaving in and out of them as if you were driving on the SoCal freeway system.

out the door

  1. Don’t crowd the cashier—many stores have installed plexiglass shields, and if yours has not, step back once you’ve unloaded your cart until it’s time to pay. Or use self-checkout and recognize that the register may not be cleaned between customers.
  2. I personally don’t have an issue with store employees packing my groceries—no, I don’t disinfect my groceries—and I’ve noticed that some stores have started asking whether it’s okay to do so.
  3. Wash your hands when you come home and again after unloading your groceries. Probably a good idea to wipe down the counters as well.

the question of takeout

If you have followed me for a while, you probably know that we tend to cook from scratch and eat at home most of the time. I see the pandemic as a great opportunity for more of us to master that skill and develop a home cooking practice!

Normally (what’s that?), we only treat ourselves to eating out approximately once a week, so we probably don’t account for much of a restaurant’s weekly income.

I do recognize the importance of keeping our restaurants solvent, though, and while our small amount may not be much, we have continued to get takeout once a week, always choosing a local, independently-owned place.

I have friends who are nervous about getting takeout during this time—”Who knows what their food safety practices are like/whether their staff is infected?” Which only confuses me because if you’re worried about that now, why would you eat there when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic?

make the connection

Leave a comment and let me know, how has getting food on the table changed during the pandemic? What tips would you add to those above?


  1. I appreciate the advice about going to another store if the line is too long. I’m trying to find smaller grocery stores to go to that aren’t too crowded since I’m wary of COVID. Looks like I should keep researching and find ones that people don’t know about.

    1. Elizabeth Baker

      Yes! If shopping local/indie is within your budget, I highly recommend going that route—they seem to be doing a good job in my city, and I think the people who shop at those stores are more mindful of masks, distancing, etc. Good luck with your hunt!

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