Tips for buying groceries online in a pandemic

Getting started

Plan ahead by loading your cart several days before your supplies run low. It might take several days to get a delivery slot. 

If you’re struggling to secure a pick-up or delivery slot, log on early in the morning. I’ve had the best luck between 4:30 and 6AM.

What to buy 

Buy a combination of fresh and frozen produce, buying two (not ten) of items you consume frequently. 

Choose fresh produce that lasts in your fridge for up to two weeks like: Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, carrots, beets, sweet potato, fennel, zucchini, parsnips, purple cabbage and zucchini.

Stock up on frozen foods like spinach, green beans, edamame and berries. 

Pick plant based proteins like dried or canned beans, chickpeas and lentils.

Opt for canned salmon, tuna or canned chicken packed in water (you can drain off the liquid).

If you buy chicken, ground meat or fresh fish put a stash in the freezer for later use.

Choose hearty whole grains like quinoa, farro, bulgar and steel cut oats. You might finally have time to cook them!

Select your delivery method

Choose curbside pick up or doorstep delivery. Fees vary but are higher for door-to-door service. Tips can be added to your online purchase.

In some areas curbside pick up (where they load your trunk) means an easier time securing a slot. 

Day of guidelines

Keep your phone or device handy in the hours preceding your scheduled order. Some items may not be available and your shopper will text you to approve or decline suggested substitutions in real time.

Other options

If you’re willing to relinquish some control over which fresh items you get try an online delivery service. Some examples are Misfits Market, Imperfect Foods or a local farm/Community Supported Agriculture membership.

These services range from $28 to $50 per week depending on size and customization preferences. Some accept SNAP/EBT (both Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods) and shipping fees range between $4.50 to $6.00 per week. While the boxed produce shares may not allow for 100% customization they’re a great way to try out new foods – especially if you enjoy getting creative in the kitchen. 

What to do when you get groceries home

There are varying schools of thought about how to best unpack groceries at home. Since this is an entirely new and evolving situation, you’ll need to decide what feels most comfortable for you. 

Thorough hand washing is critical after you carry groceries into your home, as well as before and after you put food away. Some reports suggest setting up a sanitizing station where you wipe down the exterior of cans, boxes and bags with a disinfectant wipe or cleaning solution. The problem is a lot of items (like bananas) can’t be wiped down with a bleach solution. So what to do?

What about sanitizing food packages?

The decision about whether or not to sanitize food packaging is based on personal preference. Here are the latest official CDC guidelines based on our current understanding of the coronavirus. 

“It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, like a packaging container, that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.”

How should I clean fresh produce?

If it comes in a bag you can wipe the outside or simply wash your hands before and after you handle it.

For loose-leaf bulk items like broccoli crowns, individual apples or unwrapped leafy greens and fresh herbs I advise:

Do not use bleach or isopropyl alcohol solutions, soap or other cleaning chemicals to wash your food. 

Veggie washes and vinegar solutions do not kill coronavirus. It’s okay to keep washing with running water. 

The virus doesn’t live more than 1-3 days on any surface (including metal) so if you’re worried just keep things in the fridge for a couple of days.

Wash (with clean water) before prepping and cooking fresh produce. 

If you’re worried about things like an apple skin, you can peel it for now (even though this is not considered necessary). 

Perhaps buy fresh produce like bell peppers in a three-pack instead of loosely (for now).