Eating During Coronavirus: Everything You Need to Know
This article will explain all of your questions about coronavirus as it pertains to what you should eat, how it affects supply chains and the food industry, and what you should purchase at the grocery store before quarantine. There is a lot of misinformation being spread online, and as consumers of such information, it is important we sift through the lies and find reputable sources to inform ourselves about food purchasing and eating decisions.
Here are answers to some of the most burning questions about COVID-19 and food:
#1: Can You Get Coronavirus Through Food You’ve Purchased?
People have been rushing to grocery stores nationwide to stock up on food in case of a quarantine and to prepare for the ethical practice of social distancing at this time. Many of those consumers however are worried about which products to buy and which ones may be likely to spread the coronavirus. Lucky for us, at this time, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service stated that there are no reports linking food or food packaging to the transmission of COVID-19. Also, the German government’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment released a similar statement explaining that:
“There are currently no cases which have shown any evidence of humans being infected via the consumption of contaminated food…”
After hearing that, many consumers still question whether or not they should purchase meat, as it is true that COVID-19 can infect animals. Luckily, this information does not actually apply to the meat sold at grocery stores in the U.S, as there are many regulations ensuring the meat we consume is handled safely and that mitigates much of this risk. Also, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland states that if you cook your meat properly and thoroughly that should be enough to kill the virus if it is present.
#2: What Practices Should I Follow to Get Groceries Then?
While you can feel free to purchase any food items on your next grocery run without fear of those items being infected, many experts recommend you follow some precautions for social distancing in grocery stores themselves to help mitigate the spread of this virus, or use one of the many popular grocery delivery apps out there. Instacart, Postmates, Peapod, or Amazon Fresh are just a few examples of trustworthy grocery delivery options that help you avoid virus transmission from human contact. If you do decide to go to the grocery store instead, keep a distance of at least 6 feet between you and other shoppers, and take advantage of wipes or hand sanitizer offered at stores to wipe down your cart or your hands before touching your food and yourself.
Also, to help mitigate stressors in society at large, please remember to be courteous and kind to your grocery store employees or grocery delivery drivers, as many have been working under extreme pressure as consumer demand has spiked.
For example, if the store doesn’t have the exact item you were looking for, don’t yell or take it out on others, but instead try to make an alternative work. Luckily, supply chains for essential items such as milk, bread, eggs, and toilet paper will not be backed up for long and grocery stores are restocking those items quickly, so you don’t need to concern yourself with stockpiling them before they are gone. Specialty products and specific produce however may be more affected by this outbreak, as some are imported from other countries. Delays in the shipping of those items may occur as international ports close, the export of goods is placed under increasing scrutiny, and some countries like Italy shut their borders altogether. If you can’t find that specific type of citrus fruit from Peru you are craving or that brand of olive oil aged in Italy, maybe pick up a bag of Cuties and use Target brand olive oil instead. Remember the importance of getting creative and being flexible in the kitchen!
If you have specific dietary needs or allergies that require you to have access to some specific brands or types of food (e.g products from nut-free facilities or gluten-free grains) I would consider shopping for those first, whether that means checking a few different stores, calling ahead to ask if they are in stock, or ordering them on a convenient delivery app.
#3: Should You be Eating Out?
While grocery stores and grocery delivery are relatively safe options to stock up on food now, restaurants can be trickier territory to manage. The food served at restaurants is not of concern, but the interaction with fellow dinners, waiters, and many shared-contact surfaces is what places you more at risk. The aforementioned Federal Institute for Risk Assessment admitted that:
Coronavirus could possibly spread through contact with recently-contaminated surfaces, like a plate or table…
They go on to clarify that that transmission will only occur during a short period of time after the surface is contaminated, as the coronavirus is relatively unstable in the environment, however the risk of transmission is still present.
Also, if your waiter or any other restaurant employee that you come in contact with while in their establishment is unknowingly carrying the virus, you may possibly get infected. Because of this, many states, including Illinois, have ordered that all bars and restaurants remain closed for dine-in options at this time, and many fast food chains have also stopped offering dine-in services.
Lucky for us, takeout and contact-free delivery are still available options for you to get your fix of your favorite restaurant dishes. Common food delivery services like GrubHub and Door Dash are now offering contact-free delivery options, and some of your favorite local Chicago restaurants are following those practices as well.
For example, Lou Malnati’s (the famous Chicago deep dish pizza joint) is bringing orders directly to the cars of carryout customers, and on delivery orders customers are being encouraged to choose no-contact delivery, in which pizzas are placed by the door and customers are then notified of their arrival.
#4: How Can You Still Support the Restaurant and Food Industries at This Time?
This discussion brings us straight into question 3: how can you support those restaurants? It is difficult for many restaurants to completely close down their in-person dining, as that is often a large chunk of their revenue. This has led to layoffs of restaurant employees, and many are going without their wages during this extremely difficult time.
In order to help supplement that loss of income it is important to not be afraid to continue ordering delivery and takeout from your usual favorite restaurants, as that is what will help keep their doors open.
Most restaurants are now checking the health of all their employees and cooks before preparing your food, and, as we’ve mentioned earlier, the virus is not being transmitted through the food itself, so I would not worry about eating takeout or delivery.
Also, if you have the economic means, there are many options you have to support the restaurant industry and its employees during this time, besides just ordering takeout. This article from Eater Chicago includes an entire list of local GoFundMe campaigns and other fundraisers that you can contribute to that help support Chicago restaurants and bars. If you live in a different city there are many fundraisers, just like those, occurring all over the world. The USBG Foundation has started a Bartender Emergency Assistance Program to help supplement the wages of bartenders affected by this emergency, and you can donate to it by clicking here. Also, if there are one of two restaurants in particular that you frequent and would like to support, you can purchase gift cards from them at this time, providing them with an immediate source of income, and then redeem those gift cards later on once it is safe to eat out again.
#5: What Foods Should You Stock Up On?
So now that we’ve covered the restaurant industry and grocery shopping, what should you be doing to take care of yourself personally at this time.
While it is important on the regular to get enough sleep, eat all your necessary nutrients, exercise, and limit alcohol or sugar intakes, it is especially pertinent during this moment in history.
Make sure you purchase tea options like chamomile, ginger, valerian, or lemon balm to help aid in your sleep, as getting enough sleep keeps your body healthy enough to fight off any potential viruses (from the flu to the common cold to COVID-19). Also, both sleeping and exercising help your body stay relaxed and reduce stress, which is critical during this pandemic, as stress and anxiety are bound to arise. If you do continue to exercise however you want to make sure you have the basic nutrients your body needs to replenish itself after a workout and sustain its necessary functions to their full capacity. Make sure you have differing forms of shelf-stable or canned proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fruits, and vegetables. Some of the best options include brown rice, other low-GI grains or breads, whole grain pastas, canned beans, frozen berries, lentils, canned vegetables (like corn or green beans), pickled vegetables, dried beans, canned tuna or salmon, frozen chicken or meat, frozen vegetables, and/or canned soups. While shopping for those essential pantry items, make sure to buy sources of healthy fat as well like olive oil, coconut oil, and cheese, which all have fairly long shelf lives. Also, don’t skimp of foods high in Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, and Omega 3 fatty acids, which all help your immune system function and protect you from viruses. Some examples include, oranges, salmon, carrots, nuts and seeds, legumes, kale, eggs, and tuna.
Food is something that has brought humans together and supported us for years and years. Amidst this national pandemic food can still play that same role, but we just have to be smart about how we use it and who we are impacting. Hopefully you now feel better informed about how to take care of yourself and others, shop for and consume the necessary foods for you and your family, and support those in the food industry affected by this global COVID-19 pandemic.