Grocery Shopping Is Not A Party: How To Shop Responsibly In A Pandemic

Posted by Holly Whitfield | April 16th 2020 4312 0

Memphis invented grocery stores, so we should be a leader in smart, health-conscious, socially responsible grocery shopping during a pandemic, right?

After hearing from local grocery workers and store reps, I have some requests from our heroes keeping us fed through our local grocery stores and markets. I’m usually the one encouraging hugs and parties and positivity, but now it’s time for some real talk. That’s what you’ll find in today’s post.

in the before times

Many grocery store employees have been working for weeks with few or no days off, and all of them—from cashiers and stockers to butchers and custodians—work in risky environments so the rest of us can feed our families and ourselves. We can’t eat takeout everyday, so I figure the least we can do is take their requests and advice to heart. This will keep everyone as safe as possible as our city’s Safer At Home status continues through April 30.

Before we get into the “How To Buy Quarantine Food Like A Conscientious Adult Human” portion of this blog post, here are a few resources for people experiencing food insecurity and how you can help:

The MidSouth Food Bank has mobile pantry distributions across the city. Volunteers place food directly in your car. Pantry locations and eligibility info here. To donate (donations are the biggest need) go here.

MIFI delivers Meals on Wheels to seniors weekly.  To receive meals, see info on eligibility here. To support MIFA (donations are the biggest need) donate here.

The YMCA provides free meals to Shelby County Schools students Mondays through Fridays. See meal pickup sites here.

OK, here are your tips for staying safe while grocery shopping:

…aka “How To Not Be A Jerk While Grocery Shopping”.

Please consider the following when you shop:

Stop shopping every day. This is the number one thing I have seen and heard from grocery workers who are recognizing the same people using the grocery store as a daily outing. Grocery stores aren’t your personal indoor parks for hanging out. No offense, but the butcher behind the counter does not want to see your shining face every day during the Coronatimes. We should consolidate our shopping trips. Can you go just once a week? Every 10 days? You don’t have to stockpile or hoard like a doomsday prepper, but daily or several times per week is just unacceptable. Find a happy medium. Weekly and two-week meal planning with grocery lists are everywhere online to help you achieve this, and if you can, there are hundreds of Memphis restaurants offering takeout and curbside pickup to supplement your food supply.

winchester farmers market – lots of room to socially distance!

Stop bringing everyone with you. This is the second most common concern I hear. Grocery shopping is not date night and it is not day care. It’s not a party. There are many Memphians who are solo caregivers to children and do not have the luxury of leaving kids at home, and that is fully understandable. Let’s assume anyone we see with children has no other option. But this means that those who do have another caregiver in the household should leave the kids at home. Now is not the time to pore over that $5 bougie cheese bin with your quarantine sweetheart, and it’s not the time to discuss the finer points of the white v. yellow Pancho’s argument in front of the refrigerated goods section with your entire family. Send one healthy person to the store.

Stay six feet away from other shoppers and grocery employees. By now, you’re sick of hearing the six-foot rule, but it’s good to remember that this absolutely includes the people stocking the shelves, the folks at the checkout, and others. Some stores are recommending two shopping carts length, to be safe. This includes kids. From a source: “If you don’t have childcare and absolutely cannot wait until you do have childcare, please make sure your kids understand that they must stay near you and respect the six-foot rule as well. If you have to put your kid in a basket, wipe down the basket before and after.” And for goodness sake, don’t touch grocery employees.

Have you been eating cheese dip and bbq takeout for 3 weeks? No judgment. 

Get off of your phone. Cell phones are already petri dishes of germs, and at a time when we’re trying to slow the spread of a virus that lives on surfaces, using your phone while grocery shopping is not only distracting and makes you take longer in the store—it also puts you and everyone at risk. You’re touching store items, carts, shelves, probably your face even if you’re trying really hard not to, cards, money, and more. Let’s not add a cell phone to this if at all possible.

Shop for other people. This is actually a great way to reduce our community’s overall number of grocery trips. Before you make your own weekly outing, see if your loved ones, older and at-risk people, or your neighbors need anything. If you can get an extra bag or two, or throw a few more items in with yours during a necessary trip you’re already taking, or maybe someone can grab something for you, that’s less people shopping overall.

Wear a mask. If you can get your hands on a mask, or a makeshift mask, wear it. Even if you’re practicing social distancing, a mask is recommended by the CDC and the City of Memphis. Don’t forget to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after you go, and after you handle grocery bags.

wineland, USA. drown your sorrows responsibly, please.

Skip going in to the store altogether if you can. Yes, there will be items that may not be in stock and yes it means more staying in, but choosing a pickup or delivery through grocery stores, apps, online ordering, etc. will save you a trip which saves you and other Memphians exposure. This alleviates you having to follow most of the rest of my annoying suggestions in this post, so consider it. Hate ordering online or know someone who can’t/won’t? See if you can combine orders with someone else, if it makes sense without breaking other social distancing guidelines.

Wipe down your cart and use hand sanitizer if you can. If you have sanitation and cleaning products available, bring a personal stash for your hands and the cart that you use. Stores have a hard enough time keeping essential products stocked (not their fault!) and may not have supplies available for individual use. Again: Don’t forget to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after you go to the store, and after you handle grocery bags.

Be kind, and adjust your expectations. Some stores have instituted “one person in, one person out” rules and other policies aimed at protecting their employees and their customers. Please follow these policies with kindness. Bring an extra does of patience and understanding. It’s not the store’s fault this is happening and they’re doing their best when it comes to keeping things stocked. Remember again that some of these employees have been working six or seven days a week, long hours, and dealing with folks who haven’t taken the time to read through a list of rules like this (thank you for making it this far). Show your thanks by being a responsible shopper.

Thank you! Let’s stay strong (Memphis Strong!) and be good to each other.

P.S. Of course, local restaurants are keeping us fed as well. Check out the guide to takeout and delivery (150+ restaurants) here, the breakfast takeout guide here, and the Easter Brunch takeout guide here. Edible Memphis also has a great “best practices” guide for ordering from local restaurants during this time.

Originally published April 6. Updated April 16.

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  1. Atree says:

    Great post, Holly! Everyone in Memphis needs to read this!

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