March 17, 2020 – Multiple states and countries are instituting shutdowns, curfews, and encouraging social distancing to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 among people. Nonetheless, food and water are needed to survive.

Professor Diane Rigassio Radler, director for the Institute for Nutrition Interventions at the Rutgers School of Health Professions, discusses how people can maintain proper nutrition during this time of social distancing and isolation as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

What should people do to minimize trips to the supermarket? Is hoarding food the solution?

It’s good to have plenty of food on hand to reduce the number of times you need to go out to shop. If planning a shopping trip, try to go at “off” times when stores are less crowded so you can continue to maintain social distancing. Online shopping could be used as an alternative option to get your groceries.

Try to stock up on canned, frozen, and dried non-perishable foods. However, it’s important to know the differences. Canned foods are shelf-stable for years, but generally have a higher sodium content than the rest. To be sure, check the Food Facts label. Frozen foods such as non-processed fruit and vegetable, meat, seafood, liquid egg products will last for months. However, if there is a risk of power-outages, frozen food will become vulnerable and potentially poisonous to consume. Dried foods such as dried beans, pasta, shelf-stable milk, and root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and squashes such as acorn or butternut are also good foods to have on hand.

There is no need to hoard food as many news media have reported that there is plenty of food in the United States and that food distributors are working to keep shelves stocked. 

How should I handle groceries when I get home?

First, wash your hands as soon as you get home. Then, unpack your bags. You can wipe off packaged foods with an alcohol-based paper towel or commercial antimicrobial wipe. Be sure to wash all produce. If you are using reusable bags, wash them if possible or wipe them down with an alcohol-based towel.

If you order your groceries online, the same routine must apply.

What foods can help maintain my immunity?

Eat a well-balanced diet including lots of fruits and vegetables and adequate protein and grains; minimize added sugar and alcohol. Keep hydrated with plenty of water, aim to get 150 minutes of physical activity per week, and stay well-rested — moderate exercise can boost immunity, and lack of sleep can weaken your immune response.

What should I do when caring for children and the elderly?

Continue to practice good hygiene and maintain a clean environment around your home. When sharing meals, be careful not to share utensils. If you are caring for an older adult with a chronic disease such as hypertension or diabetes, continue to choose foods that help them control their disease and administer medications regularly. 

What precautions must one take when eating out or ordering food online?

If you choose to eat out, maintain social distancing. Choose cooked foods rather than raw salad or sushi. Observe the restaurant staff for signs of infection but do realize that people with COVID19 may be infectious for days before they show signs of the illness. Always wash your hands before you eat.