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How To Shop Safely and Eat Well During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Although our daily routines have drastically shifted in the past few weeks, one thing hasn't changed: the need to eat healthfully. Healthy eating is always important, but now there’s an even more crucial reason – supporting our immune system to fend off invading pathogens like the novel coronavirus.

But during this pandemic, shopping for groceries raises daunting concerns. How do I keep my distance in a crowded produce aisle? How recently was my shopping cart cleaned?

Thankfully, with millions of Americans staying home under quarantine, many grocery stores are now offering delivery or curbside pickup of online orders.

Here are some tools developed by EWG to help you choose the healthiest options for you and your family.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh food is typically the best option for healthy eating. But when shopping online in these uncertain times, look for foods in the frozen-food aisle.

Organic vegetables, like whole green beans or green peas, offer a great nutritional bang for your buck. Frozen green beans are half the cost of fresh and retain more vitamin A and C content than other frozen vegetables. Frozen green peas retain more vitamin C than fresh peas that may have been stored for several days. Don’t forget that if you use part of a package, transfer the rest to an airtight container to retain nutrients.

Organic fruits, like whole strawberries or blackberries, make a great snack, and they're superior to dehydrated berries, which can lose up to half of their original vitamin C. If you thaw them in the fridge, they’ll retain more of their nutrients. The longer frozen foods are left at room temperature to thaw, the more nutrients they lose.

When it comes fresh fruits and vegetables, food safety rules haven't changed. To reduce the risk of ingesting pesticides, wash all conventional produce by running it under the faucet, and use clean hands to rub off any soil or dirt.

 

Fish

The omega-3 fats found in fish promote heart and brain health. They’ve also been found to promote some immune functions, such as the destruction of invading pathogens by white blood cells.

Frozen fish helps you add omega-3 to your diet at a reasonable cost – while avoiding the endocrine-disrupting contaminant found in BPA-coated cans that can be used to package fish. Experts recommend two servings a week, and keeping a supply of frozen fish at home can increase how often you eat fish.

Frozen seafood is typically less expensive and often higher quality than fresh fish, which may be transported on ice for more than a week before reaching the grocery store. Use EWG's Seafood Calculator to choose fish high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury.

Meat and Dairy

All meat is not created equal. Organic meat and meat raised without unnecessary antibiotics have fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria, reducing the risk of a bacterial infection during the pandemic. Lamb, beef, pork and cheese tend to be high in unhealthy fats. Their production also generates the most greenhouse gases and has other negative environmental impacts.

Here is a handy meat label decoder to help you identify meat and dairy products that are likely produced with antibiotics and hormones, so you can make the best choices for you and your family. And don’t forget other sources of protein; American adults eat too much processed meat and not enough fish, nuts or beans.

Beans, Nuts and Seeds

Dried beans and roasted nuts and seeds are great shelf-stable sources of low-pollution protein. Store raw nuts and seeds in the fridge or freezer to preserve their nutrients and healthy fats, including vitamin E and omega-3, which support a robust immune system.

Packaged Foods

EWG's Food Scores is an easy-to-navigate database that helps consumers make healthier, greener food choices, with ratings for more than 80,000 products. In dozens of categories, shoppers can use it to cut through the noise of brand advertising, dubious marketing claims and misleading nutrition labels.

Every food in the database is scored on a scale from 1 (best) to 10 (worst) based on nutrition, the degree of processing, and ingredients of concern, such as food additives and contaminants. Food Scores has multiple search options, including age, gender, life stage, and pregnancy, and highlights options that may be contaminated with pesticide residue contamination or are certified organic, GMO-free or BPA-free.

Kids’ cereals are notorious for added sugar. As EWG reported in 2011, a single cup of three brands of cereal aimed at children contained more sugar than a Twinkie, and 44 brands had more sugar than three Chips Ahoy! cookies. Food Scores also highlights amounts of added sugar in cereal and other foods.

Other ideas for online grocery shopping:

  • The Food and Drug Administration says there are currently no nationwide shortages of food. You may find some foods temporarily out of stock, mostly because customers are buying more than usual, not because there is less food. Please don’t hoard and purchase only what you need to eat for the week.
  • Ask your delivery person to leave the groceries outside your door or choose contact-less delivery of groceries, if available.
  • After picking up your groceries or bringing your delivery inside, make sure to wash your hands immediately and avoid touching your face. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and your local public health department websites. 

Please consult your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. This material is for general informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice.

 

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