How should we get groceries during the coronavirus pandemic?
March 17, 2020 3:48 PM   Subscribe

We want to start having our groceries delivered. I assume this is the safest option in terms of social distancing, but what factors should we consider in choosing a specific store/delivery service? And how safe is fresh produce?

My partner and I live in a major metro area in the U.S. We are in our early thirties with no known health risks.

We are starting to run low on groceries. We'd like to start having our groceries delivered to maximize social distancing and minimize the risk of acquiring or spreading the coronavirus.

Does it matter which grocery delivery service we use? Is one option safer than others, both for ourselves and the employees involved?

Here are the options we're considering (also open to other suggestions):

* PeaPod
* Whole Foods via Amazon Prime
* Instacart
* Costco (dry goods only)
* Local company that delivers a produce box, with the option to add on eggs, yogurt, peanut butter, pantry staples, etc.

We are leaning towards the produce box since the company is a smaller organization and their website says their products are only contacted by 1-2 of their own staff members between receiving and delivery. BUT - the produce would be delivered to us in a reusable box that has likely been in someone else's home during the previous week's round of deliveries. The company claims it is taking extra steps to sanitize the boxes, but it still makes me wary. On the other hand, I'm not sure the other options (PeaPod, Whole Foods, etc.) are any safer. In my experience, those services tend to use more bags/packaging than necessary, which seems like it could increase the surface area available for the virus to live on.

Also, how safe is fresh produce at this time? I imagine produce that would be cooked or peeled (e.g., potatoes, bananas) would be safer than produce eaten raw (e.g., apples, lettuce). Is this true? Should I avoid all fresh produce and stick to frozen for now?

Finally, am I overthinking this entirely? Perhaps it's best to accept that no option is perfect/risk free and just move forward with one that has the soonest available delivery windows.
posted by oiseau to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just so you're aware, we're also in a major metro east coast city and have tried using Amazon Fresh for a few days, but the system is so backed up that they aren't accepting new orders. You'll get as far as the "select delivery window" page but then be denied because they're all filled up indefinitely. I keep refreshing this page but so far have had no luck.

We went to Walmart when it opened at 6 AM this morning, and we're in our early 30s and able bodied with a car. We wore disposable gloves.
posted by erattacorrige at 3:55 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]

In California, the same. The delivery services were overwhelmed and show significant delays — you have to go to the store yourself. There are restrictions on the amounts you can buy — no more than 2 packages of meat, milk, paper goods, water. Some categories of the store are totally sold out. Every morning after they restock things there is a huge line to get in the store and not enough carts, then checking out can take an hour in line.

My advice if things aren't bad yet where you are? Stock up now, in person.
posted by yearly at 3:58 PM on March 17 [5 favorites]

Can you share which city you're in?
posted by pinochiette at 4:06 PM on March 17

Stock up now, in person.

Please limit your buying to what you need! Shelves at my stores were cleaned out yesterday, which means more trips to the store for most people, trying to critical items, which is worse for everyone.

Food consumption rates are not going to change! There's no sign there's going to be a food shortage or a disruption *except* as related the idea that people are trying to do weeks or months of extra buying in a few days.
posted by mark k at 4:11 PM on March 17 [40 favorites]

You will stand a far better chance at getting fresh food if you can go out yourself and buy from a grocery store that is not a branch supporting online orders. We generally use instacart and over half our order was refunded. The shopper sent photos and the store shelves were pretty bare. Also the available order times are now this Sat + Sunday when I can usually get stuff in a few hours same day. Our local Nextdoor seems to be a good source of which markets have food and other supplies. Others I know have been trying to go when place open in hopes that they stocked overnight.

FYI I tend not to do the prime now whole food delivery in part because cold items don't seem as well handled as instacart. I think the drivers are more overloaded and cold items seem to be put in sealed insulated bag vs. being placed in refrigeration / freezers and they may drive around your city for some time before reaching you.
posted by oneear at 4:13 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I've signed up for a lot of home delivery services. We already used Blue Apron, and they seem to be continuing service. There are others (HomeChef, HelloFresh, etc) so theoretically you could cover most of your dinners subscribing to a couple of them.

I also started subscriptions to Misfits Market for produce, which one of my friends has been using for a while and raves about, and Butcher Block for meat.

I guess I'm gambling that these things aren't contaminated, but they all take at least a couple of days en route so I feel safe in assuming the risk is low.

I'm also placing orders for pickup at my local grocery store. I did one yesterday and the earliest available spot was Friday so I took it. I'm assuming they'll be out of a lot of stuff, but I figure it's worth a try.

I think in a week or two everyone will have calmed down a bit when they realize the food chain isn't going to collapse, and we won't have to jump through all these hoops.
posted by something something at 4:14 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]

We use Peapod, since they are Union around here.
3-4 day backup right now.
Produce was fine last time they delivered. Seems less risky than heading out into the acoughalypse.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:26 PM on March 17

@pinochiette: I'm in the Boston area.
posted by oiseau at 4:31 PM on March 17

We did Peapod pick up today (Philly metro area) which had more time slots available than delivery. They wheel a cart with everything bagged out to you in the parking lot and you load up your car. No close contact necessary. We got almost all the dairy perishables we ordered (milk eggs half and half) some of the meat (bone in chicken thighs yes, ground beef no) all the fresh fruits and veg, only some of the non perishables.
posted by permiechickie at 4:39 PM on March 17

I have Misfits Market and so far they are not reporting any problems. My thought is this:

-- If I wash my hands and all my surfaces before and after receiving the delivery, AND
--I wash all the vegetables well, which I do anyway, AND
--I follow food safety guidelines a la Serv-Safe, AND,
--I wash my hands before I eat,

I don't think receiving the vegetables is going to be any more dangerous than purchasing them in a store. Canned and frozen might be marginally safer because you can disinfect the outside of the packaging and because they were packed before they got to you, but I don't think the risk is all that high. I am considering going to cooked food only rather than fruit eaten out of hand, but I still think washing fruit and/or peeling it might be good enough.
posted by blnkfrnk at 4:46 PM on March 17

If you do try Amazon, try checking out just after midnight. They only schedule delivery for the upcoming three days, so it helps to checkout as soon as the clock rolls over and a new day opens up. I’ve been able to get most everything I needed, and their produce is fine. They do use a lot of bags though.
posted by tinymojo at 4:51 PM on March 17 [7 favorites]

I can't think of any reason that the apple in your cart is any more or less safe than the cereal box in your cart. They're both surfaces that have been handled by other people and exposed to the air of a space with other people in it. If you are particularly anxious, stick to fruits and vegetables that you can either scrub with a little soap (yum) or peel.
posted by praemunire at 5:41 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]

Whenever possible please do GROCERY PICKUP! They can probably just put it in your trunk or backseat given what is going on. Many, many stores offer it - usually through their own app. Its cheaper than delivery. Disabled and high risk people really need access to at-home delivery right now and are unable to access it.
posted by Crystalinne at 6:00 PM on March 17 [28 favorites]

Yeah, I was listening to a piece on the radio this morning about people with disabilities, who rely on home delivery all the time, now being unable to get food because delivery services are booked up for weeks. The supermarkets response (on this particular program) was that they are trying to figure out a way to identify and prioritize such customers, but it's really hard.

If you are able bodied and healthy, please do pick-up instead, and leave the home-delivery slots for people who need them more than you.
posted by EllaEm at 6:36 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]

If the produce box is a CSA type thing, by all means go with that. A lot of farmers markets are closing and supporting smaller local / regional businesses keeps that money circulating locally longer...and we all need that. If stuff is only being handled by a few people and they sanitise the boxes I would think that would be much safer than any other option - a lot less handling at least. Assuming they're a farm or the produce is supplied by local farms... I've worked on a number of small farms and own one now about 1.5 hours from you - sanitising harvest implements, wash station surfaces, harvest crates, and reusable boxes should be standard practice *anyway*.

I don't think there's been any evidence of transmission by produce - washed lettuce is *washed* and just as safe as anything else (the virus is not harbouring in the plants cell structure or anything), and many small farms are implementing extra measures (check social media or ask).

All the instances I can think of where fresh produce is problematic the concern is contaminated water supply.

Feel free to pm me of you have questions.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:14 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I would, in your situation, call around to your local Latin American and Asian supermarkets and see what they can offer - I wonder if they'll even take an order over the phone for pickup or delivery. They may also have less of an online backlog (if they're online at all), and I have found they often have a wider ad cheaper range of produce than the average big box chain supermarket.
posted by mdonley at 7:13 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]

We scheduled a grocery pickup directly through our store on Saturday, and it was supposed to be available today. This morning they cancelled our whole order. We’ve ordered pickup there many times and never previously had issues. Just so you’re aware that’s a possibility.
posted by notheotherone at 1:22 PM on March 18

I normally prefer Sprouts, Albertson's or Smith's for groceries but those stores have been backed up for about a week and a half here in Las Vegas. Oddly enough the Walmart near me has had no lines at the self check out so that's where I've been shopping. Twice I've stood in a super long line at Smith's and that's just antithetical to my goal of social distancing. So I've been eating Walmart produce.

I stick to things like oranges, bananas, or lemons, that I can literally wash with hand soap, or cabbage, iceberg lettuce, or other things where there's an outer layer I can peel away, and anything else like apples and peaches I give them a thorough wash and leave them alone for 3 days, because that seems to be the length this virus can live on surfaces.

Same goes for packaged goods. A bag of chips is waterproof so I wash it with hand soap. A box of tissues isn't waterproof so I let it sit out for 3 days untouched. Luckily I haven't needed to do much shopping or this process would be tedious (and wasteful of hand soap), but I also think it's the safest way to bring groceries into your home. Anything on a shelf at the store was probably put there by a vendor who's touched who-knows-what, and passed by a dozen coughing customers before you or a delivery service go grab it.
posted by 1,000,000 at 5:04 PM on March 18

All the browbeating about not stocking up, not using delivery, etc. It has a subtext that needs to be stated outright: If you are immunocompromised, above a certain age, live in a household with same, or otherwise prone to suffering more on account of the current situation, you have every right to use whatever means to get your groceries without risking compromising your own health / safety or that of your cohabitants. Of course you should be cognizant of the extreme load being placed on the system right now, but not to the extent of compromising your own health or that of the people you live with.
posted by jjray at 7:01 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]

Within the M25 area, there is a fruit and veg business based at New Spitalfields (London's wholesale produce market in Leyton which sells to the restaurant and catering trades). Now the restaurant business has dried up, they are offering a home delivery service to the public - either a veg box or you can choose your own items from a list of fruit, vegetables and a few other items such as dairy and bread. Prices are around the same as the supermarkets, and delivery is £4.95 on an order costing over £25. You don't have to order huge quantities (e.g. a sack of carrots), just the normal amounts you'd buy in the supermarket.

It's called Osolocal2U.

I have my first order due for delivery on Saturday, and if it's good, then my neighbours will get together to bulk order from them.
posted by essexjan at 12:11 AM on March 26

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