Grocery Shopping, Meal Planning, and Cooking During COVID-19

Last revised on June 26, 2020

Meal Planning and Budgeting

When planning your meals and grocery lists, aim to have some foods at home that are non-perishable and/or have a longer shelf life. It is important to have extra food at home that can provide adequate nutrients and energy. These will come in handy if ever you were to become sick and can help limit your trips to the grocery store.

Avoid panic buying

You do not need to rush and “stockpile” supplies. The goal is to be prepared and purchase items gradually. Some staple food items to consider buying as a part of your emergency preparedness checklist include:

  • Fresh veggies with a longer shelf life: beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, turnips, potatoes, yams, cabbage, squash, onions, etc.
  • Fresh fruit with a longer shelf life: apples, melon, oranges, grapefruit, etc.
  • Frozen vegetables and fruit, canned vegetables and fruit, dried fruit, applesauce, tomato sauce, 100% vegetable and fruit juice
  • Grains with a longer shelf life:  rice, couscous, quinoa, bread (tortillas, pasta, cold dry and hot cereals, bread rusks, crackers)
  • Frozen and canned meat and fish, soup, stews
  • Yogurt, eggs, hard cheese, non-refrigerated milk and plant-based beverages, milk powder, evaporated milk
  • Canned and dried beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds, nut butters
  • Flour, oil, butter or margarine, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, jam, honey, sugar, granola bars, cookies, bouillon cubes, spices, condiments
  • Infant formula (if applicable)
  • Meal replacements (if taken for specific medical conditions)
  • Pet food and supplies

Budgeting

Healthy eating is important for everyone, and with a little bit of planning, you and your family can eat delicious and nutritious meals economically. Take a look at the Everybody’s Food Budget to learn various tips and tricks on how to save!

Shopping

There are many strategies that you can use when grocery shopping to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Here are some safe shopping tips:

  • Avoid going to stores if you are sick, even with mild symptoms. Try to have a person who is well go for you. If you become unwell while out shopping, leave the store immediately. Always cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your arm, not your hand.
  • If you are not sick and are going to a public place (e.g., grocery store or pharmacy):
    • If you are going to a place where physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain (such as the grocery store, pharmacy, or public transit), wear a cloth mask.
  • Make a list before you go to minimize your time in the store and avoid shopping during peak hours.
  • Offer to purchase food items for others that might be self-isolating (friends, family, or neighbours).
  • See if your store has specific times blocked off for older adults and individuals with a weak immune system/who are at risk. You can also use a grocery delivery service or click-collect (curb pick up) to avoid going into stores.
  • Go shopping alone. Do not bring family members with you. This will help reduce the number of people in the store and help with physical distancing.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after entering a grocery store, as well as after unloading your groceries. If soap and water are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • If possible, clean your grocery cart with a sanitizing wipe. Some stores will provide this option upon arrival.
  • Practice physical distancing and maintain a 2 metre (6 feet) distance from others. This includes while shopping and standing in line.
  • Avoid touching your face. Avoid licking your finger to help open plastic produce bags.
  • Try to only handle foods, including vegetables and fruits that you plan to buy. This will reduce the spread of germs.
  • Reusable grocery bags can be used while shopping and do not increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission if individuals follow recommendations about hand hygiene. Staff should wash or sanitize their hands after handling bags or other products touched by customers. If you choose to use reusable grocery bags, clean your bags frequently to help eliminate bacteria and reduce the risk of food-related illnesses. While some locations may only allow the use of single use plastic bags that are provided by the store, OPH has not recommended that single-use bags are necessary.
  • Tap to pay rather than paying with money. This reduces the surfaces you touch and limits the spread of germs.

Learn more on shopping etiquette and how to stop the spread of germs.

Storing Foods

There are no specific precautions needed when storing foods. COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus. Although there are still things we are learning about COVID-19, we do know that other coronaviruses do not survive very long on surfaces like cereal boxes or canned foods. Coronaviruses are usually spread through respiratory droplets (for example when someone coughs or sneezes).  

There is currently no evidence that people have become infected with COVID-19 through items bought at a grocery store. It is possible that the item you handled or bought was recently touched by someone who had coronavirus on their unwashed hands. Even though viruses like COVID-19 can survive between a few hours to a few days on foods and on surfaces before dying, you do not need to wash all your purchases. Here are the best ways to protect yourself:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Wash your hands when you arrive home, once you have put away your groceries, and after touching potentially contaminated surfaces (e.g. cardboard, stainless steel, or plastic).
  • If you want, you can wipe down non-porous cans and cardboards with soap and water or disinfectant wipes as an extra precaution.

If the virus is on a surface of a food item and then stored (cupboard, fridge, freezer) there is no evidence that it will grow and multiply. Currently, we do not know if COVID-19 can survive in the refrigerator or in freezer temperatures.

Preparing and Cooking Food

Cooking at Home

There is currently no evidence that the COVID-19 virus can grow on food or can be transmitted by ingesting food. However, the virus can be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

Coronaviruses can be killed by practicing cleaning and sanitizing, and by cooking foods at safe internal temperatures. There is no evidence that touching or eating raw vegetables and fruits can spread COVID-19. It is important to continue practicing good hygiene and food safety during food preparation and meals.

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food/cooking and eating. Always wash your hands with soap and water before washing veggies and fruits and between handling different kinds of foods.
  2. Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your arm, not your hand.
  3. Clean and sanitize your tools, utensils, and kitchen surfaces before and after preparing food.
  4. Wash your fresh vegetables and fruits thoroughly under running tap water as per normal when preparing foods. Use a vegetable brush to scrub food items that have a firm skin (e.g. carrots and melons). Do not use soap, bleach, or other strong chemicals to wash your produce. Wash your produce under running water rather than letting them soak in the sink.
  5. Be sure to cook your food at safe internal temperatures. Use a thermometer when cooking to ensure that your food has reached the correct temperature.

Visit Ottawa Public Health’s Keeping foods safe (clean, cook, chill, separate) for more information on how to avoid foodborne illnesses, as COVID-19 is not a foodborne illness.

Ready-to-Eat Foods and Foods Prepared by Others

Currently, there is no evidence that touching or eating contaminated food will transmit COVID-19. It is not a foodborne illness. If someone is infected by COVID-19 and they touch or cough on food that is served to other people, there is a potential risk of spreading the infection. However, to date there are no such reported cases of transmission. However, it is best if someone infected with COVID-19 avoids preparing foods for others. Everyone should practice frequent hand washing with soap and water to reduce the risk of transmission and avoid touching foods with their bare hands (e.g. use utensils, napkins, etc. to handle food).

Trying New Recipes

Cooking is a skill, the more you practice, the easier it becomes. Preparing healthy homemade meals can be simple, budget-friendly, and even fun! Check out these videos, they will show you step-by-step how to make various new recipes. Looking for more? Canada’s Food Guide also has various recipes for you to try out!

Accessing Food in Ottawa

Learn more about accessing food during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

For households struggling with money to buy food

If you or someone you know may be struggling with food insecurity here are some tools that can help. FoodLink directory is a comprehensive listing of food and nutrition programs and services in Ottawa that aim to increase access to healthy food. Also, the Good Food At Your Doorstep Box helps deliver fresh veggies and fruits to households that may be struggling with low-income.

For households that are more financially secure and looking to access food

Also, please visit the Good Food Ottawa webpage for more details on how to access food during COVID-19. This includes information on buying local, Community Share Agriculture (CSA) boxes from your local farmers, groceries, and restaurants that offer delivery or pick up, and more.

Other options also include the Goods in the Hood program offered by Pressed which is walk, bike or drive thru no-touch grocery store. 

Grocery Delivery Service 

Bags Half-Full Ottawa is a program run by University of Ottawa medical students. They offer free grocery delivery service to Ottawa residents with limited ability to go out for groceries (for any reason). The service is provided free of charge.   

Additional Resources 

Visit Half Your Plate for additional COVID-19 resources relating to meal planning, shopping and storing foods, safe handling of vegetables and fruits, and activities to involve your children in the kitchen.  

Additional Information

Find a Dietitian

Dietitians are regulated health professionals. They help provide evidenced-based advice and recommendations that are tailored to your personal needs. To connect with a dietitian, please visit our Find a Registered Dietitian in Ottawa page and ask if they offer virtual appointments.

Mental Health Resources

It's normal for situations like Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) to affect your mental health. Everyone will experience these events in their own way. It is completely natural to feel stress and concern during these times, and so it is important to practice positive coping strategies. View a list of mental health resources available to you.

Frequently asked questions: COVID-19, Food, and Nutrition

 1. I have contracted COVID-19. What nutrition advice should I follow to help with the infection?  
Currently, there are no vaccines or natural health products that can help treat or protect against COVID-19. If you are currently infected, it is important to stay hydrated, provide your body with a healthy and balanced diet. Try to drink lots of fluids and eat regularly, even if you have a low appetite. If you have specific nutrition needs, please follow the recommendations that were provided to you by your health care professional. For more information on a healthy diet, please visit Canada’s Food Guide
 2. Can I get COVID-19 from food? 
To date, there is no evidence that you can get COVID-19 through food. If risks are discovered by scientists and other experts, the Government will act to keep Canadians safe, and Ottawa Public Health will update the information on its website.  
 3. Should I be taking any specific precautions when ordering take-out or delivery food? 
To date, there is no evidence that you can get COVID-19 through food. The virus is transmitted through droplets that can contaminate surfaces and utensils and then by touching your mouth, nose or eyes. We recommend washing your hands and following food safety measures.
 4. Can I continue to eat food that comes from overseas? 
Imported foods are not associated to a great risk of transmitting COVID-19. The virus does not grow on food, and there is currently no evidence that is transmitted by ingested food. Practice good hand hygiene, clean and sanitize surfaces, and practice good cough etiquette to reduce the spread of infection. For more information on reducing the spread of germs, visit: Stop the spread of germs
 5. How much time does the virus live on different surfaces (e.g. plastic, cardboard, metal, clothing, etc)? 
There is still a lot to learn about COVID-19, and how it spreads. Coronaviruses generally die off fairly rapidly on surfaces that they have contaminated. While potentially surviving for a few days under ideal conditions on smooth surfaces, on cardboard and paper, no living coronavirus remains after one day.

Coronaviruses spread most often from an infected person by respiratory droplets that could get directly into your eyes, nose, or mouth such as those produced by sneezes, coughs, singing, or talking. Spread of the virus can also be by direct contact with fresh secretions from an infected person, for example, by a handshake followed by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

Of lower risk, but still a possibility is that virus could be picked up from a contaminated surface such as a doorknob, handrail, or elevator button, but this is easily dealt with by washing your hands. Whether receiving a package, newspaper, or mail, after handling it, wash your hands well with soap and water (or with alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available).

 6. Can eating garlic help prevent individuals from being infected by COVID-19? 
Garlic has many antimicrobial properties and is part of a healthy diet. However, there is no evidence that garlic will help reduce the risk of being infected with COVID-19.
 7. Is it possible to boost my immune system to prevent being infected by COVID-19?  
At this time there is no evidence that various foods, supplements, and natural health products will prevent a COVID-19 infection. However, proper hygiene can help reduce the spread of infection.

Consume a diverse diet to provide your body with a variety of nutrients. Various nutrients are involved in your normal immune function. Aim to eat a variety of healthy foods each day to support your immune function. 

 8. Does drinking alcohol protect me against COVID-19?
Alcohol will not help protect you from COVID-19. Drinking alcohol frequently or excessively can put you at increased risk of developing health problems. 

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