Food safety, nutrition, and wellness during COVID-19

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Many are wondering how to safely shop, order, and prepare food to minimize transmission of the novel coronavirus. Along with maintaining important social distancing practices, below are some tips for when you do need to go shopping, and how to handle your food when you bring it home. 

The primary method of transmitting COVID-19 is droplet spread from being close to an infected person (who may have no symptoms), thus social distancing is the most important way to reduce risk to you and others.

Although there is not sit specific evidence regarding specific dietary factors that can reduce risk of acute infections like COVID-19, we do know that managing stress, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and being physically active, are critical to keeping our immune system strong. Have some fun in the kitchen and while getting exercise!

Grocery Shopping

There is currently no published evidence of contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from touching food or food packaging that came in contact with the virus due to coughing or sneezing from an infected person, the virus causing COVID-19 can survive on surfaces and objects for a certain amount of time (like steel on a shopping cart, elevator buttons, etc.). Hence, we are strongly encouraged to wash our hands regularly, especially after touching frequently handled objects such as door knobs or handles.

Maintain distance from store staff and other shoppers. Offer to bag your own groceries. 

For frequently touched items like milk containers and other perishables that need to be immediately frozen or refrigerated it may also be a reasonable precaution to wash the container surface with a small amount of soap and water. Be sure to wash your hands again after doing so.

For fresh produce that will not be cooked before eating, wash thoroughly under running water. If desired, use a vegetable scrub brush and scrub the surface vigorously with a small amount of soap and water (be gentle with softer produce). This method is effective at removing pathogens on the surface. Wash the scrub brush with additional soap and water after each use. Other popular rinses such as vinegar are not known to be effective at killing viruses.


Takeout meals and food delivery

Ordering takeout or delivery meals supports local businesses that is now their sole source of income. Use the Healthy Eating Plate as a blueprint for selecting healthier meals when ordering from restaurants.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is not likely to be transmitted through food itself. Any risk would more likely come from close contact with the worker delivering the food. However, food service establishments and delivery services should be following local health departments’ guidelines on food safety and regular screening of employees for COVID-19 symptoms. Many establishments now offer food deliveries with minimal or no contact, such as prepaying with a credit card over the phone, food being carried to a car for pickup, or food being left on the doorstep. Because COVID-19 can remain on cardboard surfacesfor up to 24 hours, discarding cardboard food packaging is suggested. Once receiving the meal, transfer the meal from its packaging onto a plate, discard the packaging, and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.

Request that supermarket food deliveries be left on your doorstep and follow general food safety guidelines for handling food.

Meal planning, cooking, and eating

It is important to understand that there are no nationwide shortages of food in the U.S. However, during this time canned and frozen items may be harder to access due to consumer stockpiling, causing temporary shortages. If your store has run out of frozen items like vegetables, fruits, chicken, or fish, you can purchase fresh versions and freeze them. Breads and muffins, whether packaged or homemade, also freeze well for several months.

Although some people feel that canned or frozen items do not provide as much nutritional value as fresh, many foods such as canned beans, canned fish, and some frozen, ready-to-eat meals can be a good source of key nutrients—with the added benefit of a longer shelf-life. Protein is naturally retained throughout processing, and many foods fortify B vitamins and iron that may be lost during processing. Fruits and vegetables that are quickly frozen after harvesting can retain the majority of vitamin C. Learn more about types of food processing and tips on deciding when to include a processed food in your diet.

Wash and chop vegetables, blanch in boiling water for a minute, then immediately place under cold running water to deactivate enzymes that lead to spoilage. Place in an airtight plastic freezer bag, and label with the date. Vegetables with a high water content like lettuces, tomatoes, and cucumbers do not freeze well, but many others like broccoli, asparagus, green beans, carrots, and Brussel freeze well.

More perishable fruits like bananas, all berries, cantaloupe, and pineapple freeze well. Chop into bite-sized pieces and place in a freezer bag. Some fruits last for months refrigerated in the produce drawer, such as apples.

Wash fresh fish or well under running water before freezing. Place in an airtight plastic freezer bag, and label with current date.

 Use spare time at home to experiment with new recipes! Check out the Nutrition Source library of recipes.

 For a limited food budget try using a slow cooker to prepare soups and stews. These are forgiving in flavor when not using the freshest ingredients (like when your greens become slightly wilted), and can stretch out a few ingredients into several portions. They also freeze well for up to 2-3 months when stored in an airtight container. Check out these healthful and delicious soup recipes.

If you are new to cooking, visit Meal Prep: A Helpful Healthy Eating Strategy. Pre-planning and pre-prepping meals can stretch your food dollar, ensure consistently nutritious meals for the whole family, and remove some anxiety during this stressful time. Resist the urge to enter a supermarket without a shopping list, which can lead to stockpiling and impulse buying. Start by taking inventory of what you already have, plan out a few meals, and create a list of food ingredients needed.

Emotional eating from boredom or anxiety may also lead to consuming extra calories. Pause, take a few in- and out-breaths, and ask yourself: Will eating this snack alleviate my anxiety or boredom?

Being home all day means easy access to food in the kitchen, and perhaps a greater temptation to snack. Try to stick to structured meal and snack times, and avoid eating outside of those times.

Increasing socialization is especially important during this time. If you live with one or more persons, aim to eat at least one meal together daily. Keep the dinner table screen-free. Start the meal with a moment of appreciation that you can have these delicious and healthy choices to eat.  Introduce light and fun open-ended questions: “If you had $100, what would you do with it?” or "If you could have one superpower what would it be?". 

Get the kids in the kitchen! They can start assisting as young as 3 years old, with close supervision. They can mix ingredients and tear salad greens into bite-sized pieces. Children 10 years and older can measure ingredients and slice or chop vegetables and fruits. They can learn how to turn on/off a microwave oven or regular oven. Everyone can pitch in to set up and clear off the dinner table.

Keep moving

Plan a set time for exercise or other fun physical activities (otherwise it may not get done).

Visit the Kid’s Healthy Eating Plate page with your children to review fun facts about nutrition, along with coloring pages and tips for making playful kid-friendly meals. Also check out the ChooseMyPlate site for downloadable activity sheets that include nutrition-themed crossword puzzles, word searches, and mazes.

 Resources for free virtual exercise aren endless. Several fitness centers and experienced fitness trainers are offering live-streamed workouts on Instagram that provide a real-time experience to enhance social connections. Download free fitness apps on your smartphone or tablet, or visit YouTube and search for your favorite workout format: yoga, strength, dance, Pilates, walking, high intensity interval training (HITT), or kickboxing.

 Get creative with exercise. by challenging yourself to move in different ways inside your home throughout the day, even if you have a limited space to move.

Take a walk! Fresh air combined with moderate aerobic activity can help clear the mind, boost energy levels, reduce blood pressure, improve digestion, and lower stress. Walking or jogging on a sunny Spring day is not just enjoyable, but may also boost your vitamin D levels. Encourage the family or just yourself to walk in the neighborhood when weather permits, practicing social distancing of at least 6 feet from others who are outside.


Breathe, rest, and sleep

Try to wake up and go to bed around the same time. Our body clock, or circadian rhythm, regulates feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness each day. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule maintains a balanced circadian rhythm so that we can enter deeper, more restful sleep. This in turn helps to regulate appetite and mood.

Whether new or amplified stressors in a day, be sure to take time for rest and regular, conscious breathing. It doesn’t have to be long—even a few breaths can help.




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