Exploring Different Food Options during a Pandemic

Empty grocery shelves. A single carton of eggs in an empty fridge. A shopping cart loaded with canned goods and frozen foods. Limited delivery dates and times available…

You’ve probably seen it or at least heard tales. This is the current reality here in California (and a lot of other places as well) as we’ve entered the first week of shelter in place. Working as a dietitian (currently remotely), patients, colleagues, and friends have consistently cited concerns over limited access to certain foods this last week. This is not a supply side issue, but rather a struggle to meet increased demands due to the stockpiling and mass buying that’s going on.

Matt and I haven’t seen the inside of a grocery store lately, but we’ve heard tales of massive lines and empty shelves. In an effort to quarantine ourselves due to the likelihood of exposure during our travels, we haven’t left the house since returning from Switzerland just over a week ago. Instead, we have been relying on grocery delivery services, deliveries from local restaurants, drop offs from friends and family, and farm box deliveries. That being said, delivery time slots have been scarce, and many of the foods we have ordered have been out of stock.

There’s been some concern around food availability these days, so I’ve put together a list of delivery and pickup options to check out.

Grocery Delivery- Minimizing Risk

Before I dive into options, I want to state that at this time there is no evidence of food borne transmission of COVID-19, but taking precautions like washing hands and wiping down packaging may be helpful. According to the CDC, COVID-19 is thought to spread primarily from person-to-person, between people in close contact, and through respiratory droplets. It is also possible, though less likely, to contract the virus by contact with surface or object containing the virus and then touching your nose mouth or eyes. There is very little evidence for fecal-oral transmission at this time, but one study in China that has yet to be published suggested that it may be possible. That being said, the CDC reports that there have been no reports of fecal-oral transmission at this time. Also, according to the CDC, the USDA, and the European Food safety Authority, at this time there is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread through food or food packaging, and according to the WHO risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package is still considered low.

Here are 3 Tips to Minimize Risk of Infection and Transmission

  1. Consider opting for delivery services to drop off food items at the doorstep to minimize interaction with others and lower risk of transmission.
  2. Transfer food and other goods to clean containers or wipe down containers and packaging.
  3. Wash hands throughly with soap after handling packaging and prior to food preparation (standard food safety protocol)
  4. Reheating foods to a temperature of 165 F is generally recommended (another food safety standard).

Grocery Delivery Options:

Now, for grocery delivery options. Matt and I have had luck with a few of these recently, especially when booking time slots early in the morning or a few days ahead of time. Load up your cart then check back at random times to snag a delivery slot!

  1. Instacart
    • Pros: Delivery from multiple different grocery stores.
    • Cons: Like most places, not many delivery slots available these days.
  2. Imperfect Foods
    • Pros: Helps reduce food waste by sourcing ugly and surplus produce that would otherwise be wasted. Also, those who qualify for SNAP/EBT/Food stamps are generally eligible for a reduced cost box. Also, rumor has it Imperfect Foods may be hiring currently in order to satisfy demand.
    • Cons: Like everywhere else, inventory may be limited, deliveries may be delayed, and customer service may respond slower than usual due to this unexpected spike in demand.
  3. Whole Foods Marketplace via Amazon Prime
    • Pros: They actually had a few delivery slots open.
    • Cons: Out of a lot of options like most spots (we received a lot of corn in place of carrots). Limited delivery slots due to increased demand and delays.
  4. Vons (West Coast)
    • Pros: You can have gefilte fish delivered for your quarantine seder.
    • Cons: The usual pickup and delivery delays. We couldn’t get a single delivery slot in San Diego.
  5. Costco Delivery or Walmart Delivery
    • Haven’t tried these ones yet
  6. Peapod (East Coast only)
    • Fee depends on cost of order/size
    • Never used it, so not sure of the pros and cons, but it’s another option

Local Southern California Options

  1. San Diego Farms (San Diego County)- Has a list of local farms that are open at this time and offering delivery and pickup, including everything from produce to eggs to local olive oil to fresh fish and meats!
  2. Specialty Produce (San Diego)- We got a delivery with a huge farm box of produce and eggs from local farms last week, and it was incredible. Highly recommend if you’re in San Diego County.
  3. Farm Fresh to you (Anaheim, but serves Northern & Southern CA)
  4. Also, consider local restaurants, many of which are offering takeout and delivery during these tough times.

Free School Lunch

For parents and caretakers, most school districts have closed schools, but many are offering free breakfast and lunch meals to go.

For the Bay Area, click here for locations.

For Los Angeles County, click here

For San Diego County, click here

Meal Prep Services

Other options are meal prep services, which send you directions and ingredients to make a couple of meals. These are not always the cheapest option, but a lot of them offer special deals and reduce-price or free trials for new customers on their websites. Listed below are three options I am most familiar with, but there are plenty more to check out.

  1. Green Chef
    • Pros: Have plant based, paleo, keto, family, and vegetarian meal options. Side Note: I personally have tried the meals and enjoyed them.
    • Cons: Cost $$ anywhere from $10-$13 per meal not including shipping and handling
  2. Blue Apron
    • Pros: Lots of choices. Also, currently increasing capacity and hiring workers to meet demand.
    • Cons: Heard some delays currently due to increased demand
  3. Purple Carrot
    • Pros: Healthy plant-based options and plenty of gluten free options as well. Can get $20 off first order with the code PURPLE20. Also, food is apparently pretty tasty according to my friend who tried Purple Carrot.
    • Cons: No info on their website on how COVID-19 has affected them.

Resources for College Students?

If anyone has affordable resources for college or grad students, please send me an email or drop a comment below, as I know a number of students with limited resources at this time. My colleagues and I would be grateful for any resources to pass on to patients at this time!

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