Grocery Store
Credit: Michael Kappel

The hoarding in response to the spread of coronavirus started with hand sanitizer and, for some reason, toilet paper. But lately, people have been hoarding food. That is why this article in the New York Times is important.

The aisles and aisles of empty store shelves give the appearance that the United States, improbably and alarmingly, is running out of food.

But the nation’s biggest retailers, dairy farmers and meat producers say that isn’t so. The food supply chain, they say, remains intact and has been ramping up to meet the unprecedented stockpiling brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

A bit of common sense is in order. People will not be eating more food, it simply has to be re-routed.

Some food supply is being diverted to grocery stores from the restaurants, school cafeterias and college campuses that have closed.

“The food is there. It’s just going into different spots,” said David McInerney, the chief executive of FreshDirect.

It is also important to have some facts about food and how the virus is transmitted.

There’s no indication, health officials say, that the coronavirus can be transmitted on food. Wen notes that the virus does not appear to be orally transmitted. Rather, it is a respiratory illness spread through droplets — from a person’s sneeze, for example — that are then transmitted through the nostrils or eyes of someone else.

The reason several governors have shut down restaurants is not because of a concern about people catching the virus from the food. Instead, it is to limit the number of people you come in contact with. That is why they are shutting down restaurants, but allowing them to maintain their take-out and delivery services.

To the extent that having prepared meals delivered is financially feasible, experts suggest that it is a good option for avoiding contact with too many people. But there are still some precautions that are helpful to take, as Amanda Mull reports.

Morse said the risk can be reduced for both parties if recipients ask that food be left outside the door—or, ideally, if restaurants mandate this practice to protect their employees. Customers can also tip electronically or place cash outside before the delivery arrives…

The places people order from make a difference too. A local restaurant is a better choice than a start-up that sends gig workers with no health-care benefits into crowded big-box grocery stores to fight over dried beans on your behalf. The restaurant delivery person interacts with fewer people, lessening his or her individual risk, and the money you pay for the food goes toward keeping a restaurant’s staff employed through a crisis.

For trips to the grocery store, Mull shares this advice.

“Crowded stores would have a greater risk of infection, simply because of numbers of people and density,” Morse, the epidemiologist, explained. Shoppers can avoid some of this risk by dropping in at odd hours or patronizing less popular stores.

Even for those practicing social distancing during this pandemic, we all have to eat. So keep in mind that hoarding isn’t necessary and that the virus is not transmitted via well-prepared food—whether you make it at home or have it delivered.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.