Grocery Shopping During A Pandemic: How To Shop, What To Get


DETROIT (WWJ) - As the coronavirus continues to spread around Michigan, we've all seen evidence of shoppers panic buying and stockpiling, leaving many store shelves bare.

But that behavior is entirely unnecessary, according to University of Michigan sustainability expert Shelie Miller. Miller, who studies food supply chains, food waste and the environmental impact of food, says there is no expectation that stores will run out of food or that grocery stores will close.

"Therefore, it is important to only buy what you think your household will consume before it goes bad," Miller said in a statement. "Panic shopping increases the potential for household food waste, since large quantities of perishable items are likely to spoil before they can be used. Wasting food wastes money, so planning ahead and being thoughtful about what you buy saves money and also reduces stress on the food system."

The best behaviors you can follow are:
  • Create a meal plan and shopping list, being sure to plan for snacks and treats. 
  • Stick to your shopping list. 
  • Only buy food that you actually expect to eat.  
  • Remember that the shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables can vary from a few days to several weeks.  
  • Plan to eat, prepare and/or freeze perishable items before they spoil.
  • Be mindful of how much storage you have. If you plan to freeze ingredients or make meals ahead to freeze, make sure you have enough space in your freezer.
  • Be creative with pantry items and other foods you have on hand to reduce the number of overall grocery trips you need to make.

As long as everyone only purchases what they can reasonably expect to eat, there will be less stress on grocery stores to meet demand. Grocery stores will have the opportunity to catch up and restock shelves. "Stores are running temporarily low on some items because they are not equipped to keep up with the current level of demand," said Miller. "We are seeing a disruption in how people are shopping as a result of the coronavirus, which is causing bottlenecks in the existing system.... Bottlenecks in distribution and stocking may continue if consumers continue to purchase and stockpile major quantities of food. But after the initial rounds of panic shopping, I expect that the food system will be able to catch up." The reliability of the food system depends on the health and safety of its workers, Miller added. In order to keep these essential personnel healthy and at work, it is important to reduce the spread of the virus and follow all guidance from health officials when out in public.