Yet, there is one kind of stockpiling you should do — and for reasons entirely unrelated to the food supply chain.
Get yourself a two-weeks' supply of food, and keep it permanently stocked. Here’s why.
Keeping others safe
For any pandemic, before it strikes, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends storing up enough food and water for two weeks. Now that we’re in one, experts say you need to maintain — or better yet, set aside until needed — that two-week supply in case you get sick with COVID-19. (Although, tap and drinking water is safe, says the CDC, so no need to stockpile gallons of water.)
Here’s why: If you get sick, it’s vitally important that you don’t leave the house, or come into contact with others, until you’re better.
“Even if you’re wearing a mask and everyone else is wearing a mask, there’s still a chance that an infected person can infect someone else, so it’s incredibly important to avoid all public places once you find you’re infected,” says Krys Johnson, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Temple University. “We can’t stop the spread if infected people are going out.”
Those public places include the supermarket.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you contract the coronavirus, you shouldn’t leave home until at least 10 days after your symptoms first appeared. You must also be fever-free for at least 72 hours, and all other symptoms, like coughing and shortness of breath, must be improved.
Those guidelines put you at a minimum of 10 days that you’ll need to survive off of food already stored in your home, and you should be prepared in case it takes you longer to get better. If you’ve tested positive for the coronavirus but don’t have symptoms, the guidelines are similar.
If, and only if, you’ve received two negative tests in a row that determine you’re not contagious, at least 24 hours apart, can that home isolation window shorten below 10 days. But the majority of us aren’t likely to have that testing option right now.
Without those tests, it doesn’t matter if your symptoms go away — you shouldn’t venture into the world before 10 days have passed.
“Just because you’re feeling better doesn’t mean you’re not infectious anymore,” says Johnson. “It’s just like the measles and the flu — you can still pass the virus without feeling symptoms.”
Because so much is still unknown about the coronavirus, Johnson recommends staying at home for a full three weeks if you’re able.
“It’s not realistic to always have three weeks of groceries available, but if you can, try to use delivery services until you reach that 21 days,” says Johnson. “Otherwise, remain hyper-vigilant from that 14- to 21-day mark and act as if you’re still infected.”
Even if you don’t get infected, you may need that food
Even if you don’t get sick, you might need that two weeks’ supply of food.
If you come in contact with someone with COVID-19, the CDC says you need to stay at home (“quarantine”) for 14 days, starting from the last date you were exposed. Why?
The incubation period for the virus is two to 14 days, meaning you could be exposed to someone who’s infected, and not develop symptoms for up to two weeks. It’s also shown that people without symptoms can transmit the virus. So, until 14 days have passed, you can’t be certain that you won’t infect others — i.e., the reason you need to stay at home and use the food you have.
What to stock
You should set aside a two-week ration of shelf-stable foods, like canned beans and soups, grains, dried pastas, and jarred tomato sauce, that you don’t touch until needed or until the pandemic’s over. If you want to expand your protein options, try tuna and other tinned fish, as well as vacuum-sealed meats, and don’t forget about nuts, which can be stored in the freezer for freshness.
For produce, keep a couple of bags of frozen veggies and fruit in the freezer. Root vegetables, like butternut squash and beets, are another long-lasting produce section to tap. And healthy, pre-made meals are a good option, too, if freezer space allows.
On a day-to-day basis, focus on using up your fresh foods, along with pantry items you’ve purchased outside of this two-week stockpile. If you have to tap your quarantine/isolation supply, don’t worry — just make note to refill the items you’ve used on your next grocery run.
What to do if you’re sick and don’t have food
It’s important to plan ahead. But if you end up in a situation where you’re sick and don’t have enough food to keep you nourished, strategize how you can avoid a trip to the supermarket. Can you order contactless grocery delivery? You may try calling a friend or family member to drop food on your doorstep.
When you’re sick, you want to avoid using shared spaces and surfaces, like elevators, doorknobs, and common areas. If you live in a shared apartment complex, consider asking a neighbor to help you out so that you don’t contaminate the building. If you feel uncomfortable asking for help, remember that we’re all in this together. Calling on someone to help could mean saving someone else from becoming sick.
“You don’t want to be responsible for a huge negative impact on someone else’s life,” says Johnson.