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How to shop for a coronavirus outbreak: Your COVID-19 emergency kit

Man shopping for supplies

With coronavirus COVID-19 outbreaks continuing around the world, many people are thinking about what emergency supplies they might need if they are required to self-isolate. Healthy Food Guide takes a look at how to stock an emergency kit that will see you and your family through two weeks of self-isolation.

Experts warn against ‘panic buying’ and hoarding large amounts of groceries, as this is unhelpful to yourself and the wider community. Two weeks’ worth of supplies is sufficient and can be bought over a few of your regular shops, rather than rushing out to buy everything all at once.

What to buy for your coronavirus emergency kit

If you and your household need to self-isolate because of exposure to COVID-19, you will need no more than 14 days’ worth of food, household products and medicine.

Here are the main items you’ll need to comfortably get through two weeks of social distancing:

1. Prescription medicine. If anyone in your household relies on prescription medicine, make sure you have 2-4 weeks’ supply available
2. Make sure your first aid kit is stocked, in case anyone has an accident. You’ll need paracetamol, band aids, bandages, antiseptic cream and dressings
3. Top up your pantry staples. Check you have the usual things you rely on for cooking such as oil, soy sauce, stock, tomato paste, flour, baking powder, yeast (if you’re likely to make bread), sugar, salt, dried herbs and spices. Make sure you have enough spreads such as peanut butter, jam and marmite. If you are a tea or coffee drinker, stock enough supply to last you for 14 days
4. Pasta, rice and noodles can be used as the base for a huge variety of meals. Around 250g of dried pasta or noodles is plenty to make one meal for four people. For rice you’ll need about 350g to feed four people for one meal. Figure out how many rice, noodle and pasta meals you are likely to have over two weeks and buy accordingly
5. Canned foods, such as beans, fish, lentils, tomatoes, other vegetables and fruit, are essential non-perishable food items for any pantry or emergency kit. You can add beans or lentils to salads and soups, for a plant-based protein hit, or to meat dishes, such as casseroles, stews and pasta sauces, to bulk them out and add goodness. Canned tomatoes can be used in pasta sauces, casseroles, Mexican dishes and soups. Use canned fish in salads, rice dishes or pasta. Canned fruit is great for dessert or as a topping for breakfast cereal.

Buy around:
• 8 x 400g cans legumes, eg, chickpeas, lentils
• 14 x 800g cans fruit
• 7 x 400g cans tomato
• 4 x 400g cans tuna and salmon
• 8 x 400g cans baked beans/chilli beans
• 4 x 400g cans sweet corn
• 3 x 400g cans beetroot and/or asparagus

6. Frozen vegetables such as corn, peas, spinach, beans, stir-fry mixes and fruit, such as berries and mango, are a convenient, budget-friendly and nutritious way to make sure you get your 5+ a day for the full two weeks. If you are staying home for two weeks and don’t plan to top up your shopping online or have a person drop fresh produce off to you, frozen foods will do the trick when your fresh fruit and veges run out
7. If there’s an egg in the house you have a meal, the saying goes. Eggs will easily last two weeks and can be used in baking, custard, on toast poached, scrambled or boiled, added to fried rice, made into omelettes, or used for frittatas… the options are endless!
8. Dried soup mixes are really good for an easy meal, especially if you are feeling unwell and don’t have much appetite. You can add fresh or frozen vegetables to these to make them more delicious and nutritious. We recommend having about five packets in your kit for a household of four
9. Healthy snacks your household are familiar with such as nuts, yoghurt, crackers, hummus, raisins, popcorn, carrots and edamame beans will help keep everyone happy and able to resist the temptation of popping down to the shop when hunger strikes
10. Oats and wholegrain cereals are healthy options for breakfast and can also be used in desserts or baking. For four people for two weeks, we recommend stocking around six packets of breakfast cereal or 3kg of rolled oats
11. Buy enough bread for the household to make toast and sandwiches. You can keep this from going stale buy storing loaves in the freezer. If you have a breadmaker, this would be the ideal opportunity to put it to use
12. Keep your refrigerator stocked with your usual familiar grocery items, but buy twice the amount of milk, spread, cheese and yoghurt you’d normally get in a weekly shop. You can freeze milk and butter till you need it, but cheese will last in the fridge for two weeks. Fresh vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, broccoli and beans last in the fridge well, but salad greens and sprouts will need to be eaten within the first week. If you are running out of space in your freezer, you can buy long-life, powdered or plant milks, as a back-up to keep in your pantry
13. Potatoes, kumara and pumpkin are all vegetables that will last (uncut) for the full two weeks
14. Pet food. If you have pets make sure you have enough canned and dried food to get them through the two weeks you’re expected to stay at home for
15. For the bathroom, make sure you have enough soap for everyone to be able to wash their hands thoroughly before eating, after using the toilet, coughing, sneezing and blowing noses, and while handling food, as well as for baths and showers. You might want to buy paper towels for drying hands with, as this disposable item is less likely to spread germs than sharing a hand towel. It will also pay to get a good supply of disposable tissues, so people can use them to cough or sneeze into. As for toilet paper, plan for around two rolls per person per week. If you buy tissues as well, people won’t need to resort to using TP to blow their noses on. You only need hand sanitiser if you can’t use soap and water
16. You’ll need household cleaners, such as laundry powder, bleach and dishwashing liquid and powder, in a slightly bigger supply than usual. This is, firstly, because you will likely have more people at home all day, but also because it is recommended you avoid sharing utensils and wash them before putting them in the dishwasher. You also need to avoid sharing towels and linen and keep up with regular hot washing of these items. Buying twice the amount you normally would in a regular shop, should keep you covered.

Other options available when self-isolating due to coronavirus

If you haven’t prepared an emergency kit and are required to self-isolate, there are still good options available to keep you covered over the two weeks:

1. Online shopping. Many supermarkets now provide online shopping and grocery delivery. This is a convenient way to order your groceries without needing to leave home. Most delivery services can simply leave your shopping on your doorstep for you
2. Friends and family can help by dropping food and other supplies off to you. Just make sure they know they can’t come in for a cuppa
3. Food delivery services are available in many areas to bring you meals. This isn’t the cheapest option, but health authorities say it’s fine to use these services.

Who might need to self-isolate?

People who have reason to believe they might have been exposed to COVID-19, because of a community outbreak, travelling through a high-risk country or displaying symptoms, are advised to self-isolate for two weeks, to help prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus.

In places where there have been no community outbreaks, it is unlikely you’ll have been exposed to the virus, unless you have travelled through a category 1, 1b or 2 territory.

At present, category 1 and 1b territories include Mainland China, Iran, Northern Italy and the Republic of Korea. Any person who has travelled from these countries (or been in close contact with someone who has) should self-isolate for 14 days, even if they don’t display symptoms of COVID-19.

Category 2 territories include Hong Kong, Italy (other than northern Italy), Japan, Singapore and Thailand. People who have travelled through these countries (or been in close contact with someone who has) should self-isolate for 14 days only if they display symptoms.

The common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.

First published: Mar 2020

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