Prepare Your Pantry, but Don't Panic

March 19, 2020, 4:16 pm | Ruth Litchfield, Sarah Francis

Woman Reaching Into Pantry by stevecuk/stock.adobe.comAMES, Iowa -- The outbreak of Covid 19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus, has many Iowans thinking about emergency supplies and kits, if they should need to self-isolate or quarantine. Nutrition and wellness state specialists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offer tips for stocking the pantry, without panic buying.

Panic buying will not help you in the long run and may place others in a bind. Planning ahead and making “smart” purchases will help you limit your shopping trips while being prepared, according to Ruth Litchfield and Sarah Francis. They offer the following guidance to help Iowans in these challenging times.

Plan for at least one week out

Many people are choosing to use delivery or drive up grocery services to decrease the potential contact with grocery cart handles and with other people, to reduce risk of contracting the virus. These services are in high demand and may not be available for at least one week out. This means you should be planning your grocery needs at least one week in advance. If you choose a delivery or drive up grocery service, keep in mind, someone will be touching your food as they fill your order.

Clean food containers before storage

It will be important to wipe off food containers with soap and water prior to storage. Recent research suggests the virus can remain active on some surfaces for one to three days. For fresh produce, follow safe food washing practices ( see Remember to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds after handling the grocery items, too (see

Buy a little extra, but don't stockpile

Many of us will be practicing social distancing and may be remaining in our homes for several weeks. As such, consider buying a few extra items each time you are doing your regular grocery shopping rather than stockpiling. To prepare a two-week supply of food, look at your current food supply at home and your current weekly grocery list. Is this quantity of food reasonable to last you through two weeks while providing you with adequate nutrition -- foods from each food group daily?  

When meal planning:

  • If you are a parent, ask yourself how many more meals and snacks will you need to provide for your children if local schools are closed. Make sure to adjust your normal grocery order for these additional meals.
  • Consider how many times you typically eat out or carry out in a typical week. With many restaurants and fast food businesses closed or transitioning to carry out, plan your grocery list as though you will not be carrying out or eating out from restaurants.
  • Look at frozen or canned options of your favorite fresh foods. These have a longer shelf-life and are just as nutritious.
  • Consider making larger quantities of your “go to” dishes and freezing the extras.
  • If you are purchasing fresh foods, choose a meal plan that uses similar foods to help limit food waste, for example, spaghetti with marinara sauce and spinach one night and spinach enchiladas another night.
  • •Pay attention to the dates on your foods. Remember FIFO — first in, first out. If you have questions about the shelf life of your pantry mainstays, visit

Keep these items in your pantry

Here is a list of pantry items to consider keeping on hand. For more information, visit

Non-perishable food

  • Pantry staples (oil, tomato paste, flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, dried herbs and spices, peanut butter, etc.).
  • Pasta, rice and noodles.
  • Canned foods (beans, lentils, tuna, salmon, tomatoes, tomato sauce, other vegetables and fruit).
  • Frozen foods (corn, peas, spinach, stir-fry mixes, fruit such as berries, mango, juice).
  • Dried soup mixes, sauces and fruits.
  • Snack items such as nuts, crackers, hummus, raisins, popcorn, and carrots.
  • Whole grain cereals, oatmeal and granola.
  • Bread (extra loaves can be stored in the freezer).
  • Potatoes (try canned potatoes if you can’t find fresh).

Perishable food

  • Refrigerated foods
    -- Dairy foods: Milk (powdered or shelf-stable milk is another option), cheese, yogurt.
    -- Butter or margarine.
    -- Eggs – shell eggs are stable for three to five weeks in the refrigerator, pasteurized liquid eggs can last three to five weeks unopened or be frozen for longer storage.
    -- Fresh vegetables-- carrots, squash, cabbage, and broccoli store well, but greens, tomatoes and sprouts need to be eaten in the first week.
  • Fresh fruit (e.g., apples, oranges, grapes, pineapple, bananas) – monitor for ripeness

The Iowa State University Human Sciences Extension and Outreach Spend.Smart Eat.Smart website provides more information about menu planning, safe food handling, and cooking. Visit at


Photo credit: stevecuk/


About the Authors: