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Maine food resources and retail adjustments during the coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic

Grocery stores, food pantries and Maine school districts have all adjusted their programs during the coronavirus, COVID-19 spread

MAINE, USA — EDITOR'S NOTE: Now that we've moved to ordering food through take-out, the above video explains how you can stay safe while ordering food. 

FOOD RESOURCES 

Countless families across Maine rely on school lunches for healthy, reliable food. Amid COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, concerns and school closures, families are left without that reliable source of food.

The Maine Department of Education's Child Nutrition Team received approval for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Services. The waiver will allow schools the ability to provide students with meals offsite if the school currently has or qualifies for a USDA Summer Food Service Program.

According to a press release, "The Maine Dept. of Education applied for the waiver as they continue to assist schools in the proactive planning for a disruption to schools in the case of the concerns of COVID-19."

USDA supported meals are available at no cost to low-income children, and under the waiver allows meals to served offsite in the event schools are temporarily closed.

The Maine Dept. of Education's Child Nutrition program states that "meals can be delivered directly to a quarantined house with household consent (phone call)."

Follow the LINK for a full list of Maine resources by school district.

In addition to government programs, Good Shepherd Food Bank is expanding its food distribution efforts, including extending hours of operation and reallocating internal resources for planning and preparation.

"We're going to approach this from all angles that we can to provide the support that the state of Maine needs," Sam Michaud is the director of facilities and safety at the Good Shepherd Food Bank. "People need us every day, so we're going to continue to operate as we need to provide support to Mainers."

Visit the "Find Food" section of the Good Shepherd website to find a distribution site near you.

If you need emergency help with food, Maine has a list of pantries around the state. 

Full Plates, Full Potential, is also partnering with some southern Maine businesses to help.

Social Distancing Video

FOOD RETAIL INFORMATION

During the coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic, Maine retailers are also adjusting how they are doing business. Some are setting aside special hours people who might be in a higher risk group. All have instituted some social distancing practices.

Here are some of Maine's larger food retailers:

  • Walmart - Open 7 a.m. -  8:30 a.m. daily statewide. Customers 60 years + - Tuesdays 6 - 7 a.m. Walmart has also implemented social distancing restrictions. Here is the Walmart policy.
  • Hannaford 7 a.m. - 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, Sunday hours vary by store. Click here for the website. Customers 60 years old + - Tuesdays and Thursday 6 a.m. - 7 a.m. Here is Hannaford's social distancing policy.
  • Shaw's lists their COVID-19 related policies HERE
  • Market Basket 7 a.m. - 6 p.m. every day. Customers 60 years old + 6 a.m. - 7 a.m. every day
  • Sam's Club 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday, Sundays 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Customers 60 years old + 7 a.m. - 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • BJs Wholesale varied hours and social distancing numbers. See their website for details

Local Maine restaurants are feeling the pinch as well. HospitalityMaine has set up a page giving examples how you can still support your local restaurant. 

FOOD SAFETY

When it comes to food safety, according to many sources, there has been no evidence of coronavirus being spread by food.

The United States Center for Disease Control says there is no evidence of food transmission. The U.S. CDC release says, "It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads." 

The Federal Drug Administration has a whole list of FAQ's you might find useful.

The European Food Safety Authority has done a more recent study that also found no evidence of COVID-19 transmission through food. 

EFSA’s chief scientist, Marta Hugas, said in the report, “Experiences from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), show that transmission through food consumption did not occur. At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus is any different in this respect.”

One question that keeps popping up is should we clean our food and groceries?

So far, evidence from the US CDC and FDA indicated there is no evidence of transmission from any grocery related products. The CDC says the most danger when shopping for groceries is the heavily used surfaces like countertops and carts. Person to person transmission is the largest concern in grocery stores, which is why social distancing is extremely important. 

The food supply itself is safe, according to the FDA.

Frank Yiannas, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response, said in late march, “There is no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.”

UNITED STATES FDA VIDEO ON FOOD SAFETY

Should you clean grocery packaging? Opinions seem to differ. 

Celeste Poulin, the Director of the Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, told NEWS CENTER Maine, “Some new information indicates shoppers perhaps should wipe down packaging. They should always wash produce. I have not yet seen anything from the FDA, but if they revise their guidance, it will be posted on their website." 

The US CDC doesn't have specific guidelines on cleaning groceries or grocery containers, but they do have a site established detailing best practices for cleaning your house and household items during the pandemic. 

For the food itself, there are many suggestions on how to clean your food. One thing is clear; do not use soap on food. According the CDC, chemicals in soap and cleaners could make you sick. What you should so is wash some of your food in cool water. The University of Maine did a full study in 2011 on the impact of washing your food. 

Here are some of their best practices:

  • Wash your hands with hot soapy water before and after preparing food.
  • Clean your countertop, cutting boards, and utensils after peeling produce and before cutting and chopping. Bacteria from the outside of raw produce can be transferred to the inside when it is cut or peeled. Wash kitchen surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
  • Do not wash produce with soaps or detergents.
  • Use clean potable cold water to wash items.
  • For produce with thick skin, use a vegetable brush to help wash away hard-to-remove microbes.
  • Produce with a lot of nooks and crannies like cauliflower, broccoli or lettuce should be soaked for 1 to 2 minutes in cold clean water.
  • Some produce such as raspberries should not be soaked in water. Put fragile produce in a colander and spray it with distilled water.
  • After washing, dry with clean paper towel. This can remove more bacteria.
  • Eating on the run? Fill a spray bottle with distilled water and use it to wash apples and other fruits.
  • Don’t forget that homegrown, farmers market, and grocery store fruits and vegetables should also be well washed.
  • Do not rewash packaged products labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed” or “triple washed.”
  • Once cut or peeled, refrigerate as soon as possible at 40ºF or below.
  • Do not purchase cut produce that is not refrigerated.

2011 UNIVERSITY OF MAINE FOOD CLEANING VIDEO

The FDA also has best practices when it comes to food safety, Click the LINK to see that page. 

IF YOU HAVE INFORMATION, SHARE IT WITH US

If you have any other resources Mainers should know about, please email us at digitalteam@newscentermaine.com or text us at (207) 828-6622, with all the information. 

At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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