The answer may surprise you.

If you were one of the millions who stocked up your pantries and basements and freezers for the pandemic, perhaps even doing a second restock as the winter surges began, you may be wondering what to think about the current state of the crisis as it relates to food and other basic supplies.

The best approach: Reduce but don't eliminate your stockpile

The short answer is that while you likely do not need to do a full load-in of everything you needed in anticipation of lockdowns, it would not be a bad idea to take stock of what you currently have, and what staples might be useful to have on hand to assist in limiting your need to shop as frequently.

While the concerns in the early stages of the pandemic were actual access to food and supplies, and worries about stay-at-home orders, we all know that the supply chains are intact, and grocery stores were never shuttered. Delivery services continue to be a lifeline for those avoiding in-person shopping, and most of us have become experts in navigating these online resources.

So, stocking up now isn't about having everything you need at home to survive. Rather, now is the time to think about protecting yourself and your household from the virus while we are in this "bridge" time, between the current percentage of the population being vaccinated, and enough of the population vaccinated to be considered safe to fully reopen.

How much food to have in your stockpile

As always, if there are things that are non-negotiable—certain foods or brands that are a requirement for your house—always try to have at least a two-to-four-week supply on hand to ensure that you do not run out in case of limited supply or slow shipping times. If you found during the lockdowns that there were particular items you really went through quickly, whether it was home goods like paper towels or toilet paper, or food items like pasta, rice, or canned soups, now is a good time to begin to restock those items, since you know you will go through them eventually.

Quarantine Items
Credit: Getty / NatashaBreen

A smart (and compassionate) way to reduce your quarantine stockpile

If you found that you haven't made much of a dent in your initial stockpile, especially if you bought a lot of something that you discovered you are not really eating, consider making a donation to a local food pantry or community fridge. There continue to be many of our fellow Americans who are food insecure, and anything you can afford to donate will be put to great use.

How to shop if your household isn't yet vaccinated

If no one in your home is vaccinated, or you or anyone in your home is at high-risk for COVID-19 complications, sticking with a shopping schedule of once every 10-14 days as we did throughout the pandemic continues to be a good approach, according to the Cleveland Clinic. You may want to stock up on shelf-stable pantry items or freezer items so that your shopping is limited to fresh items, and you may want to continue to use delivery services to get your goods without risking store visits.

How to shop if everyone in your household is vaccinated

If everyone in your household is vaccinated, your main responsibility is to continue to wear a mask and respect social distancing rules when at the grocery store, says epidemiologist Henry F. Raymond, DrPH, MPH, associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health in Piscataway, New Jersey. While researchers continue to explore whether vaccinated people can transit the coronavirus, it's important to behave with everyone's health in mind, he says.

Finally, as farmers markets begin to open, shopping safely outside will always be a great way to get your produce and will help to limit your grocery store exposure. And support your local growers!