How to navigate the grocery store in the time of COVID-19

How to navigate the grocery store in the time of COVID-19

As many cities and states shut down all non-essential businesses and activities for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19, one place that is still open for business is the grocery store.

Dr. Minhaj Husain, infectious disease specialist at Aurora Health Care, says that shoppers and grocery store workers both have a higher risk of coming in contact with the virus simply because there are so many people around.

Whether you’re one of the many heroic workers continuing to fill these vital roles or you’re going out to shop, Dr. Husain offers these tips to stay safe.

How should people shop for food differently?

Avoid touching anything you are not intending to buy. This applies to everything, including meat, produce and non-perishable items.

What precautions should grocery store workers take?

Workers are at a higher risk of exposure, because they are still working and interacting with customers. They need to take all the right precautions to stay safe and minimize their risk. This includes:

  • Staying home if they are sick
  • Avoiding physical contact with customers or other employees
  • Washing their hands and avoiding face touching
  • Keeping at least six feet of separation with everyone around them

How can shoppers practice social distancing?

  • Pay for groceries with a credit card or cell phone app. This will avoid the need to touching cash and potentially making contact between customer and cashier during purchase
  • Use self-checkout options or in-store pick up if available
  • Maintain six feet of separation with shoppers around them. Many stores have placed tape on the floor near checkout lanes to help people keep their distance.

What do customers need to change about their behaviors?

Since the virus lives on different surfaces for varied amounts of time, it’s important to wipe down groceries with alcohol wipes after bringing them home. If you have a cough, wear a mask at the store. Use hand sanitizer and wash your hands before, during and after you shop. And most importantly, if you are sick, do not go out in public, whether it is to the grocery store or anywhere else.

What measures can stores take to protect their workers?

  • Encourage sick employees to stay at home
  • Conduct regular huddles to remind employees of safe and hygienic practices
  • Make sure the ventilation system is working appropriately and there is adequate fresh air coming through
  • Sanitize high contact areas such as door handles, carts and cash registers on a continuous basis
  • Place large hand sanitizer bottles at the entrance and have a greeter remind all customers to sanitize before entering the store.

Have more questions about COVID-19? Check out our online information center here.

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  1. And where do we get those alcohol wipes for all our groceries we bring home? What about fresh produce? How about at least a list of stores that still have hand sanitizers at entries for customers to use — I have encountered many that no longer even have that.

    • You can make your own solution to wipe down groceries.

      1/4 cup bleach to 32 ounces of water [32 ounces is about 2 bottles of water].

      Or you can make your own hand sanitizer. 1/2 cup alcohol, 1/4 cup aloe vera and a few drops of an essential oil [or lemon juice].

      You’re good to go!

  2. Russell Medoff March 27, 2020 at 1:02 pm · Reply

    Great advice but, alcohol wipes,alcohol,anything for sanitizing and masks as well as many other products are not available and have not been for at least 3 weeks now. In fact, are you health professionals dealing with a shortage of these important items right now? How ’bout some alternatives to these since we can’t get these.

  3. You can get vinegar. I mix in water and rinse all fruit and vegetables. I have used dawn also. Just rinse well. You can use vodka and dish soap to wipe surfaces.
    I am using a dilute bleach solution.

  4. Alcohol swabs are nowhere to be seen on merchant shelves. Isn’t that a little extreme anyway?

  5. Can a hand sanitizer be made from household products

  6. I went to Aldi and they do not have the wipes so I brought 3 wipes in a zip lock bag from home and put in my purse.

  7. That’s what you should do, if you actually have any wipes to spare — I’m rationing the limited number I have for my home as it is — with no end in sight for when there’ll be more of any of these or when we can stop being so vigilant about it all.

  8. Hello, I believe that taking precautions is necessary. Doctor appointments are being canceled which I understand but all health conditions are important. Some people are having problems filling prescriptions. Social contact is normal n it has been taken away. People are frustrated with not knowing how long this lockdown will last. Myself included. Will people start doing harmful things to each other because of short paycheck,no pay,isolation,hoarding no place to go? The parks were the last thing so outside air could be breathed and getting out of the house. Having true compassion for all people is important in decision making. God has gotten attention.Why no supplies? In this free USA? Organizations and people are donating everywhere. That should have been one of first things addressed by our government. Will everybody be tested because everybody is being told to stay home? All actions should lead to a resolution for mankind. What is going to happen to this world after?

  9. There being no supply of wipes (alcohol or otherwise) to wipe down every item I bring into my home (and I’m not sure how effective or practical that is anyway) I am leaving the items that I buy out of the main area of my home for 3 days minimum. So groceries go right to the basement fridge, storage shelves or stay in the garage at least that long and then get put away in the kitchen after that. I have some concern, too, that people may be making dangerous combinations of chemicals, esp with bleach, in an effort to be so safe about virus but not really knowing the other dangers in that.

  10. Lynne M. Cunningham March 27, 2020 at 2:42 pm · Reply

    Be careful of self checkouts if you are unfamiliar with system. Almost will require cashier intervention when mistakes happen. The customer needs to back away so that the cashier can fix the mistake.

  11. I have been wearing gloves & sunglasses to the grocery store- this prevents me from touching my eyes.

  12. Please don’t suggest that employees have “regular HUDDLES” . Your choice of wording couldn’t be worse. We understand what you meant… but please choose a different word!

  13. Self checkout screen is petri dish! Sorry but very bad suggestion. How many touch screen daily??

  14. Mandy porter dosti March 27, 2020 at 9:50 pm · Reply

    There was a recent article that came out saying that soap breaks down the surface of the virus. You can use soap and water on fruits and vegetables or if they have a skin, consider washing your hands after you have peeled the skin. Articles have also noted the virus is not stable in heat, so anything you are cooking, should be safe to eat. Consider dilute bleach bottle to spray And wipe down surfaces of food containers especially ones that you and your kids may touch slot and not wash their hands after touching. Like milk.

  15. Here is a much more useful, on point article on the subject of grocery shopping

  16. Here is a recipe for homemade hand sanitizer:
    2/3c rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) or ethanol
    1/3 c aloe vera gel
    8-10 drops essential oil, optional (such as lavender, vanilla, orange)

    Mix ingredients in a bowl with a spoon. Use a funnel to pour liquid into an empty hand sanitizer bottle. Does come out more liquidy than store bought.
    Hope this helps!

  17. Marian I POSPISIL April 2, 2020 at 3:55 pm · Reply

    The corona virus survives in cold. Do not put in refrigerator or freezer without first sanitizing the packaging.

  18. All this is almost silly at this point to be so over the top. Calm down, improve what you did before all this and I bet… it will be ok. Going overboard is diminishing returns.

  19. If I could inject a positive, I’m glad to see that so many people are paying attention. There is a lot of information out there, some really and some really bad. I find it comforting that so many are taking this seriously and doing their homework. Going forward, I expect a second wave in the fall and possibly a third and fourth after that. I don’t see us getting back to something “normal” for 18 to 24 months. If anything will shorten this time, it will be the continued prudence of all of us. Thanks.

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About the Author

Matt Queen
Matt Queen

Matt Queen, health enews contributor, is a communication coordinator at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee. He is a former TV sports anchor and journalist with extensive public relations experience across the health care spectrum. Outside of work, Matt enjoys watching sports (of course), cooking, gardening, golfing and spending time with his wife and two young children.