Grocery stores have transformed drastically over the past two months, as they adapt to increased demand and the need to keep their customers safe.
Amid anxiety-inducing news updates, a person can easily get uncertain about the best way to get their groceries safely.
We spoke with Dr. Ben Weston, Milwaukee County’s emergency management medical director, about what steps you can take to stay safe while shopping for food.
Order Pickup or Delivery, If You Can
Many grocery stores offer pickup or delivery options, which circumvents the issue of entering the store and prevents contact with the people inside. Check a store’s website or call to see if they have an Instacart delivery option or curbside pickup. While most stores charge a delivery fee, many offer pickup for free. “Not everybody is able to do those options,” Weston says. “But if they are, that’s another way to further prevent the spread.”
Be Prepared and Be Quick
When entering a grocery store, Weston advises that you remember, “you are in a more crowded area – social distancing is going to be more challenging.” This means leisurely browsing of the foodstuffs is not a good idea. Prepare a list beforehand, so you can enter the store, get everything you need, and leave without spending unnecessary time around the other shoppers or touching products you don’t buy.
Use Designated Hours, If They Apply
Many grocery stores are currently holding the first hour or two of the day reserved for at-risk customers. So if you’re over 60 or have health conditions that put you at risk, take advantage of these low-traffic times to avoid contact with other shoppers.
Grocery cart handles are frequent-touch surfaces at grocery stores, so you should be sure to sanitize them down before using them. Many grocery stores are offering wipes at the door now, so you might not have to bring you own. “Try to avoid touching surfaces that you don’t have to,” Weston adds, and avoid touching your face.
Wash Your Hands
This is Virus Prevention 101 for a reason. “We know there’s definitely transmission from touching your face with your hand,” says Dr. Weston. Clean your hands before you go to the store, after you leave, and after you put away your food.
Maintain six-feet distance from other shoppers as best you can while in the store, since this is your best way to avoid spreading the virus between people. This obviously may be more difficult in your grocery store, so other precautions, such as masks (see below), are even more important.
Wear a Mask
Some stores—such as Menards and Costco—are now requiring customers to wear masks. Others are still allowing people in without them. “Cloth masks are a good minimal barrier to passing infection,” Weston says. “They are certainly not a substitute to social distancing by any means.” He also notes that the mask can serve as a reminder that you should avoid touching your face, and he notes that, “The best protection masks provide is protecting others. Even if you are asymptomatic, you may still have enough virus to spread it. So even if you say, ‘I don’t need to wear a mask, I’m not sick.’ You may have no idea when you’re sick.”
Gloves Are Not Necessary
“You can’t contract the virus through your skin,” Weston says. This means that gloves are not crucial, and you can still touch your face with virus-contaminated gloves and pick up the virus. “As long as you avoid touching your face and wash your hands very well after touching surfaces, you should be fine,” he says. “But if you feel more comfortable with that extra layer [of gloves], that’s fine. Even if you’re wearing gloves, take them off wash your hands.”
Keep Reusable Bags Clean (Or Don’t Use Them)
If you normally use a reusable bag, make sure you clean it and wash it after each trip to the store. Some stores are no longer allowing these bags at all, but if you are using one, launder it frequently.
Sanitize Food Preparation Surfaces
When you get home and unload your food, it’s important to know that you’ve kept your counter tops and table clean. Make sure you regularly wipe down these frequent use food preparation areas.
It May Not Be Necessary to Sanitize Every Food Package, But You Still Might Want To
“We know the virus lives on surfaces, but there haven’t been any confirmed cases of people picking up the virus through touching a surface,” Weston says. “Now that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t happen.” If you wish to wipe down your food packages with a sanitizing wipe, that is an option. The virus has been shown to live on surfaces anywhere from 24 to 78 hours, so you can also leave food packages somewhere such as the basement or your garage for a few days as another option. “It’s certainly not discouraged,” Weston says. “It may not be necessary.” You may not need this extra layer of protection, but if it makes you feel safer, feel free.