Safeguard against COVID-19 when grocery shopping

Supermarkets and other food merchants are allowed to stay open as “essential” retailers amid the mass shutdowns prompted by the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Along with banks, gas stations and takeout restaurants, supermarkets are among the few places that people are allowed to visit to procure the necessities of everyday life.

Even with social distancing and other precautions in place, grocery stores remain high-traffic locations. As a result, many people feel concerned about how to best protect themselves when turning to in-store visits or grocery delivery services to stay stocked on food and other essentials.

• Maintain a six-foot distance. As with other locations, shoppers should keep a distance of six feet between themselves and other shoppers. Do not hesitate to move back or ask someone to move away if you feel concerned about proximity. Shopping during “off-peak” hours may help thin out crowds and make it easier to maintain social distance.

• Shop small retailers. It can be beneficial to visit independently owned retailers, like local markets, delis and specialty food stores. Crowds at such stores will likely be smaller than the crowds at large chain stores.

• Wipe down products. Data published in The New England Journal of Medicine that tested how long COVID-19 survived on surfaces found the virus was detected up to 72 hours on plastic, 48 hours on stainless steel, 4 hours on copper, and 24 hours on cardboard. While infection from touch may not be as likely as it is from direct inhalation of COVID-19 from an infected individual, it can be helpful to wipe down surfaces, including non-porous packaging, once items are brought home, as well as counters or tables used to unload packages. Wiping down a shopping cart handle also may be helpful.

• Wash produce. Consumer Reports suggests washing fruits and vegetables in a mild soap-and-water solution to eliminate any possible live virus and pesticides.

• Avoid direct contact. Whether items are delivered or purchased in-store, avoid personal contact with cashiers or other store employees. Pick up and pack your own groceries. Opt to pay with a credit card or another digital payment option like Apple Pay instead of handing over cash. Use your own pen to sign receipts. Scan your own frequent shopper card or have the cashier use a scan gun, rather than taking your key ring to hold. Delivery services can place the bags outside of your front door. Tips also can be exchanged electronically for delivery services through an app or online or over the phone.

Some simple shopping strategies can help people prevent the spread of COVID-19.