Grocery store

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In the new reality created by the coronavirus, a once-normal weekly chore has become a more intimidating task: grocery shopping. But with a bit of planning, you can make your shopping run a little less stressful.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there is no evidence currently that the disease spreads through food or food packaging. However, the virus can live on different surfaces for different lengths of time. Supermarkets and grocery stores are busy places through which many people filter every day. To minimize your exposure and risk, take a little time to plan your next grocery shopping trip.

If you are immunocompromised and/or over age 60, consider ordering groceries online and picking them up at the store later or having them delivered to your home. If you are experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, such as shortness of breath, fever, and cough, do not go to the grocery store or travel out in public.

If you don’t fall into any of these categories, you may want to leave the online services for people who rely on them and get ready to head inside the grocery store.

Here are some tips to help you minimize your exposure during your grocery store run:

Before You Shop

  • Park farther away than you normally would: This may give you a longer commute when hauling your groceries to the car. However, it can help when trying to maintain a 6-foot distance from other shoppers.
  • Plan ahead: Write down a grocery list with pen and paper to avoid bringing your phone into the store. Plan your route within the grocery store. (You can usually find a floorplan if you do a web search for the store). Try to group your list by produce, canned goods, frozen foods, etc., so you have a clear plan once you enter. Buy at least one week’s worth of groceries to limit your outings.
  • Be a minimalist: Do not take your entire purse into the supermarket. Take only what you need — a credit card (not cash), your car keys, and your paper shopping list. Many stores are requiring shoppers use only disposable shopping bags. If you can, shop alone or designate one person to do the shopping for your household to limit exposure.

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In The Store

  • Sanitize: Most grocery stores have disinfectant wipes when you walk into the store. If yours doesn’t, bring wipes from home. Wipe down handles and the inside of the cart. Try to keep your hands off your face during your entire shopping run.
  • Don’t waste time: You want to be in and out of the store as efficiently as possible. If you can, head to a grocery store where you know the layout well so you can make your way around faster.
  • Do not hoard: You may want to stock up on items for yourself and family (and any loved ones you are grocery shopping for). However, be courteous to other shoppers who are doing the same. To minimize shortages of food and supplies, only purchase what you really will use in the next 7 to 14 days.
  • Choose and move on: Eye your produce, but do not pick up several to compare. Choose your produce and move on. Produce near the back tends to be handled less. 
  • Self-checkout or bag your own groceries: If you can, find a self-checkout so nobody else has to touch your groceries. If self-checkout isn’t an option, bag your own groceries.
  • Clean surfaces and dispose of your grocery list: If you can, wipe down the checkout area. Declining a receipt will give you one less thing to touch. And make sure you dispose of that grocery list before leaving the store.
  • Clean your car: If you still have a wipe handy, wipe down your trunk and front door car handles before driving back home.

Once Home

  • Wash your hands: Washing your hands after a trip to the grocery store is incredibly important to remove any risk of infection.
  • Make a clean area: Wipe down a counter or tabletop to make a clean area. After you’ve cleaned an item, move it to the clean area. Let everything dry and then put it all away. 
  • Wipe down other goods: There is no current link between food packaging and COVID-19, but the coronavirus can live on surfaces for a length of time. For an extra measure of caution, wipe down any canned goods, boxed foods, or frozen bags. You can use a disinfectant wipe or cloth dampened with diluted bleach solution. Unexpired household bleach can be effective against the coronavirus when prepared by mixing cup bleach per gallon of water.
  • Wash your produce: Fill your sink with water. Remove produce from its original packaging and discard in trash. Soak all produce. If it has skin, such as apples, pears, or melons, scrub it for 20 seconds before rinsing, drying, and storing it in new bags.
  • Wash your hands, again: Once you have finished washing and storing your foods, wipe down countertops and cabinet handles and wash your hands. Throw your canvas bags and the outfit you wore to the grocery store in the washer and wash in hot water. 

Online Groceries

  • Tip electronically: If using an app, you can add a tip electronically to avoid the handling of cash.
  • Wipe down groceries and hands: The above recommendations are still helpful since you do not know who handled your groceries before you picked them up from the store or your front porch. Make sure you wash your hands once you store all your food.

Takeout Foods

  • Sanitize your takeout orders. The CDC finds no current link between food and food packaging and COVID-19. However, you still should follow the same sanitation guidelines when picking up takeout foods. Remove and discard bags, wipe down outsides of containers or put food into other containers, and wash your hands.

About Infectious Diseases

If you have a disease caused by bacteria, fungi, parasite, or virus, the UPMC Center for Care of Infectious Diseases can help. Our team of experts is specially trained in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, including of HIV-AIDs, postsurgical and transplant infections, illnesses caused by international travel, and more. We research infectious diseases and participate in clinical trials to learn more and develop better treatment and prevention methods. Visit our website to find an expert near you.