While going to concerts, movie theaters, bars, beaches, and other recreational destinations is temporarily on hold, there’s one outing that remains a necessity during self-isolation: grocery shopping. If any supermarkets in your area offer home delivery or even store pickup, this is a good time to take advantage of those services.
But if you, like many of us, still need to stock up on food the old-fashioned way, here are some helpful tips for avoiding germs when you venture to the store.
1. Go early in the morning.
Not only will stores be less crowded in the early morning, but they’ll probably be cleanest then, too, since the staff often sanitizes the premises at night. Because many stores are devoting their early hours of operation to senior citizens only, Reader’s Digest suggests calling ahead to find out when your store opens to the general public.
2. Bring hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, or disposable gloves (and wipe down your cart).
Though many stores are now putting disinfectant wipes near the carts so you can wipe them down, you should bring your own just in case. This is especially important, since studies have found that COVID-19 can live for two or three days on plastic surfaces.
Your cart won’t be the only potentially germy place you put your hands during your trip—door handles in the frozen food section, self-checkout screens, and credit card keypads are all risky zones. Be sure to either wipe them down before touching, use hand sanitizer after touching, or just wear gloves that you can toss out at the end of your trip.
3. Don’t touch your face.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you might be especially prone to absentmindedly touching your face while you contemplate which non-dairy milk to choose when your first choice is out of stock.
4. Don't touch your phone either.
Phone screens are a great example of high-touch surfaces where germs can live, so instead of keeping a grocery list on your smartphone, write it on a piece of scrap paper that you can throw away after you’re finished.
5. Give yourself more time to shop than you usually need.
Maintaining at least 6 feet between you and every other shopper means occasionally waiting for occupied aisles to clear and moving more slowly so you don’t run into people—not to mention the time it takes to use hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes intermittently. If you’re trying to fit in a quick shopping trip before an important Zoom call with your boss, you may be less conscientious about shopping safely.
6. Inspect items for holes in the packaging (or the food itself).
Make sure there aren’t any rips or tears in cereal boxes, potato chip bags, or any other packaging—and that goes for produce, too. Give those apples a nice long look to be certain there aren’t any holes or breaks in the skin that germs could easily get into.
7. Bypass the free samples.
Surprise snacks at supermarkets are one of the perks of grocery shopping, but Livestrong points out that exposed food is an easy target for germs. So skip the free samples and don't graze on those bunches of grapes; instead, reward yourself with an extra snack at home. Some stores, like Costco, are even suspending their samples during this time, so you won't be so tempted.
8. Don’t pay with cash.
While there’s a certain satisfaction in counting out exact change, cash has a reputation for being a hotbed for germs. If possible, stick to cards or other automatic methods of payment. Even then, it's not the worst idea in the world to wipe down debit and credit cards after using them.
9. Leave the grocery bags on your doorstep.
Store employees are being extra cautious about cleanliness, but it’s still possible that your bags could pick up germs during the checkout process. To avoid the risk, leave them outside and only bring your items into the house.
10. Wash reusable bags between trips.
If you’ve made the switch to reusable shopping bags, Food Network recommends tossing them in the washing machine or wiping them down with soap and water between shopping trips.
11. Wash produce and wipe down other items.
Per usual, you should thoroughly rinse produce before eating it. Dr. Lisa Larkin, a Cincinnati-based internal medicine physician and founder of Ms.Medicine, told Reader’s Digest that you can also wipe down jars, cans, and bottles with a disinfectant wipe before putting them in your pantry for good measure.
[h/t Reader’s Digest]