How To Safely Grocery Shop During This Pandemic

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Woman picking out cabbage at the supermarket, wearing protective gloves
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We all have to eat whether there is a pandemic going on or not. Most grocery stores are still open even if they’ve had to cut back on their hours. In my area, they are only allowing seventy-five people at a time in the store, so once you’re in, you want to stock up enough so you don’t have to go back for as long as possible. It just doesn’t make sense to pop in for milk or juice if you have to wait a half hour to enter the store.

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Not to mention, since most things are shut down, and the grocery store is one of the only places people are going to, they have become one of the places where you need to be extra safe.

But what does that mean? Do you need to wear gloves and a mask? Should you bring your own bags since the virus can live on plastic for a reported 72 hours? Do you need to wipe everything down with a wipe, or is washing fruits and veggies with just water sufficient?

Just like the rest of our lives, going to the grocery store has new rules — and we are here to share them with you.

First, if you can get your groceries online and have them delivered, do it. If you don’t have that option in your area (I don’t), think before you head out, and have a list on you.

According to an article in Sunset, we need to use common sense, and small trips should be avoided at all costs. Use what you have on hand instead of running out to the store to get things for a special meal. If you have rice instead of the pasta you want, use that. If you are craving ice cream but have yogurt in the fridge, stay put and eat the yogurt. You get the picture. While food is essential, small runs for cravings or the fact that your child wants Cheez-Its instead of Goldfish crackers are not.

Scary Mommy talked with Janilyn Hutchings, certified food safety professional at StateFoodSafety, who told us that “while COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for hours to days, the biggest offenders at the grocery store are your fellow shoppers.”

Because of this, the Center For Disease Control suggests if you are over the age of two, and do not have any respiratory problems, you should be wearing a mask or a face cloth when you go out in public. That includes the grocery store.

It’s also imperative to stay at least six feet away from everyone at all times. If that means you have to wait for a bit to grab that cereal you need, then so be it. It’s a small price to pay.

Hutchings also adds that, if possible, you should plan your grocery visits for less busy times of day. Going on a Friday afternoon may not be the best choice, but later on a Sunday evening, you may have less of a crowd.

Although you are less likely to get COVID-19 from your cart or food, according to Hutchings, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be wiped down. Most grocery stores are providing spray and wipes. Remember to wipe down the cart before touching it.

If you are allowed to bring your own bags into the store, wash them after each use if possible. If you aren’t able to do that, put them in the trunk of your car and they should be fine to use again within a day or so, as they are a porous surface.

Upon arriving home, make sure you have a designated area where you set the bags down to empty them. Wiping down each container with a disinfectant wipe before putting it away is the best way to keep the germs from spreading to your house. Then, disinfect the area the bags were sitting on.

Hutchings says there’s no need to wipe fruits and veggies down with anything other than water before you store them. (I used to leave this up to my teens to rinse produce before eating them, but now I just do it before putting them away for peace of mind.)

After getting everything put away and washed, it’s important to wash your hands before you do anything else. You’ve touched many things that may contain the virus, even though you’ve been wiping things down.

Even if you have gloves and wore them to the grocery store, you must still take all these steps. In fact, Karen Hoffmann, RN tells CNBC, “You can think about wearing gloves, but unless you’re really experienced with putting gloves on and off, you may actually contaminate your hands more and therefore get a false sense of security.” According to the WHO leaflet for proper glove use, wearing gloves can “result in missed opportunities for hand hygiene” and can transmit germs from one surface to another.

Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University, adds that the riskiest place is at the checkout. “You go to check-out, you give your credit card, put it in a slot, you punch the numbers, you sign that little machine — that in particular, a lot of people have touched,” he says reminding us we all need to use hand sanitizer after using these machines and avoid touching our faces.

Once you are home, have everything put away, and have clean hands, it’s a good idea to go back and wipe down anything you may have touched with dirty hands such as your door and doorknob, cabinet and refrigerator handles, as well as the parts of the inside and outside of your car you came in contact with.

After taking these steps you can put your mind at ease for a bit — until you have to venture out again to feed your family safely, that is.

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