How to avoid germs when grocery shopping, according to consumer reports

From Reader’s Digest By Jenn Sinrich

Before you head out to the grocery store, read up on these expert guidelines to ensure your safety.

Stay healthy while grocery shopping

Avoiding germs is always a good idea, but never before has it seemed so important than right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, keeping yourself protected against the coronavirus could be a matter of life and death, which is why people are being more careful than ever before when they do basic day-to-day activities like going grocery shopping. “It used to be seen as a mundane weekly errand, but has become a task that requires more thought and preparation during this COVID-19 pandemic crisis,” explains Dr Lisa Larkin. The good news is that there are steps you can take to avoid germs and reduce your risk of infection or infecting others during this time. Read on for tips to shop for your groceries in as safe a manner as possible.

Go at times of the day when it’s less busy

You might not be a morning person, but going to the grocery store bright and early when they’re just opening might be your best option. “By avoiding large groups of people, you decrease your risk of becoming infected, as the virus is mainly spread through close contact with other people,” says Dr Jonas Nilsen. In addition, many stores sanitise overnight, so the environment, in general, is less germy. Many stores are also offering special morning hours where only senior citizens are allowed to shop – call ahead to find out if your regular grocery store is offering these.


Sanitise your shopping cart or basket


Studies suggest that COVID-19 can live on surfaces for up to a few days, so wipe down the handles of shopping carts or baskets with a sanitising wipe. Some shops provide wipes, but not all do, especially during this time of shortages, so it’s best to bring your own. Dr Larkin also suggests bringing extra wipes for opening freezer and refrigerator door handles and sanitising your hands throughout the shopping experience.

Avoid touching your face while shopping

One of the easiest ways to spread the virus is by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face, eyes, nose, or mouth. This is a lot harder than it sounds, as a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control estimated that people touch their faces more than 20 times in a single hour. While a mask can help prevent you from touching your mouth and nose, they are recommended for the use of health care professionals only, especially given the current shortages of PPE (personal protective equipment).


Stay 1.5m away as you navigate the aisles

As much as possible, try to maintain a safe, 1.5 metre distance from other shoppers. “This may be as simple as avoiding a crowded aisle and circling back a few minutes later,” says Dr Larkin. Since other shoppers might not be as mindful as you are about maintaining social distance, be polite in your request that they keep their distance with a courteous “excuse me.”

 Be kind to others

Just as you’re being thoughtful about your own health, be thoughtful about the health of others, suggests Dr Larkin. “If you have an elderly neighbour who needs help, see if you can shop for them or teach them to use an online and delivery option,” she says. “Be patient and kind with one another, especially the workers keeping the stores open and functioning – and of course, if you are ill, please stay home and don’t expose others.”


Bring disposable gloves for checkout

Antimicrobial wipes might suffice for cleaning packaging such as jars, plastic containers, tins and bottles, but Dr Alexa M Gaffney-Adams, recommends going a step further during checkout. “You don’t want to contaminate your skin with infectious virus and bacteria and the wipes can be drying and damaging to the skin,” she says.


Avoid paying with cash

When possible, Dr James Elder, suggests using debit cards or other forms of electronic payment. “This will reduce the need to touch paper money or coins, which can potentially carry germs,” he says. If using electronic payments is not possible, he recommends cleaning hands immediately after touching cash or coins.

Sanitise your hands

After you’re done shopping and before you get in your car or grab your car keys or smartphone, use hand sanitiser – it’s the best way to clean your hands when water and soap are not available. Just be sure that the hand sanitiser contains at least 70 per cent alcohol, notes microbiologist, Dr Alex Berezow. “Use a healthy plop (not just a tiny drop), and be sure to rub it all over the back of your hands as well,” he says. “You should use enough sanitiser so that it doesn’t evaporate as you rub your hands for 10 to 15 seconds.”

Leave bags outside upon returning home

When you get back to your house, leave the bags outside the door and carry the food in separately. “This can be annoying and take some time, but will decrease the chance that any particles could be hanging around on the plastic or paper bags,” says Dr Lisa Saff Koche, doctor of internal medicine, bariatrics and anti-ageing, and regenerative medicine.