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How to Go to the Grocery Store

Susan Post Susan Post How to Go to the Grocery Store
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Grocery shopping has gone from a mundane routine of life to a panic-inducing experience. Should you wear gloves? Should you even go to the store? What about wiping down your groceries? 

Below we outline some of the best practices for staying safe while grocery shopping amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Plan Ahead: The Fine Line Between Stocking Up and Hoarding

First and foremost, try to limit the number of times you have to go to the grocery store. As leaving the house becomes an epic voyage of hand sanitizer and gloves, plan on grouping any other necessary shopping trips in your run to the store – pharmacy, gas station, etc. The goal is to leave the house as few times as possible – being bored is not a reason to go to the store. 

That brings us to the fine line between stocking up and hoarding. In an effort to limit trips, make a list before you leave for the store, planning out meals and other essentials you will need for the next one to two weeks. That does not mean buying 40 cans of beans, dozens and dozens of eggs or all the toilet paper you can find. (Good luck with that anyways; most stores have placed limits on the most in-demand items.) 

It’s important to be conscientious of low-income and elderly shoppers that may be on a fixed budget and cannot stock up or are only able to purchase certain products. A recent USA Today article looks at hoarding’s impact on low-income moms that are part of the federal WIC program.

Also, while Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen says there’s no shortage of food in the supply chain, now is not the time to expect all products to be available at all times.

“We’re ordering products; we can’t control when they come in (if they come in) and what we get,” says Jennifer Williams, owner of Weiland’s Market in Clintonville. “This has been a good reminder that sometimes we can’t get everything we want exactly when we want it.”

Curbside Pickup & Delivery

It is possible to avoid the grocery store altogether – with a little planning.

Many larger supermarkets were already offering curbside pickup and delivery options. Those stores are seeing a surge of demand, meaning the same-day or next-day options you once relied on are not an option. 

For example, a quick browse of pickup times on Kroger’s website estimates dates three to six days out, depending on the store.

Other stores, like Weiland’s, rely on third-party shopping and delivery apps like Instacart, with delivery times also varying widely.

“Wait times vary based on the demand,” says Williams. “I’ve heard customers say it’s been a wait time of several days and a wait time of several hours. I’d recommend avoiding busy order times, like right before the weekend.”

Small local grocers like The Hills Market Downtown are taking matters into their own hands. The store is offering call-ahead curbside pickup and free delivery in the 43215 zip code.

“Curbside is the best option to keep yourself safe and our employees safe,” says Amanda Anderson with The Hills.

Preparing for an In-Person Excursion

Rule number one of grocery shopping in the time of coronavirus: do not go to the grocery store if you are feeling sick. Protect yourself, other shoppers and the store’s employees.

If you can help it, grocery shopping also shouldn’t be a family affair, but a solo adventure. Limit the number of people that need to go on each trip. 

As for when you should go to the store – it’s hard to say. With most individuals working from home or out of work, normal schedules are out the window. When you should not go to the store is during times reserved for the elderly, immunocompromised, or healthcare workers, unless you fall into those groups.

Grocers are also relying on consumers to use state and federal guidance to make decisions about wearing masks or gloves to the store. (Personally, I’ve seen no protection to mask and gloves in recent weeks.)

The CDC “recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies).”

Just as important as wearing gloves – if not more so – is washing (or sanitizing) your hands before you put your gloves on and after you take them off. Also, don’t be that person that dumps their gloves or masks in the grocery store parking lot.

“We’d appreciate it if customers could dispose of their own used gloves, paper towels and sanitizing wipes so we don’t have to touch the materials,” Williams says.

You’re at the Store. Now What?

While at the grocery store, you should maintain social distancing as best you can. That’s about two cart lengths in grocery store units.

To help with this, some stores are implementing one-way aisle restrictions. Also be on the lookout for floor markers to help with distancing while in line, as well as other signs and indicators meant to help with customer flow.

Following the extended stay at home order that started on April 7, stores must also limit the number of customers in the space at any one time.

“We looked at what other grocers were doing, which is to use the fire code number or square footage,” Williams says. “We’re currently allowing 40 customers in the store, which is about one customer per 200 square feet.”

Large retailers like Kroger and Giant Eagle are capping the number of customers at 50% of building occupancy, and Walmart, at around 20% capacity.

During the pandemic, many stores are also making changes to their reusable bag policies. Giant Eagle has suspended the use of reusable bags. Kroger and Weiland’s are still allowing reusable bags, but having cashiers make the decision about whether to bag for customers or not.

I’m Home From the store! 

Wash your hands. Wash your hands again. Keep washing your hands. (Again, after you have properly disposed of your gloves and not left them in a cart or in the parking lot.)

Let the wiping begin. Grab some cleaner and wipe down surfaces you have touched before washing your hands or while at the store – cell phone, keys, steering wheel, etc.

A New England Journal of Medicine study measuring how long the coronavirus can live on different surfaces has some folks wiping down their groceries. It’s again a personal choice, but this CNN video has some tips for making it happen.

As for produce, Anderson says continue thoroughly washing produce as you always would. This Huffington Post article outlines why it’s not a good idea to wash your produce with soap. (Hello gastrointestinal issues – issue that could be mistaken for COVID-19 symptoms.)

Things to Keep in Mind

The coronavirus is not a food-borne illness. According to the CDC, “Currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.”

As should always be the case, be respectful of grocery store employees. Maintain distance, respect partitions and don’t get angry if a store is out of something. A thank you and a stay safe goes a long way – these folks are risking potential exposure to make sure you can continue to shop. 

That includes folks fulfilling curbside and delivery orders.

“Be patient with people who are shopping your orders, many of us are shopping multiple orders in one hour and texting and calling multiple people to make sure everyone has what they need,” Anderson says. “If possible, don’t be picky about specific brands to make it easier to fulfill orders. We are doing our best to get groceries shopped as quickly as possible.”

If you haven’t figured it out by now or are thinking of venturing to a store outside your normal rotation, here’s how local grocers to big chains are handling shopping during the coronavirus pandemic:

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