We reached out to some of the nation's most popular grocery stores to find out how to shop safely to protect yourself, store employees and other shoppers.

Lauren Wicks
Updated March 23, 2020
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We're all trying to find our new normal during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of us have suddenly become home-schooling parents working from home or are out of a job indefinitely. Even our everyday rituals have changed—we're streaming workouts from our local fitness studios, hosting virtual happy hours and holding off on all our appointments until further notice.

Grocery shopping is one of those basic rituals we never thought twice about until recently, but we need to be vigilant in protecting ourselves, other shoppers and store employees. Here are 10 ways to practice safe (and friendly) shopping next time you need to stock up.

Consider Grocery Delivery or Pickup

Grocery shopping from your computer or mobile device is ultimately the safest way to ensure you're not exposing yourself—or others—to the virus. Most grocery stores are offering curbside pickup and/or delivery services to protect patrons and employees during this time, even if it's not a usual perk.

Grocery delivery or pickup services are especially beneficial for higher-risk populations, such as the elderly and those with chronic health conditions. You can also avoid contact by having the person delivering your groceries leave them at the door. Just be sure to tip them electronically!

Wear a Mask

The CDC recommends that people wear cloth masks when in public. They provide detailed instructions on how to make a homemade mask and how to properly secure your mask. This preventative measure is considered especially important in highly trafficked areas, such as the grocery store. Making a homemade mask helps ensure that you are not taking away a mask that could be used by a healthcare professional, as supplies are low in many areas. It's also important to avoid touching your face while wearing a mask, and washing your mask between each use.

Wash Your Hands Before and After Grocery Shopping

Health experts agree that properly washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to stave off COVID-19. Washing your hands before grocery shopping will better protect other shoppers and employees, while washing your hands after grocery shopping will help stop the spread of germs you may have picked up on your trip. Check out our article on how to wash your hands correctly for a refresher.

Take Advantage of Sanitizing Wipes and Stations

A spokesperson from The Fresh Market told us their stores have enhanced their cleaning and disinfecting protocols for high-touch areas such as refrigerator doors, grocery carts and basket handles, and each store has free disinfectant wipes for guests to use when entering and leaving. Be sure to sanitize the handle of your grocery cart or basket and your hands before and after shopping.

Keep Your Hands to Yourself as Much as Possible

Social distancing rules still apply in the grocery store, so a friendly wave is all that's needed if you run into your neighbor in the cereal aisle. Additionally, it's just as important to avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes if you can help it. Infectious Disease Specialist Amira Albert Roess, Ph.D., M.P.H., previously told us touching your face is one of the most common ways to introduce an illness. Be sure to cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue. If you need help reaching or finding something, ask an employee.

Shop During Low-Traffic Hours

While there's probably no such thing as "normal" traffic hours at the grocery store these days, it's worth calling your local grocery store and asking them when a good time to come in would be. Hours are likely different during this time, as stores need to spend more time on new inventory, cleaning and sanitizing protocols.

Be sure to ask about any "senior hours" your store is offering—most chains are designating certain periods of time so elderly customers can shop safely—and avoid making a grocery run during those times, unless you're a senior yourself. If you do find yourself showing up during these hours, you may want to consider shopping at another store out of courtesy.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Pay with a Credit or Debit Card

This one may feel a little nitpicky, but it's worth taking the extra precaution to pay with a card over cash—and Apple Pay is even better. Eliminating the need to exchange bills and coins allows you to keep your distance and avoid the spread of germs.

Disinfect All Nonporous Containers and Any Surfaces Your Grocery Bags Have Touched

New research shows the new coronavirus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and for two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. Washing all nonporous grocery packaging with soap and water, then washing your hands and any surfaces your groceries have touched is essential to prevent the virus from spreading in your home. Don't forget to keep washing your hands as you use these items—that cardboard box of pasta can still harbor the virus through the next day.

Stop Stockpiling

Stockpiling your home with everything your family could possibly need for the next few weeks may seem like a good idea, but it's important to be mindful of other shoppers. Some people are mustering all their strength (and risking exposure) to make one grocery shopping trip this week and this might be the one time they can load up on canned goods, fridge staples and, ahem, toilet paper.

Additionally, your local food shelf likely relies on the donations of grocery stores, who can't give as much as they normally would if everyone is hoarding. Share the wealth and shop for no more than two weeks of food and supplies at a time.

Wash Your Reusable Bags After Every Shopping Trip

You should wash your reusable grocery bags after every shopping trip—even if you just picked up a few nonperishable items. While the coronavirus lasts longer on hard, nonporous surfaces, it can still linger on soft surfaces like blankets, clothing and your tote bags. Check out the American Cleaning Institute for their tips on cleaning various types of reusable bags. Some stores are no longer allowing customers to bring or use reusable bags, so be sure to check with your local grocer for any updated policies.

The situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change quickly; it's possible that information or data has changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.