8 Grocery Etiquette Rules You Might Be Breaking Right Now
Avoid these grocery store faux pas during the coronavirus pandemic.
While it's important to follow your state and local public health guidelines, stay at home when you can and practice social distancing during the novel coronavirus pandemic, you still probably need to leave the house to get groceries (and some fresh air!).
If you are going outdoors and into public spaces, you want to make sure you're being respectful of those around you and of the store's policies to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and reduce exposure yourself.
Beyond just wearing a mask in the grocery store, here are a few other etiquette rules to keep in mind during the coronavirus pandemic.
Practice the Six-Feet-Apart Rule
If someone is already browsing down the cereal box aisle to pick up their favorite bran of choice, don't crowd them. Stay six feet away and wait for them to finish grabbing what box they want before swooping in. "Once you have come near them, you have invaded their 'safety' bubble. And if you are an asymptomatic infected person, you could infect them," says Dr. Niket Sonpal, MD, a NYC Internist and Gastroenterologist.
Wait your turn or go get another food item on your list and come back to the section that was occupied prior. And if it seems to always be crowded, ask if you can step in for a moment to reach for something off the shelf, rather than just walking over.
Stop Touching All the Goods
Resist the urge to check out all the apples, melons and avocados up for grabs. "As a registered dietitian, I want nothing more than to feel (and even smell!) my produce before selecting it for purchase, but during a pandemic, we need to use our eyes and take our best guess," says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
Though there's no evidence suggesting you can get the coronavirus through fresh produce, you should be mindful of what you're touching at the grocery store since the virus may be able to live on surfaces for several hours and possibly even days, according to the CDC.
Check Out Traffic Patterns
Before the coronavirus, you could freely zigzag your shopping cart throughout the store. But now, some stores are instating one-way aisles to prevent shoppers from crashing into each other, and there are even placemarks for where to stand at check-out to keep shoppers six feet apart.
"Just like on the roads, obey these signs," says Sonpal, as this respects the store's policies and your fellow shoppers.
"You may be desensitized to signs in grocery stores since you're used to them all being related to sales, but start paying attention to them and looking for markings on the floor," says Jones.
Don't Go for WIC Goods
What's WIC? "The abbreviation means that it's approved for purchase with Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) funds. This helps provide nutritious food to pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women with low income," says Sonpal.
If you see certain foods marked with the WIC symbol, you should consider substituting these items for a different brand to make sure that approved items are available for families who need them. If you can, it's also worth avoiding shopping during the first few days of the month since that's when many WIC and other food assistance benefits kick in.
Clean Your Cart for the Next Customer
This is not so different than wiping down your gym equipment for the next user. "The virus that causes COVID-19 can remain active on plastic and stainless surfaces for up to 3 days," says Sonpal.
So, wipe down the handle of your cart as well as any other surfaces that people are likely to touch, unless your specific store has you stash them somewhere for someone on staff to clean before putting back with the fresh carts. If this feature is not applicable to your store, wipe it down! You should also be wiping down your cart handle before you start shopping.
Be Respectful to Staff
While you should always treat the grocery store staff with respect, you really should now, as they are essential workers who are helping all of us out. So, if you're feeling anxious or you can't find what you're looking for, please be patient and kind to staff.
The same goes at the cash register. "Do not be the ultimate 'Covidiot' and treat the cashiers with impatience and disrespect," says Sonpal. Let them take their time to ring you up and pack up bags. Do not make their lives difficult, and be thankful for their hard work.
Try and Shop Quickly if You Can
"As someone who loves grocery shopping and checking out the latest items, this is difficult for me, too. But, shopping already takes people much longer than normal, and it's important to be considerate and shop more quickly so others feel comfortable getting to the items they need in a timely manner," says Jones.
We know getting out of the house is nice, but please don't roam around the store simply to pass the time. Have a list, know what you need and get in and get out to make shopping easier (and safer) for everyone.
Don't Bring Your Own Bags
"While this rule varies store to store and even by state for the same chains, some have temporarily suspended use of reusable bags in an effort to limit items coming into the store," says Jones.
Yes, it's a trade-off, but right now it's best to limit excess bag and hand exposure for DIY packing and materials. "If you're eco-conscious, shop at stores that offer paper as an option, and then use the paper bags for arts and crafts for your kids," she says.
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 CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.