COVID-19: Safe Grocery Shopping

More than 90% of Americans are currently under stay-at-home orders and non-essential businesses across the country have shut their doors. Grocery stores are among the few businesses that qualify as essential, though many have had to update their hours and in-store policies. It’s not uncommon to see a line outside of the grocery store with masked shoppers standing six feet apart.

Seniors are among the several groups who are especially vulnerable to both COVID-19 infection and severe symptoms. For this reason, many grocery chains have begun offering seniors-only shopping hours in addition to expanded delivery and pick-up options. If you have to make a trip to the grocery store — even during exclusive hours — health experts recommend a number of additional precautions. Remember that you should never go grocery shopping if you are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

At the Store

Social distancing, respiratory hygiene, and cleanliness guidelines are significantly more important when you’re out in public. Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth mask and keep a safe distance from other shoppers. If they’re offered, take advantage of sanitizing wipes to open freezer doors and disinfect your hands and shopping cart.

Bettina Fries, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook University, encourages all Americans to visit the grocery store less frequently and, if possible, buy enough food to last two or three weeks. Fries recommends going to the store “once or twice a week at most.”


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Though the CDC has recently updated its policy on masks (and many stores are enforcing a requirement), they have not changed their stance on gloves. There is still no evidence to suggest wearing gloves in public will eliminate or reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19. Fries notes, “gloves don’t really protect you because the virus sticks to your gloves the same way it sticks to your hands. Shoppers should, however, take care to touch as little as possible as they make their way through the store.

At Home

Regular hand washing is one the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your risk of infection. Experts recommend washing your hands for at least 20 seconds immediately after you return from the grocery store. Take particular care to wash your hands before and during any meal preparation. While COVID-19 is not food-borne, all seniors should follow the Food and Drug Administration’s usual guidelines for safe cooking.

Because COVID-19 particles can live on surfaces, many shoppers wonder if they should disinfect bags and packaging. It may provide peace of mind, but there is no evidence to suggest such actions are necessary. “You’re not going to eat the can,” says Fries, “as long as you wash your hands, you’ll be okay.”

The most important precaution seniors can take at home is avoiding unnecessary trips to public places. Flattening the curve is regarded as essential for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and keeping the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. Learn more about what it means to play your part in fighting COVID-19.