How to safely grocery shop during coronavirus according to a health department expert

The coronavirus pandemic has turned the task of grocery shopping on its head, as shoppers fear confined spaces full of high-touch surfaces and unscreened strangers.

The frenzy is begging a multitude of questions: Is produce safe to eat? When is the best time to shop? Do I need a mask? How do I prevent the virus from coming home with me?

Bill Snook, senior information and policy officer with the Kansas City Health Department, answers these questions and gives tips on safely grocery shopping in this climate.

Before You Shop…

Have a plan. Make a comprehensive grocery list to limit your outside exposure and keep you from heading to the store more than once a week.
Know when to go. “If you are immunocompromised or you’re over 65, try to find those times when it’s not as busy,” Snook says. Call your grocery store to see if they have special hours for at-risk shoppers, typically first thing in the morning.

When You Get to the Store…

Sanitize your hands. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in your car and use it before you get out.
Cover your mouth. If you don’t need an N95 respirator mask, use a cloth mask or a makeshift bandana or scarf mask. Try not to touch it. “Pulling the mask down to your chin and then readjusting it doesn’t help because any particles that are on the outside of the mask will then touch your face,” Snook says.
Skip the gloves. “Gloves don’t really work once you touch a surface that may have COVID-19 on it,” Snook says. “At that point, it’s transferred to the glove, which now contaminates everything it touches.” Instead, he says frequent hand washing will do the trick.

In the Store…

Follow store guidelines. Grocery stores are taking action to prevent further spread of the virus, such as installing plexiglass shields on registers, prohibiting reusable grocery bags and using arrows to make aisles one-way.
Keep your distance. Be mindful of how close you’re standing or walking next to people. A few local grocery stores—like Hy-Vee and Cosentino’s—utilize social distance-spaced ground markers.
Don’t touch more than you need to. This comes with having a prepared list. Try not to touch any more items outside of what you’re trying to take home with you.

When You Leave…

Sanitize (again). The hand sanitizer comes into play again: As soon as you get back to your car, sanitize your hands.
Have a dedicated spot for groceries in your car. Leave room in your trunk for groceries or store them in the backseat if you don’t plan on having backseat passengers anytime soon.

When You Get Home…

Take off your shoes and change your clothes. “I’m not advocating for this, but it’s something you can do if you want to be extra careful,” Snook says. Leave your shoes outside in the sun and throw your clothes directly into your washing machine.
Have two sides to your kitchen. Snook recommends having a clean side whose countertops have already been wiped down and is ready for food prep and then another side to put your groceries to prevent cross-contamination.
Prep produce. Instead of trying to decontaminate your fresh fruits and vegetables, wash them under cold water. “Doing so will most likely kill the virus,” Snook says. “The FDA has reassured that food is safe.”
Disinfect. This includes your car door handles, steering wheel, doorknob and phone—especially if you used it for your grocery shopping list.

If You Get Groceries Delivered…

Avoid direct handoff. Instead, have the delivery dropped at your front door.
Order early. Try to set your pickup and delivery for first thing in the morning—there’s less of a chance that those handling your groceries were exposed to anything.
Pay electronically. “When possible, pay and tip through the app to avoid passing cards and cash,” Snook says.

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