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Coronavirus: how to shop safely at the supermarket

The changes stores are making and steps you can take to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when grocery shopping

Coronavirus: how to shop safely at the supermarket

From floor markers to checkout screens, supermarkets around the UK have adapted their stores to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Shopping for food is one of the only reasons you can leave your home under the current coronavirus lockdown rules – and it’s vital to make sure you’re careful about how you do it to keep yourself, other shoppers and the store staff safe.

Here, we take a look at what each supermarket is doing and the steps you can take to make sure your grocery shopping trip is as safe as possible.

Is shopping for food dangerous?

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published guidance for food businesses, outlining how supermarkets can help feed the nation while reducing the spread of COVID-19.

According to the FSA, it’s unlikely that you can catch coronavirus from food, and it’s not known to be transmitted by food packaging.

But without significant changes – many of which supermarkets have already undertaken – the disease could still spread in supermarkets, due to people coming into contact with each other.

Below are seven key changes supermarkets are implementing to make shopping safer, and seven things you can do to help.

Seven changes supermarkets have made

1. Floor markings

Last time you shopped, you may have noticed black and yellow ‘crime scene’-style tape on the floor.

These floor markings have been put in place to keep everyone in the store a safe distance away from each other while they’re shopping and working.

The government says the public must stay at least two metres (six feet) apart from people they don’t live with at all times.

Asda and Tesco have floor markings spaced two metres apart, while Co-op’s are one metre apart in aisles and two metres apart in queues.

Tesco is also using floor markings to guide customers around stores in certain directions.

Other supermarkets are advising shoppers to keep two metres apart from one another without actually using floor tape in every store.

2. One-way aisles

Tesco has introduced a one-way system in the aisles of some stores, making it easier for shoppers to maintain distance from each other and reducing the risk of people coming from opposite directions bumping into each other.

So far, Tesco is the only UK supermarket to announce this measure, but other chains may follow suit.

3. Queuing for entry

Large lines outside supermarkets are becoming the norm, as many chains introduce caps on the number of people allowed in store at one time, and ‘one in one out’ systems when stores are at capacity.

Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose have rolled this out nationwide.

Some chains have employed queue marshals to ensure social distancing is observed by everyone waiting to go in.

Some stores have used floor tape or traffic cones to mark out where customers should stand while queuing.

4. Protective screens

Perspex screens have been installed at checkouts across the country to protect cashiers, as they’re unlikely to be seated two metres away from shoppers.

Most supermarkets have installed screens between the cashier and customer at checkouts, or announced plans to do so.

On checkouts where cashiers would usually sit back-to-back, many supermarkets have closed every other till so that staff can maintain a safe distance from each other, as well as customers.

But Tesco has said it is installing screens between cashiers, too, so that more tills can stay open to reduce queueing time.

5. Priority shopping for NHS and the elderly

Many supermarkets have changed their operating hours, often reserving time slots exclusively for NHS staff or vulnerable and elderly shoppers.

Find the full list of supermarkets and their priority shopping hours here.

Aldi is also giving NHS and emergency services workers priority in queues.

Many supermarkets have, or are working on, online systems to prioritise elderly and vulnerable customers.

6. Improved hygiene

Tesco is providing in-store hand sanitising facilities for staff and customers.

Other stores are giving staff access to hand sanitiser and encouraging regular hand-washing in order to stop the spread of germs.

All the supermarkets have said they’ve stepped up their in-store cleaning operations, with many focusing on areas that people frequently touch such as self-checkout screens.

7. Household shopper limits

Aldi, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have introduced a ‘one adult per household per shop’ rule in stores. Asda and Tesco have also asked customers to shop on their own where possible.

The rule is intended to make it easier for people to maintain social distancing, both in-store and in queues outside. It will also help one-in-one-out queues move more quickly.

Children who cannot stay at home are still welcome.

Seven things you can do to make your supermarket visit safer and more enjoyable

While you’re in store, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the chances of catching or spreading coronavirus.

1. Stick to the two-metre rule

You must stay two metres away from others at all times under the current lockdown measures.

Floor markings and signage should make that easier for you.

2. Shop infrequently

Plan your trip carefully to make sure you buy all the food and essential items you need for the entire week, or longer.

Lockdown rules do allow you to leave your home to shop for groceries, but you’re still advised to do so as little as you possibly can.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has asked people to shop online where possible. However, all the supermarkets’ online delivery slots are sold out for the next few weeks, meaning some individual retailers have asked healthy shoppers to shop in person and leave delivery slots for those unable to leave their homes.

3. Wash your hands

Before you leave the house and as soon as you get home, wash your hands thoroughly with soap for at least 20 seconds.

4. Only touch food you are going to buy

This will stop you leaving germs on items other people touch later.

5. Buy only what you need

You’ve probably seen empty toilet paper, pasta and canned goods shelves over the last few weeks.

Some have put this down to needless stockpiling, while others have pointed out that for as long as everyone is having to eat all their food at home and restaurants are closed, it’s inevitable that we’ll buy more from supermarkets.

Whatever your view, it’s undeniable that by buying only what you need, you’ll help ensure there’s enough left for other people and avoid wasting food.

6. Pay by card where possible

Supermarkets are encouraging shoppers to make purchases with card payments.

The £30 contactless limit has been raised, meaning you can pay for up to £45-worth of shopping without touching anything but your own card.

For those who rely on cash to pay, some supermarkets have advised using self-checkout machines so staff don’t have to handle the cash directly.

7. Be kind

Supermarket staff are putting their own health at risk by serving the public every day.

You might have to wait longer than usual to pay or even get into the store, and you may well not find everything on your shopping list – but this isn’t the store staff’s fault.

A smile and a ‘Thank you’ will go a long way to keeping supermarket workers’ spirits up as they work tirelessly to feed the nation.

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