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Coronavirus: how to shop safely at the supermarket

The changes stores have made 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 – and now the mandatory wearing of face masks – supermarkets around the UK have adapted their stores to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

For a while, shopping for food was one of the only reasons you could leave your home under lockdown.

Even though you can do much more outside now, you should still take every precaution when you do go to the supermarket to keep yourself, other shoppers and the store staff safe.

Here, we 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 have implemented to make shopping safer, and eight things you can do to help.

Seven changes supermarkets have made

1. Mandatory face masks

The latest development in supermarket safety means that face coverings are now mandatory in shops in England and Scotland (but not in Wales or Northern Ireland).

The rule is based on a body of evidence that suggests masks can help reduce the spread of the virus indoors, so it’s important that supermarkets enforce it.

2. Floor markings

You’re probably used to the black and yellow ‘crime scene’-style tape on the floor in the supermarket by now.

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.

Although the government in England allows one-metre social distancing if ‘mitigating measures’ are used, supermarkets have said they will stick to their two-metre signage for now.

Initially, Tesco was enforcing a one-way system in its stores to further help with social distancing, but it’s recently got rid of this.

3. Queuing for entry

Waiting in line to get into the supermarket is now the norm, with caps on the number of people allowed in stores at any time and ‘one in one out’ systems when stores are at capacity.

Every major supermarket has rolled this out.

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

Many stores are also using 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, and some have installed them between self-service checkouts.

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.

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

Many stores now provide 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.

Eight 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. Wear a mask

It’s now illegal to shop without a mask in Scotland or England due to a growing body of evidence indicating that covering your face can reduce coronavirus transmission.

You can make a mask at home if you don’t already have one.

2. Stick to the two-metre rule

Even though ‘one metre plus’ is now allowed in England, supermarkets are so far sticking to two-metre social distancing. Keeping your distance from others, especially when indoors, is one of the best steps you can take to stop the spread.

Floor markings and signage should make it easier for you.

3. Shop infrequently

The UK government has gone from advising us to shop as little as we can to encouraging us to get out and spend money. But if you’re worried about catching coronavirus, it makes sense to keep supermarket trips to a minimum.

Although online delivery slots were hard to come by throughout lockdown, you might now be able to get one. If you’re vulnerable to COVID-19, you should be given priority.

4. Wash your hands

Experts stress that this is still one of the most important things you can do to stay safe. Before you leave the house and as soon as you get home, wash your hands thoroughly with soap for at least 20 seconds.

5. Only touch food you are going to buy

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

6. Buy only what you need

Even though the empty shelves of early lockdown are long gone, buying more than what you need could contribute to more supply chain issues – especially if there’s a second wave later in the year.

And of course, it makes sense to keep your costs down and avoid waste.

7. 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.

8. 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, 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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