During the coronavirus pandemic, one of the main places people are still frequenting are grocery stores. And yes, these are essential versus frivolous visits that take place. A recent article in The Atlantic said reports of grocery workers testing positive with COVID-19 are growing, citing stores in Seattle, Denver, and Portland. So is grocery shopping safe? And by frequenting these stores, are we putting others at risk?
Potential Risks and Protections
“Though shoppers might worry about infecting themselves by handling the same apple or Cheerios box as someone else, health experts say transmission through food or its wrapping is largely avoidable,” The Atlantic states. But then there’s the unknown – have other shoppers intentionally coughed on or licked food items?
Adding to concerns was this guideline released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “To ensure continuity of operations of essential functions, CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.”
Then there are reports of disruptions at myriad meat processors, including Tyson and JBS USA, due to employees testing positive for coronavirus.
So what steps are being taken to protect consumers from exposure to COVID-19 as it pertains to their food supplies?
There are safe grocery shopping methods, which should be followed no matter how you choose to procure your food supplies. These steps take effort and time, so plan ahead for smooth shopping. But here are actions being taken to protect the human-to-human transfer of germs in these vital businesses.
Choose Venues Requiring Face Masks & Gloves… For Everyone
Starting today, April 10, Los Angeles residents must follow a new edict from Mayor Eric Garcetti: Face coverings must be worn when visiting essential businesses, including grocery stores, pharmacies, laundromats and hardware stores.
“We need to protect every worker on the front lines of this crisis,” Mayor Garcetti said. “Each one of us is a first responder in this emergency. Every employer should keep employees safe, and so should Angelenos patronizing these businesses. Cover up. Keep your distance. Save lives. It’s that simple.”
Echoing this advice, California Governor Gavin Newsom said, “We have been very clear that if you are going into an environment where physical distancing is all but impossible, for example, into a grocery store with small aisles and a long queue, that we do believe it would be additive and beneficial to have a face covering.”
Also required to wear masks are employees of grocery stores. The stores must supply protective wear or reimburse employees who purchase their own.
An extra level of protection to consider when shopping are disposable gloves.
Grocery Delivery and Curbside Pick-up
Many grocery stores offer delivery, though it’s not the instant gratification delivery many have grown used to in non-coronavirus days. Besides lag time, reports, like that of Amazon warehouse workers testing positive for COVID-19, suggest there are still risks by procuring groceries in this manner.
The same holds true for curbside pick-up service, through which shoppers order online, then pick-up outside the store.
If you visit grocery stores now, salad bars and self-serve hot food areas are shut down. Sneeze guards, however, are going strong. A central place you’ll find them is wherever shoppers interact with grocery employees, be that at the meat counter or checkout lines.
Limited Admittance and Spaced Lines
Lines outside of Costco and Trader Joe’s stores look like those found at amusement parks, with barriers directing lines and separating those in queue. Along the way are lines of tape serving as indicators of six-foot spacing. At the entrance, a count is kept of customers going in and those going out. While this is a great way to deal with social distancing pre-entry, it can break down once customers enter the store and aren’t monitored.
What to look for when choosing a grocery store to frequent – those that are constantly disinfecting shopping carts, keypads, conveyor belts, and other highly-touched areas.
Robots Appear in Grocery Stores During Coronavirus
Several grocers and big box stores, including Walmart, Schnucks Markets, Albertsons, Stop & Shop and Broad Branch Markets are turning to robots to both lower the stress on overtaxed employees and reduce human-to-human contact. Larger robots can complete tasks like washing floors and cleaning the stores, or artificial intelligence that scans and monitors supplies.
“I strongly believe that the current health crisis will accelerate the adoption of robots in retail,” Steven Keith Platt, research director for the Retail Analytics Council and adjunct professor at Northwestern University, told CNN. “Short-term, this is to address health concerns [of workers and customers