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Despite the global pandemic, shopping for groceries and other household items is necessary. Here are 5 tips for accomplishing the task safely.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do everyday things, like grocery shopping. You may be wondering: Should I wear gloves? Can I use reusable bags? Should I disinfect my groceries? Can I get the coronavirus from touching items in the store?

This once simple task can now feel stressful. But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are our tips to make your shopping trip as safe (and worry-free) as possible:

1. Make a list and shop quickly

Making a grocery list ahead of time will help you move through the store as efficiently as possible. See our tips for stocking up and meal planning.

“The less time you spend in the store, the less risk you pose to yourself and others,” says Dr. Stanley Martin, system director of infectious diseases at Geisinger.

While moving through the store, remember to follow social distancing guidelines.

“Maintain at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others, including grocery store employees,” says Dr. Martin. “If possible, you should also shop alone to not only reduce your family’s risk of infection, but for others in the store, too.”

2. Wear a mask and skip the gloves

The CDC recommends wearing a face mask or a cloth face covering when you go out in public, especially to grocery stores, to help slow to spread of COVID-19. In fact, some grocery stores now require shoppers to wear a mask.

“Because people can be infected with the virus but not show symptoms right away, wearing a mask can help protect others from getting sick,” explains Dr. Martin.

Wondering if you need to wear gloves? Skip them in favor of using hand sanitizer or washing your hands before entering the store, after you leave and once you get home.

“Gloves can give us a false sense of safety,” says Dr. Martin. “Once you touch something with your gloved hand, the glove is contaminated and then, you can contaminate other items like your phone, wallet or keys without realizing.”

If you choose to wear gloves, be mindful of what you’re touching. And be sure to remove them properly by turning them inside out as you remove them from your hands.

3. Sanitize your cart and hands

Before shopping, sanitize the handle of your cart or basket. Many grocery stores are doing this for customers now or providing sanitary wipes for you, but feel free to bring your own wipes and hand sanitizer with you.

“And be sure to sanitize your hands after you clean your cart,” adds Dr. Martin. “Then avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth until you can sanitize or wash your hands again.”

If possible, don’t use your cell phone while in the store. This not only prevents possibly contaminating your phone, but also keeps your hands and device away from your face. This means bringing a hand-written grocery list that you can throw away later.

4. Don’t worry about disinfecting your groceries

Most infectious disease specialists agree that the greatest risk when grocery shopping is being in the store with people who may have COVID-19, not the items on the shelves.

“While it’s possible to get COVID-19 from contaminated surfaces, you’re more likely to get it from respiratory droplets from another person,” says Dr. Martin. “That’s why practicing social distancing is important.”

If you practice proper hand hygiene, including washing your hands after putting your groceries away, before cooking and before eating, your risk of being infected with COVID-19 from your groceries is low.

If you want to wipe your groceries down, it’s best to avoid using disinfecting wipes, which are intended for hard surfaces, and use soap and water instead. If you have fresh fruits and veggies, wash them with water only.

5. Disinfect your reusable grocery bags

While reusable grocery bags are great for the environment, some precautions must be taken to keep them clean and germ-free. Follow these tips when using reusable bags:

  • Wash your reusable bags often — either by hand with hot soapy water or in the washing machine.
  • After unpacking your bags at home, clean all surfaces they were on.
  • Wash your hands after putting away your groceries.
  • Store your bags in a clean, dry location.
  • Don’t keep your bags in the trunk of your car.

“Some stores have banned the use of reusable bags during this time,” adds Dr. Martin. “So be sure to follow the guidelines your grocery store has in place.”

Next steps:

For the latest on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus Resource Center
Is it safe to seek medical care now? Learn more.
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COVID-19 updates: Visit Geisinger's Coronavirus Resource Center for the latest information and helpful resources.