Good behavior in the grocery store matters more than ever. Here's how to be a more considerate shopper.

By Mary Claire Lagroue
April 03, 2020
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supermarket shopping
Credit: ArtMarie / GETTY IMAGES

Before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, shopping for groceries felt therapeutic to me. I looked forward to dawdling down aisles, reading labels for the thrill of it, and stocking up on chocolate (and other necessities) for the second time in a week.

Now? I find myself swerving an almost-full cart in one jerky u-turn after the next to avoid other shoppers, wishing the aisles were wider. I stare at the sparse shelves wondering whether I *need* more oatmeal. I had never, ever thought about the ethics of stockpiling oatmeal before. But here we are. 

I'm learning, though, that being a more considerate shopper doesn't take much effort. Here's how we can all do our part during these tough times.

1. Limit your time in the store.

The less time you spend at the store, the better. Go in with an idea of what you want to buy. Consider making a grocery list, grouping items that are already grouped together in the store. In other words, separate your list by nonperishables, produce, meat, and so on. This habit will be useful even when we're not facing a pandemic.

2. Go to the store less often.

Each time you go into a store, you're exposing yourself (and possibly others) to the novel coronavirus. Plan to shop for groceries no more than once per week, at as few stores as possible. If your go-to grocer is out of broccoli and black beans, for example, don't visit a second store just for these foods. Replace sold-out items with others when you can, or just move on.

3. Don't buy more than you need.

Experts tell us there's enough food for everyone. While stockpiling groceries can be tempting, remember that you can always go back for more. Of course, you still want to be prepared for a possible quarantine. So, if you don't have enough food at home for two weeks, now's the time to invest in nonperishables and frozen food just in case.

4. Don't bring your whole household.

Shop solo when you can. Fewer people means fewer distractions. And fewer distractions means less time in the store. It also means fewer people possibly exposed to the virus, which keeps everyone in your household safer.

5. Keep a safe distance from others.

When you're steering a shopping cart down narrow aisles, maintaining a six-foot distance from others can be difficult. So, do your best to stay at least three feet away from people, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends.

6. Bring your own bags.

Help stores keep bags in stock by remembering to bring your reusable bags. You can even use sturdy bags in place of a shopping cart to spare you the extra germs. You can also offer to bag your own groceries. And remember to wash those bags frequently to keep you and the food you put into them safe.

7. Don't put items back on shelves.

Once you pick up an item, consider it yours. If you've been exposed to the virus, touching items can spread germs to those who might pick up what you set down. So, be extra cautious and take a little time to observe items before you reach for them. For example, look for bruises on produce instead of feeling for soft spots. We know the virus can survive on objects, the Harvard School of Public Health says. We don't have the research to prove that the virus will spread through food or packaging, at least not yet. So, it's a good idea to avoid touching food just in case.

8. Avoid the WIC label when you can.

When you're glancing at the price of an item, check for a small (but significant) detail: the letters "WIC." Foods with this label have been approved for the WIC Program, or Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Basically, WIC provides healthy foods for low-income women, infants, and children. The program covers some brands and not others. So, if you can choose brands that aren't WIC-marked, you may be helping those who already have limited access to food.

9. Clean your cart after, too.

COVID-19 can live on hard surfaces (think plastic and steel) for up to three days, the Harvard School of Public Health says. If you clean your cart with disinfecting wipes before you shop, consider being a good Samaritan and wiping it down after you use it, too.