Going outside for food shopping is one of the few things deemed acceptable during the COVID-19 lockdown.
But how to shop safely is a topic worrying many at the moment.
Outside of trips to the supermarket, vital medical outings, or one daily form of exercise outside, government advice is to stay in our homes as much as possible. The aim is to keep people as healthy as possible, and reduce the spread of coronavirus.
But if we’re still heading to the shops for vital supplies, how can we be sure we’re protecting ourselves (and others), from the virus as best as possible?
Supermarkets have brought in their own measures to protect customers and staff – such as 2 metre markings on the ground to encourage social distancing, cleaning stations for trolleys and baskets, and screens in front of checkouts.
But it’s unclear how far other measures, that customers themselves can take, really help in reducing the spread.
w&h spoke to a GP, to work out whether we really need to wear a mask and gloves to go shopping – and if we need to be sanitising our groceries after we return to our homes…
How to shop safely during the coronavirus pandemic
Dr Aragona Giuseppe, GP and medical advisor at Prescription Doctor, said, “When it comes to doing your weekly food shop during this time it’s incredibly important to take extra care to ensure you are not putting yourself in danger of infection.”
Do I need to wear gloves to the supermarket?
According to Dr Aragona, putting on gloves whilst at the supermarket can help to avoid harmful bacteria. He said, “I would also advise putting on plastic surgical gloves as soon as you exit your car, or are about to head into the store, especially before you touch a trolley as the handles on these could potentially hold harmful bacteria.”
It means we should also be making use of the cleaning stations set up in supermarkets, to do our best to sanitise our trolleys or baskets before shopping.
However, some medical experts warn that wearing gloves could be problematic, in that you may forget to not touch your face whilst wearing them.
Gloves can still hold bacteria in the same way that your hands can, so you shouldn’t automatically assume you are safe and protected whilst wearing them. The key thing is not to touch your face, or phone, after being in a public place, and touching things such as food tins. So perhaps refrain from wearing the gloves if they’re going to stop you from remembering to wash your hands after returning home.
Should I wear a face mask to the supermarket?
The topic of face masks is hotly debated around the world during the current pandemic.
Official UK government advice is that you do not need to wear a face mask out in public, as there is no evidence that it can protect you from getting coronavirus.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, a specialist in pandemics, said at a recent daily briefing, “There is no evidence that general wearing of face masks by the public who are well affects the spread of the disease in our society. What matters is social distancing.”
“In terms of the hard evidence and what the UK Government recommends, we do not recommend face masks for general wearing by the public.”
The World Health Organisation also states that face masks do not stop healthy people from getting COVID-19.
However, in America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), does recommend people wear cloth face coverings in places where it is difficult to maintain social distancing.
They say, “It is critical to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus. CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.
“Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.”
Do I need to remove my clothes when I return from shopping?
Some have been left wondering whether we need to remove all trace of the outside if returning from a shopping trip. But Dr Aragona suggests that only if you think you’ve been in close contact with an infected person, should you do this.
He explained, “Unless you have come in close proximity with anyone or had someone cough or sneeze very close to you where you think droplets could have landed on your clothes, I wouldn’t worry too much about changing out of them.”
Should I be sanitising my shopping items?
Dr Aragona suggests, “In terms of sanitising all your products once you get home, if you yourself are high risk, or you are self-isolating with someone high risk – then yes I would suggest wiping down your goods with anti-bacterial wipes or hand sanitiser and a tissue.”
The same may apply to reusable shopping bags, too. “If you have bags for life that you use for shopping, keep these in a separate room in the house or even better in the garage so that you can separate them from your daily life in case they have any harmful bacteria sitting on them. You may also want to wash them or wipe them down with anti-bac.”
It might be helpful to sanitise items you took with you to the supermarket as well, such as your bank card and/or phone.
However, if you or a member of your household is not necessarily high-risk, it’s important to remember that the risk of transmission via food packaging – be it takeaway packaging or tins, etc – is still considered low.
Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor in the department of population medicine at Harvard Medical School, told The Guardian, “At this point, there’s no evidence that transmission is happening through food packaging.
“That said, we know the virus can remain viable on surfaces for hours or even days, so there’s a hypothetical risk of transmission through touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Better than disinfecting, the thing we keep saying over and over again is to just wash your hands.”
The New England Journal of Medicine just published a study which looked into how long the virus can stay on surfaces, and found that it could still be detected on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on plastic and steep for almost 72 hours. However, researchers did note that the incidence of the virus dramatically decreased during that time.