How to safely nail your supermarket shop in lockdown
FoodTribe's guide to keeping up with changes to grocery shopping during lockdown
With food delivery services around the UK overwhelmed by demand, many of us have little choice other than to leave our homes to buy food amid the COVID-19 crisis lockdown.
Stockpiling loo roll, beans and pasta seems to be a thing of the past now, but social distancing rules aren't going anywhere. The supermarket is the place where we encounter the largest number of people, and so the risk of coming into contact with someone who is infected is greater here.
The government message is shifting from “Stay at Home” to “Stay Alert,” but how do we stay safe while keeping out cupboards full during the coronavirus? Here is FoodTribe’s supermarket shopping guide.
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Wear gloves and only touch food you're going to buy
For the risk of telling you all how to suck eggs, it's important to only touch food you are going to buy. This will stop you leaving germs on items other people touch later.
One study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found the virus was still detectable on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on plastic and steel for up to 72 hours. This means the virus could live on grocery packages.
The thing is, scientists still say person-to-person transmission — inhaling droplets from an infected person who has sneezed or coughed nearby — is far more likely than the virus infecting someone from a surface.
To be on the safe side, wear gloves when shopping, whether that's a disposable latex pair, a leather pair, or a pair of marigolds you disinfect between each trip.
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Watch out for virus hotspots
Experts say there are virus hotspots in supermarkets. These are places where anything is being significantly handled by anybody else, such as trolley handles, basket handles, chiller cabinet door handles, self-checkout, till conveyors, and the buttons on the chip and pin machine.
Wipe down the trolley or basket handle before you touch it with a surface cleaning wipe or spray disinfectant, which is provided at the entrance of most supermarkets.
Use contactless when you can so you are not keying in numbers. At the beginning of lockdown, the limit for contactless transactions was raised from £30 to £45. If you are paying with Apple Pay or using your phone, make sure you clean the phone afterwards, because after shopping you will have touched it with dirty hands.
Wash your hands before you leave the house, and as soon as you get home, unpack your shopping and remove your gloves. Then, wash your hands. And make sure not to touch your face while in the shop.
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To wear a mask or not to wear a mask?
There has been a lot of debate about whether masks reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. The consensus seems to be: a mask probably doesn't protect you from getting infected, but it can reduce the risk of transmission to others if you are infectious yourself. It will catch any unexpected coughs and sneezes.
Remember, people who have coronavirus can be asymptomatic, meaning they don't show symptoms. Masks have a psychological benefit, with some people feeling safer and more responsible if they wear one.
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Know the best times to visit the supermarket
Several supermarkets have amended their opening hours over the lockdown period. Tesco has stated the first opening hour of all its supermarket opening times will be dedicated to elderly and vulnerable customers every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, except at Express stores.
Sainsbury’s supermarkets will remain open to the elderly between 8am and 9am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday ongoing, and many other supermarkets have followed suit. If you fall into one of these categories, it's worth checking the supermarket's website to see what times you have priority to shop.
Respect hours dedicated to vulnerable groups and key workers. Googling your local supermarket branch and checking the ‘Popular Times’ tool can often help you plan your shopping trip so that you can avoid the busiest times and get your shop done quickly.
According to academics at the University of Oxford, Tuesday mornings between 9am and 10am are the best time to go grocery shopping during lockdown if you want to minimise social contact and queuing time.
Meanwhile, Morrisons has asked its shoppers to visit ‘in the afternoon’ if they are able, as the store tends to be quieter then. Going later in the evening could be quieter, but popular essential items such as toilet roll, handwash and of course flour might be sold out by then.
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Go it alone
Appointing one person in the house to do the shopping minimises the risk of transmission and is recommended. They will become more familiar with the supermarket layout with each trip and also the social distancing measures in place there.
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 in supermarkets.
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Buy only what you need
It's another obvious one, but those wild scenes of panic buying were only a few weeks ago. All the supermarkets have since insisted there is no need to stock pile and are working around the clock to make sure their shelves are restocked frequently.
Buying certain items, such as soap and toilet roll, have been restricted in some places, two per person for example. Coming home with sensible amounts doesn't mean you're banned from doing big shops – in fact, that is encouraged. The government would prefer people to make as few visits to shops as possible.
But we can all play our part by only buying what we need. Don't be that person! If you used to do a weekly shop, stick to doing that. Loading up your trolley with pineapples isn't necessary, but you probably know that.
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Don't give up hope on online deliveries
Over the last few weeks, securing a delivery slot for an online shop has been compared to the difficulties of getting Glastonbury tickets before they sell-out.
But supermarkets such as Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Tesco are adding new slots each day. Morrisons are offering pre-packed food boxes of "essentials" which you can order online for yourself or someone else and get it delivered direct all over the UK.
Shopping these days may end up feeling like a military operation, but don't forget you can order local. You can order veg boxes to your door that include dairy products, and many small local businesses such as butchers, wine shops and farms are offering home deliveries. It's a nice thing to give back locally.
There are some online offers available too. Hello Fresh are offering 50% off your first box, and 20% off your next three orders at the moment, with fresh ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes straight to your doorstep, for stress-free home cooking.
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No-one likes queuing at any time, let alone to get into a supermarket, and it's likely you will have to wait longer than usual to pay for your groceries at the moment. You will probably find gaps in your shopping list and the whole experience of shopping is fraught with anxiety. It's a scary and frustrating time. We get that.
Try to remember 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. And keep on washing those mitts!