Now that the CDC has recommended we all wear cloth face coverings in public this is a good time to go over grocery shopping etiquette during COVID-19. If you have been in the stores lately you will notice that many of them have limited how many people can be inside the store at one time and have lines outside waiting to go in. Cashiers have masks and stand behind Plexiglas barriers, and the floor might even have markers showing shoppers where to stand in order to be six feet apart while in line. If you have reduced your trips to the store you may notice the drastic changes and how different they are between visits. There is a lot of misinformation and fear that drives our shopping habits, so let’s begin with the most important topic, handwashing and preventing cross-contamination.


The first line of defense against any illness is proper handwashing. When washing your hands you must use clean running water (any temperature is fine) and soap, lather the soap until it foams then proceed washing the fronts, backs, finger tips, between the fingers, and thumbs. Once you have washed every part of your hands for 20 seconds you can rinse and dry with clean cloth or paper towel. Use the paper towel to turn off the water and open the door to leave, then discard the paper towel in the trash. The CDC has some useful videos for adults and children to show the best way to wash your hands.

Hand Sanitizer:

Handwashing ensures that all the dirt and germs are properly washed away, but when you are not able to wash your hands or when you enter or exit a building you can use hand sanitizer. Most stores have hand sanitizer and wipes at the entrance for shoppers to wash their hands and shopping carts. Some good news: This novel coronavirus (unlike norovirus or Hepatitis A virus) is especially susceptible to alcohol hand sanitizer.  Once you sanitize your hands do not touch your face, eyes, or face mask while in the store.

Glove Use:

Gloves are likely to help to spread the virus unless they are used very carefully. Here is why:

People who forget that they are wearing gloves may unthinkingly touch a contaminated surface and then their face with their gloved hand, defeating the whole purpose. The surface contamination is now on their face.  They can also contaminate their hands when taking gloves off. The most important thing is not to touch your face, with or without gloves, unless you know your hands/gloves are clean.


Cross-contamination is the movement of a germ or virus from a contaminated surface to a clean one. So to avoid spreading the virus, try to only touch the items you intend to buy. It is also important to sanitize your hands before and after touching your phone or other personal items while shopping. The place that you will have the most chance for cross contamination is at the checkout line. Shoppers are asked to remain 6 feet apart and to wait to put their items on the conveyor belt until the shopper in front of them is finished. Using non-paper money payment methods such as credit, debit or EBT cards are least risky. Handling cash and receipts should be done without touching the cashier by placing the items on the counter or in a tray provided. You can also ask for the receipt to be placed in one of the bags instead of handing it off between cashier and yourself. If you use the credit card machine its best to use hand sanitizer again before and after touching the key pad.  Keeping a small bottle of sanitizer in your pocket will be a useful tool while shopping.

Leaving the store:

Once all your bags are loaded into your car you can use hand sanitizer again before getting into the car yourself. This will keep the grocery store germs off your steering wheel and off of you. If you wear gloves please remove them correctly when you return your cart and place them in the trash or in a trash bag in your car.

For more from the 5 Tips for Feeding Your Family Through Quarantine series

Tip #1 Pantry Planning

Tip #3 Bring Food Home Safely

Tip #4 When to Save or Throw Out Food


Nutrition Connections Teacher
Health & Well-Being Teacher
Phone: (603) 447-3834
Office: Cooperative Extension, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824

Food Safety Field Specialist
Extension Field Specialist, Food Safety
Phone: 603-787-6944
Office: Cooperative Extension, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824