As retailers like clothing and furniture stores begin to reopen, and as grocery shopping starts to return to its pre-covid-19 pace, shoppers may be concerned about staying safe. If you go out where other people are, the absolute best thing you can do for your health — and for the health and safety of others — is to wear a mask or other face covering when in close proximity to others. And when possible, stay at least 6 feet away.
Covid-19 is mainly transmitted through droplets, so if an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks and you breathe in those droplets, you could become infected too. According to the World Health Organization, “These droplets are relatively heavy, do not travel far and quickly sink to the ground. These droplets can land on objects and surfaces around the person such as tables, doorknobs and handrails. People can become infected by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.”
How to stay safe in the stores
John Leyenberger, a National Safety Board-certified professional with over 23 years of experience in retail safety and compliance, says that the most critical measures to help protect yourself, as well as retail workers, include wearing a mask and maintaining distance from others while shopping and waiting in checkout lines. He also recommends using hand sanitizer before entering and after leaving a store — and points out that you should use it before removing your mask.
Leyenberger also offers a plea to consider the health and safety of others, including and especially retail workers, while shopping. “Retail workers are trying to do the best they can to serve customers while providing a safe shopping experience,” he says. “Patience and understanding will go a long way.”
Don Schaffner, a professor of food microbiology at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and host of the podcasts “Food Safety Talk” and “Risky or Not?,” echoes Leyenberger’s advice, and points out a common behavior that people should avoid. “I’ve heard that some people wear a mask only to get past the check-in person at the front door, and then take it off once inside the store,” he says. “This exposes others to risk and is not appropriate.”
When you get home
The first thing — the very first thing — is to wash your hands using soap and water, and to do so again after handling the purchases you made. Prior to wearing, all clothing, sheets, towels, face masks, etc. should be washed and dried using the hottest temperature settings the garment can tolerate; check the care tag for that information.
Rowenta Eco-Intelligence Energy Saving Steam Iron ($109.95, originally $119; amazon.com)
PurSteam Garment Steamer ($64.97, originally $82.99; amazon.com)
Disinfecting sprays, like the expert-recommended foam spray Claire Germicidal Cleaner which appears on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2, can also disinfect fabrics that cannot be washed, though it’s not safe for all fabric types, including leather and silk, so it’s important to read the manufacturer’s instructions before use and, if you’re still not sure, perform a spot-test on an inconspicuous area to check for damage.
Claire CL873 Germicidal Cleaner and Disinfectant ($20.99; amazon.com)
When it comes to food safety, the news is comforting. “With more than 7 million cases worldwide, we have no evidence that the virus is spread via food or food contact surfaces,” Schaffner says. His advice for cleaning produce is to use cold water to rinse fruits and vegetables, and to use a scrub brush on foods like melons that have a hard surface. Schaffner also cautions that excessive cleaning can sicken you in other ways. “I don’t recommend soap or hard surface cleaners [such as Formula 409, Mrs. Meyer’s Countertop Spray or Clorox Wipes] as both can be toxic if ingested,” he says.
While water is all that’s needed to effectively clean produce, if you’d like to use something more for peace of mind, Schaffner adds that special produce washes are available. “These are typically untested against bacteria and none have been tested against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19,” he says. “They are safe to use but there is no guarantee they work.”
Biokleen Produce Wash ($6.96; amazon.com)
And as far as wiping down food packaging, that’s actually not necessary. You can simply wash your hands well after handling cardboard packages or jars.
Build a safe shopping ‘kit’
The experts we spoke to all agreed that face masks and coverings are the most important choice you can make to keep yourself and others safe while shopping. And, since fabric masks should be washed between wearings, you should either have extras available — Etsy is a great source for affordable sets of fabric masks — or keep a stash of disposable masks on hand.
PassionWearShop Set of 3 Cotton-Poly Solid Color Masks (starting at $25.49; etsy.com)
StylishUSACreations Set of 4 Cotton Floral Masks ($29.36; etsy.com)
RoaLosAngeles Set of 4 Cotton-Spandex Black Masks in Two Sizes ($24; etsy.com)
Washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to clean them, but when you don’t have access to a sink, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is a good alternative. Keep a small bottle in your kit for easy access, but remember that because the active ingredient in hand sanitizer is alcohol, which can evaporate, it should not be left in places with significant temperature fluctuations, like the car, for long periods of time.
Megababe Squeaky Clean Hand Sanitizer ($9.99; target.com)
Clark’s Botanicals Hand Sanitizer ($10; clarksbotanicals.com)
Olivia Care Hand Sanitizer ($7.99; target.com)
Power Mist Aloe Vera Hand Sanitizer Mist ($12; touchland.com)
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend wearing disposable gloves as a standard practice while shopping, Leyenberger recommends them for instances where merchandise touching is unavoidable — so it’s worth putting a few pairs into your kit in case you need them.
Disposable Multipurpose Nitrile Gloves - 30ct - Smartly ($3.59; target.com)
Many retailers are banning the use of reusable bags due to the fear that they might spread viruses to food service and retail employees. If you do use reusable bags, they should be cleaned after every use, so it’s important to choose styles that are either machine-washable, like an unstructured nylon tote, or easy to wipe clean if they can’t be machine-washed.
BeeGreen Reusable Shopping Bags ($14.99; amazon.com)
NZ Home Insulated Grocery Bags ($15.99, originally $25.95; amazon.com)
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed price at the time of publication.