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How to Avoid Germs When Grocery Shopping, According to Consumer Reports

Before you head out to the grocery store, read up on these expert guidelines to ensure your safety.

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Man at supermarketRidofranz/Getty Images

Stay healthy while grocery shopping

Avoiding germs is always a good idea, but never before has it seemed so important than right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, keeping yourself protected against the coronavirus could be a matter of life and death, which is why people are being more careful than ever before when they do basic day-to-day activities like going grocery shopping. “It used to be seen as a mundane weekly errand, but has become a task that requires more thought and preparation during this COVID-19 pandemic crisis,” explains Lisa Larkin, MD, an internal medicine physician in Cincinnati, Ohio and founder and CEO of Ms.Medicine. The good news is that there are steps you can take to avoid germs and reduce your risk of infection or infecting others during this time. Read on for tips to shop for your groceries in as safe a manner as possible. You may be carrying these 11 germ-spreading items right now.

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Senior Man Doing Food ShoppingDGLimages/Getty Images

Go at times of the day when it’s less busy

You might not be a morning person, but going to the grocery store bright and early when they’re just opening might be your best option. “By avoiding large groups of people, you decrease your risk of becoming infected, as the virus is mainly spread through close contact with other people,” says Jonas Nilsen, MD, and co-founder of Practio. In addition, many stores sanitize overnight, so the environment, in general, is less germy. Many stores are also offering special morning hours where only senior citizens are allowed to shop—call ahead to find out if your regular grocery store is offering these. You can feel good supporting these 26 stores that have promised to keep paying employees during coronavirus closures.

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Many rows of red shopping carts outside by store with closeup by parking lotkrblokhin/Getty Images

Sanitize your shopping cart or basket

Studies suggest that COVID-19 can live on surfaces for up to a few days, so wipe down the handles of shopping carts or baskets with a sanitizing wipe. Some stores provide wipes, but not all do, especially during this time of shortages, so it’s best to bring your own. Dr. Larkin also suggests bringing extra wipes for opening freezer and refrigerator door handles and sanitizing your hands throughout the shopping experience. Discover just how filthy your cell phone is.

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Woman buy products with her trolley at supermarket.dragana991/Getty Images

Avoid touching your face while shopping

One of the easiest ways to spread the virus is by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face, eyes, nose, or mouth. This is a lot harder than it sounds, as a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control estimated that people touch their faces more than 20 times in a single hour. While a mask can help prevent you from touching your mouth and nose, they are recommended for the use of health care professionals only, especially given the current shortages of PPE (personal protective equipment).

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Coronavirus Pandemic Causes Climate Of Anxiety And Changing Routines In AmericaMaddie Meyer/Getty Images

Stay six feet away as you navigate the aisles

As much as possible, try to maintain a safe, six-foot distance from other shoppers. “This may be as simple as avoiding a crowded aisle and circling back a few minutes later,” says Dr. Larkin. Since other shoppers might not be as mindful as you are about maintaining social distance, be polite in your request that they keep their distance with a courteous “excuse me.” Are you sharing these items that germ experts recommend against?

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Stores Offer Shopping Times For Elderly And Vulnerable Citizens To Protect Against Coronavirus TransmissionMario Tama/Getty Images

Be kind to others

Just as you’re being thoughtful about your own health, be thoughtful about the health of others, suggests Dr. Larkin. “If you have an elderly neighbor who needs help, see if you can shop for them or teach them to use an online and delivery option,” she says. “Be patient and kind with one another, especially the workers keeping the stores open and functioning—and of course, if you are ill, please stay home and don’t expose others.” Find out how to stock up wisely, emergency or not.

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Man wearing protective gloves shopping in the supermarket.stellalevi/Getty Images

Bring disposable gloves for checkout

Antimicrobial wipes might suffice for cleaning packaging such as jars, plastic containers, cans, and bottles, but Alexea M. Gaffney-Adams, MD, an internist with additional subspecialty training in infectious diseases at Stony Brook Medicine, recommends going a step further during checkout. “You don’t want to contaminate your skin with infectious virus and bacteria and the wipes can be drying and damaging to the skin,” she says. These are the dirtiest surfaces in places you frequent all the time.

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She gets points every time she swipesPeopleImages/Getty Images

Avoid paying with cash

When possible, James Elder, DO, internist at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Southwest Fort Worth and Texas Health Physicians Group, suggests using debit cards or other forms of electronic payment. “This will reduce the need to touch paper money or coins, which can potentially carry germs,” he says. If using electronic payments is not possible, he recommends cleaning hands immediately after touching cash or coins. If you forget to wash your hands after touching money, this will convince you to stop.

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Woman hands using wash hand sanitizer gel dispenser, against Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) or Wuhan coronavirus at public train station. Antiseptic, Hygiene and Healthcare conceptPanuwat Dangsungnoen/Getty Images

Sanitize your hands

After you’re done shopping and before you get in your car or grab your car keys or smartphone, use hand sanitizer—it’s the best way to clean your hands when water and soap are not available. Just be sure that the hand sanitizer contains at least 60 percent alcohol, notes Alex Berezow, PhD, microbiologist and Vice President Scientific Affairs for the American Council on Science and Health. “Use a healthy plop (not just a tiny drop), and be sure to rub it all over the back of your hands as well,” he says. “You should use enough sanitizer so that it doesn’t evaporate as you rub your hands for 10 to 15 seconds.” Here are the best cleaners to sanitize your phone.

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Bags of grocery in front of open doorSiri Stafford/Getty Images

Leave bags outside upon returning home

When you get back to your house, leave the bags outside the door and carry the food in separately. “This can be annoying and take some time, but will decrease the chance that any particles could be hanging around on the plastic or paper bags,” says Lisa Saff Koche, MD, doctor of internal medicine, bariatrics, and anti-aging, and regenerative medicine, founder and director of Spectra Wellness Solutions clinic, and author of Get Lit and speaker. Should you be disinfecting your mail?

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Amazon Fresh insulated grocery delivery bags totes on front home house porch closeup with man carryingkrblokhin/Getty Images

Consider delivery or pick-up

As the situation progresses, it may be worth it to see if your grocer will deliver or allow for an in-store pick-up. This is one of the best ways to reduce your risk is to avoid entering the store altogether, notes Dr. Larkin. “Ask your delivery person to leave the groceries outside your door, or if picking up in the store parking lot, leave the cart at your trunk so you can load them without interacting directly,” she adds. Find out how to avoid becoming a victim of coronavirus shopping frenzy.

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Rinsing fresh apples in the sinkKristen Prahl/Getty Images

Clean packaging and fresh produce

Dr. Larkin recommends rinsing your produce just as you would normally to remove any soil or debris. “If you wish to wipe down jars, cans, and bottles before putting away, you can do so with a disinfectant wipe,” she adds. “You should also wash your hands after handling any products during feed preparation to be extra cautious about avoiding contamination.” Read on to find out where to buy everything else Amazon won’t deliver.