Grocery Shopping Safety and Covid-19

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Grocery shopping safety.  In “normal times,” we take it for granted. But we’re not in normal times right now. Below we go through some tips to help you make your trips to the grocery store easier, faster, and increase your grocery shopping safety.

Rules for Grocery Shopping Safety in a Pandemic

1. Reduce Trip Frequency

Make as few trips as possible, ideally none. You should be prepared to stay at home except as necessary.  Necessary.  Go into public only when necessary.  If you’re reading this in 2020, still during the Covid-19 pandemic, try to differentiate between items you need and items you want.  Save the “wants” for after. If you’re reading this after Covid-19 pandemic is over, completely over, and you’re planning for the next one, plan for isolation.

2. Reduce Trip Length (Duration)

If you absolutely have to go out, make the trips as short as possible. The more time you spend in public, the less chance of being infected.  Remember that the shortest possible trip is … exactly zero minutes long. So pay attention to Rule #1. Shorten your trips by prepping for isolation, by planning ahead, and by storing up enough food and other essentials to last you through a forced isolation. Then you won’t have to go into the crowds as much, if at all.

3. Avoid People

Avoid people as much as possible. If the reason is not already apparent to you, watch this computer simulation of how a cough spreads in a grocery store.  For more information of the simulation, read this.

The lesson is to simply avoid crowded spaces.  If you have to go to the store, go during the “off hours.” Learn your store’s busy and quiet times. Note that the rushes during “normal,” non-pandemic times may be different than during a non-essential business shutdown.  All other things being equal, first thing in the morning the stores are usually more stocked, which means that you’ll make less trips.  But other people know this, too, so the store is likely busier. Weigh the options:  Number of trips versus people density.

Things to take with you:
  1. Your own disinfectant wipes,
  2. Your own hand sanitizer,
  3. Mask / face covering, 
  4. Nitrile gloves,
  5. Keep all of these easily accessible in a handy-dandy backpack (an EDC pack) that you wear and don’t leave in your cart (risk of theft).

Inside the store, avoid crowded aisles.  If you’re picking up only a few items in an aisle, park your cart near/at the end of the aisle and quickly walk to the product you want. This will prevent you from getting trapped between two oblivious zombies and their carts. Go straight to your item.  Quickly pick it up, examine it, and leave the area. Put another way, don’t browse. Shop with purpose. If your preferred item is not there, don’t get anxious over it.  Just move on to your backup item. In other words, if you want steak, you may decide that a roast is a good backup.  Every item on your list should have at least one backup. This keeps you moving quickly.

When you checkout, remember that you are touching the register’s touchscreen and probably the card reader’s keypad.  It may be the time to consider using a hands-free payment method, such as Apple Pay or Samsung Pay.  Regardless, I use the wipes from my EDC bag to wipe my hands and phone on the way out.  If you use your phone to pay, go ahead and give your phone a wipe while you have it in your hand.

4. Protect Yourself

Grocery shopping safety requires you to protect yourself from the contagion and also from other people.  To protect myself from the virus, I choose to trust actual medical doctors, people who went to medical school and passed the boards. I choose to ignore Dr Google and Dr Facebook.  So follow the CDC guidelines as they develop and evolve.  In short, wash your hands and don’t touch your face.  That’s what protects you.  The facemasks and face coverings only protect others from you (assuming you are infected).  That being said, it’s logical to think that a face covering would also protect the wearer because it would filter out those nasty airborne droplets flying through the air. Honestly, if I go out I’m wearing something on my face for that reason but also to help protect me from irrational people.

People get crazy.  Seriously.  I’ve seen reports of people without masks being harassed. Likewise, I’ve seen reports of people being harassed because they actually were wearing a mask, with people claiming that the wearer was depriving other people of the mask — essentially that the wearer didn’t deserve it.  I have N95 masks that I’ve had for years because I do woodworking and other dust-generating projects. I’ll wear one, but I’ll wear a bandana over it to hide the N95 mask — using a little bit of the “grey man” concept.

In summary, ideally you should not be going out at all.  But if you have to go out, make sure that it’s only for necessities.  And if you decide to go out please take all the precautions you can to protect yourself.  Doing this will increase your grocery shopping safety.

Tips To Increase your Grocery Shopping Safety

1. Plan Ahead; Make a List

Before you leave your house, know exactly what you want to buy. Have a list. Your goal is to be around other people as little as possible, especially inside the store.  That means be as quick and efficient as possible.  So make a list.  But if you just put “meat” on the list you run the risk of getting to the store and standing in front of the meat bins and staring while you think about what kind. Be specific in your list.

So, let’s analyze.  Let’s say that it’s pre-coronavirus and you want to cook up some nice New York Strip steaks on the grill.  You go to your favorite store. If they have them, you buy them. If not, you just go to another store. Everything is easy in the fat times.  Now, however, let’s just say you want some meat, period. You’re not going to argue over this cut or that. You just want some easy protein.  First, don’t just walk in thinking, “I want some protein.”  Do some research to see what’s on sale and make a list: for example, (1) chuck; (2) shoulder roast; (3) any type of beef cut under $X per pound; (4) ground beef.  Doing it that way lets you move quickly and decisively. 

2. Avoid Crowds if Possible

Crowds not only mean concentrations of potentially virus-laden breathing, but also potentially critical masses of anxious people.  When people are stressed, they become irrational. When people are scared, the same.  When people compete for what they perceive as a limited resource, the same.  A crowd of people around the canned soup or the toilet paper, all scrambling over that new delivery is something you don’t want to just start clawing your way into.  You don’t want to get into a brawl.  Not because I think you won’t win, but because any brawl or even a verbal confrontation, is going to have airborne droplets flying all over the place. Have you ever seen a person yelling at another person and drops of spittle start flying? Avoid it.

Don’t push your cart down the middle of an aisle. It’s likely to get, and get you, trapped in between two other carts, each of which refuses to move.  Park your cart at the end of the aisle and walk to the middle to pick up what you need.

3. Watch your Hands; Wash your Hands

Disinfect at every “transition” — after you leave the store and cart and before you touch your car. Think about trying to keep the contagion(s) away from your body, car and home. Also, disinfect after you touch anything in the store.  Be especially careful at the checkout.

Once you get home, thoroughly wash your hands.  Remember that everything that you’ve touched at the store — every box, can, bag and package — could have been pawed over and coughed on by every other person before you.  To be careful, wipe down everything that it’s possible to do so.  Wash your fruits, vegetables and other produce.  

4. Be Aware of your Surroundings

Inside the store, keep an eye out for potential danger.  Listen for sounds of conflict, like shouting, glass breaking, items being knocked to the floor. Watch out for predators, too. They, like Obama’s people, never let a crisis go to waste.  When you leave the store, before you step into the parking lot, scan the parking lot for danger.  Take your keys out and get “the” key in your hand, ready to use.  Have a hand free for whatever self-defense “equipment” you carry. I’m assuming that either your purchase is in your backpack, on your back, or you’re pushing a cart. Regardless, you now have three tasks for two hands. Practice how you deal with it. 

Thieves wait for situations where your attention is focused elsewhere, such as when you’re standing next to your car, hold a bag in one arm, fumbling with keys in the other, and the one thing you’re not doing is paying attention to your surroundings.  So practice getting into your car while maintaining situational awareness. The skill will serve you well even after the pandemic is over.

Conclusion: Grocery Shopping Safety

Your goal should be to completely isolate. Sometimes that’s just not possible. So if you do need to go out, a little bit of planning combined with vigilance will increase your grocery shopping safety.

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