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How to protect yourself from coronavirus when grocery shopping

Here are precautions to take whether you shop in-store or online.

There have been huge lines in and outside grocery stores -- a lot of them due to the coronavirus.

Avoiding large gatherings is nearly impossible if you need to go to the grocery store, especially right now.

It's important to take additional steps when you get those groceries home, too.

It is highly recommended to wash any plastic, glass, or metal containers in soap and water before you put them away.

And if it's not practical, wash your hands and any surfaces they touched, afterward.

If you're really trying to distance yourself from others - and you get groceries delivered, see if they can drop them off at your door.

And if you're going to the store, bring some disinfecting wipes to clean the cart or basket before you use it.

In fact, many stores provide them.

Consumer Reports recommends the following these steps when ordering deliveries:

Avoid a direct hand-off. Arrange to have the items delivered to your doorstep or a place nearby instead. Instacart added that option last week; other companies have places on their order forms where you can indicate special delivery instructions. FreshDirect says its drivers will no longer bring groceries into a home.

Tip electronically. One benefit of ordering deliveries online or via an app is that you don’t have to hand the delivery person money. Opportunities to tip the delivery person are included in most of the delivery apps and online ordering systems.

Order earlier than you usually do. Though it's not a safety issue, you may find that in the midst of higher demand you have to wait longer. FreshDirect, for instance, mentions on its home page that delivery times are filling up faster than usual. AmazonPrime Now, which chiefly delivers from Whole Foods, also mentions that “availability may be limited,” though it’s not clear whether that means delivery times are limited, items are limited, or both. (An Amazon representative didn't respond to a CR request for comment.)

If You’re Picking Up Prepacked Groceries

The steps are basically the same for this option as for delivery. If you’ve ordered and are merely having someone put the groceries in your car in a parking lot—an option at about 3,000 Walmart locations nationwide—consider opening your car door yourself rather than having the person bringing the items to your car touch the handle. And if you can tip on a supermarket’s app, do so rather than handing over cash. (Walmart’s employees aren’t permitted to take tips.)

If You're Buying Groceries in a Store

A key way to prevent the virus's spread is to stay 6 feet away from other people. The CDC notes that's generally the distance within which people pick up coronavirus droplets through the air from a cough or sneeze. Such “social distancing” is a good strategy in any situation outside the home, Rogers says. Other ideas:

Go shopping at a time that’s less busy. If you type in the store’s name and location in Google search, a box often will pop up showing when foot traffic there is highest.

Take germicide with you. Use it to wipe your hands and the cart before and after you shop.

Use a credit or debit card. That way, you don’t have to hand over bills or receive change. Also, use your own pen to sign receipts. If you can, use a virtual payment system like Apple Pay so that you don't have to open your wallet at all.

Clarification: This article has been changed to reflect updated advice on handling produce and food packaging, as well as news regarding Instacart's grocery delivery service. 

Find more information regarding how to stay safe here.

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