How Do I Make Thanksgiving Grocery Shopping Safer?

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Here’s more advice for navigating holiday food shopping.

Many stores have added new restrictions and taken additional precautions for the holidays. Be prepared to wait in line outdoors. Walmart, Wegmans and Kroger, for example, have all said they will limit the number of customers in the store. Many stores have imposed purchase limits on high-demand items, like toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, disinfecting wipes and hand soap. Costco members with a medical condition used to be exempt from wearing a mask; now everyone over the age of 2 must wear a mask or face shield.

Avoiding crowds lowers your risk. It’s best not to shop Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. — that’s been the busiest food shopping time in recent months, according to Google Maps data. Grocery stores are least crowded on Mondays at 8 a.m. During a typical Thanksgiving week, Wednesday is the busiest shopping day. Bakeries were most crowded at noon, grocery stores were packed between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. and liquor store shopping peaked at 6 p.m.

Some stores are offering senior shopping hours and posting information about the best time to shop to avoid crowds. Wegmans is adding live outdoor cameras at major stores so customers can check online to see how busy the store is before leaving home.

Shopping carts are germy during the best of times, but it’s not essential to clean the cart if you’re careful about not touching your face and washing your hands. Many stores offer sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer at the entrance, or you can bring your own. Some stores sanitize the carts several times a day as part of their regular cleaning procedures. Dr. Marr said she used to wipe down her cart before shopping, but doesn’t do that anymore. “I just try to pay attention to not sticking my hands and fingers in my eyes, nose or mouth, and washing my hands when we’re done,” she said.

Gloves are not recommended or necessary if you wash your hands after shopping. In fact, people often contaminate their phone or steering wheel with their gloves, which defeats the purpose of wearing them. Skip the gloves and just wash your hands.

Grocery store workers are front line workers who come into contact with the masses. One study of 104 workers at a Boston grocery store found that about 20 percent of the workers tested positive, even though the prevalence of the virus in the community at that time was only about 1 percent. Many stores have added clear plexiglass shields to separate employees and shoppers, and adopted regular testing programs for workers. At Wegmans, cashiers are required to clean and sanitize their register belt and station at least once an hour and take a hand-wash break every 30 minutes. At checkout, keep your mask on, limit conversation, opt for contact-free payment (swiping your own credit card) and bag your own groceries if possible to speed things up. Remember, the store workers are facing the biggest risk, so be patient and thank them for their service.

Many of us spent the early days of the pandemic wiping down groceries, and leaving boxed goods to sit untouched for a few days just in case they were contaminated with the virus. But scientists have since learned that your risk of catching coronavirus from a surface, including food containers, is extremely low. “If it makes you feel better, there’s nothing wrong with doing a quick wipe down with a soapy rag,” said Dr. Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “The key thing that is necessary is that you wash your hands, really, really well.”

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