In The Age of COVID

5 Tips For Safer Grocery Shopping

A few things to keep in mind when you decide to journey into public.

By Timothy Malcolm March 25, 2020

less than three WEEKS AGO, when novel coronavirus COVID-19 was at our doorstep and a restaurant decided to ask any coughing patrons to leave (good lord that feels like months ago), I went to H-E-B for the first of a few grocery runs to stock up on certain things: pasta, beans, meats to freeze, vegetables and fruits to freeze, beer. 

While there, I noticed a woman pushing a shopping cart filled with about 10 packages of toilet paper. Not 10 rolls ... 10 packages. It was my first sign that things were about to get real.

How do we manage all this?

"We all have to work together to make this a safe environment for everyone," says Lacey Dalcour Salas, public affairs manager at H-E-B Houston. With that in mind, here are five tips for safer, calmer grocery shopping.

1. Plan Ahead

H-E-B, Kroger, Randalls, and Whole Foods all have curbside pick-up and delivery services, while Food Town does delivery only. You can check H-E-B's schedule online, while for other stores, the best bet is to call ahead. And you'll want to call way ahead, because pick-up and delivery schedules are booked solid, sometimes for up to two weeks.

"As you can imagine there's a huge uptick in online orders and curbside delivery orders," Dalcour Salas says. "We're working around the clock to create more queues to open that up."

But you can be strategic: Try a less-trafficked location of your choice market for pick-up—they might have an available spot this week. That said, make your pick-up appointment now, and if you're unsure about what to put in that virtual cart, just think about what you normally eat and drink. 

2. Don't Overdo It

Every store will tell you that it is constantly re-stocking shelves to ensure everything is there when you visit. So, don't panic buy and get 10 of one thing. In fact, chances are you won't be able to.

H-E-B is constantly updating a list of limits for specific products. For instance, you're only allowed up to four frozen breakfast items out there. So take heed, Jimmy Dean.

Just get what you normally get out there. If you want a little more of something, get a little more, but don't overdo it. (You may regret it at Kroger, which has suspended returns.)

3. Six Feet!

We're all supposed to keep six feet distance between one another, no matter where we are. That may prove difficult at times, and especially at the grocery store. So, some tips: If you see too many people in an aisle, don't go down that aisle; if the produce section looks a little too cramped, wait a moment. Also, some markets have stickers on the floor directing people where to stand in check-out lines.

One good idea is to use your shopping cart as a buffer. Really extend that thing, push it out there. If you feel someone is too close behind you, just whip that cart around (OK, don't hurt anyone, but you get the idea).

4. Manage Your Anxiety

Because of the guidelines, and because some people may be blissfully ignoring guidelines, the potential for stress levels to boil over is pretty high. So, what do you do if you're feeling people around you aren't taking social distancing too seriously?

"My recommendation would be just to remove yourself from the other customers," says Dalcour Salas. "Control that six feet." 

Dalcour Salas adds that each H-E-B location has established a COVID-19 action manager. This is an employee who's working with other employees to ensure guidelines are being followed. As a customer, if you feel like those guidelines aren't being followed, you can ask to speak with that action manager. Same holds true at any market—if you at feel uncomfortable, remove yourself and ask to speak with a manager.

5. Respect Each Other

There are other things we can do. Dalcour Salas says customers should think about their own comfort level out there. For example, sanitize after touching every product? Sure. Or you can keep your hands from your face, then sanitize everything when you get home. Either way, at some H-E-B locations, employees will sanitize a cart for a customer before he, she, or they take it. Efforts are being taken; people are trying to stay safe. 

Look, this is all about respecting every one during a tough time.  

I wish I remember where I heard this, but someone (like a writer or self-improvement speaker) once did a bit about how to have more empathy, using the grocery store as the example. Essentially, this person was frustrated at the actions of people around him in the check-out line, but then he thought about what each person may be dealing with in life. It checked him to calm down and remember the world didn't revolve around him.

More, it led him to think about how to help others, just by being nice. So use that when at the grocery store. Think of keeping six feet as a way to say "Hey, I care about you and don't want you to feel scared." Think of not hoarding all the toilet paper because there are surely families out there who will need it when they shop.

And if you see that person hoarding all the TP, maybe there's a huge family back home. Or maybe that person is shopping for senior citizens who can't leave their residence.

In the end, we're all just trying to get through this thing.

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