How to shop safely during the COVID-19 outbreak

You still need essential groceries during coronavirus lockdowns, but how do you keep safe at the supermarket – and what should you do once you get home?

On one hand, we know that one of the ways COVID-19 spreads is when we touch items or surfaces that have been contaminated with it and then touch our faces.

On the other, it’s impossible to go shopping without touching anything.

So, what precautions should you take before, during and after your shop?

What to do before you go to the supermarket

University of New South Wales microbiologist Professor Peter White says it is wise to prepare a list of what you need before you head to the shops.

“This will make things more efficient and will reduce possible exposure to contaminated items,” he says.

“And wash your hands with soap and water before you leave.”

It also goes without saying that if you suspect you or anyone in your household is sick, you should stay home and get your groceries delivered instead.

coronavirus shopping safety

How to stay safe at supermarkets or shops

Follow hygiene and social distancing measures

Most supermarkets, including Woolworths and Coles, have implemented COVID-19 strategies based on government health advice.

This includes providing hand sanitising stations and trolley wipes, which Prof White advises using vigilantly.

“Wipe the trolley and basket handles and then sanitise your hands,” he says.

Bear in mind that the virus survives for longer on hard, shiny surfaces like plastic and stainless steel than on absorbent ones such as cardboard and paper.

“Follow the floor markers for physical distancing and stay two metres, or one trolley length, away from other shoppers wherever possible,” Prof White says.

Don’t touch anything you’re not planning to buy

You should also avoid touching things unless you plan to buy them, says Food Safety Information Council chair Cathy Moir.

“Don’t handle produce items and put them back for others, or taste-test the grapes, as you touch your mouth with your hands,” she says.

“And don’t put unpackaged fresh fruit and veg directly into your trolley. Use the plastic bags provided for your fresh produce.”

At the checkout

When you get to the checkout, pack your own bags, pay by card instead of cash and say no to a receipt.

The main thing? Don’t touch your face at any stage during the shopping trip.

What to do after you get home from the shops

“Wash your hands as soon as you return,” says Prof White.

“And then choose one person to be the unloader and unpacker. Other people should avoid the area while this is being completed.”

Prof White says the “unpacker” should wash their hands regularly during unpacking and again once the task is finished.

“But you don’t need to wipe down all the shopping as you go,” he says.

The Food Safety Information Council warns that to prevent contamination, shopping bags should not be placed on any food preparation benches.

Wash your reusable shopping bags regularly.

coronavirus and fresh produce

What about fresh produce?

While experts say there is no evidence of foodborne transmission of COVID-19, there is a risk in touching fresh produce that has the virus on its surface and then touching your face.

So, as well as washing your hands before and after touching or handling fresh produce, fresh fruit and vegetables should be washed under running water before you eat them, says Cathy.

“Don’t use hand sanitiser or body soap to clean produce as these may contain chemicals you don’t want to consume,” she says.

And if there is a confirmed coronavirus case in a shop you’ve visited recently…

Don’t panic. Passing through a place where there’s been a confirmed case, at the same time that person was infectious, is known as a “casual contact”.

Compared with a “close contact”, there’s a much smaller risk of being infected.

But do stay home as much as possible and monitor your health until 14 days after the potential exposure.

Top things to remember while shopping through COVID-19:

  • Write a shopping list and wash your hands before you go
  • Use a sanitising wipe to clean your trolley
  • Follow store guidelines about social distancing measures
  • Don’t touch anything you don’t need to buy
  • Put fresh produce into bags rather than directly into the trolley
  • Pack your own bags and pay by card
  • Wash your hands when you get home
  • One person should unload and unpack the groceries
  • Avoid putting shopping bags on to food prep benches
  • Wash hands regularly while unpacking groceries and after you have finished
  • Wash fresh produce thoroughly with water before eating
  • Avoid going to shops more than absolutely necessary

Essential coronavirus information

If you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, call the 24/7 hotline on 1800 675 398. You can also use the Healthdirect symptom checker.

Instant Consult offers on-the-spot online GP consultations and can issue medical certificates, prescriptions, radiology and pathology requests and specialist referrals.

For the latest official health and government advice, visit:

Written by Karen Fittall.