9 tips for grocery shopping during the coronavirus pandemic

How to get in and out fast, while keeping your distance.

Katie Teague Writer II
Katie is a writer covering all things how-to at CNET, with a focus on Social Security and notable events. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing in golf scrambles, practicing yoga and spending time on the lake.
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Katie Teague
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Make a plan before you go shopping.

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Although most of us are on lockdown due to the coronavirus, we still need to go to the grocery store when we're running low on fresh produce, toilet paper and prescription medications. But you'll want to limit the amount of time you spend in the store and the number of surfaces you have to touch. 

The next time you go out shopping for essentials, you need a plan. Remember to shop calmly and patiently, and smile at others. We're all in the same boat. Read on for grocery shopping tips in the time of social distancing and let us know in the comments what has worked best for you.

Organize your shopping list

To get in and out fast, you'll want to organize your shopping list by aisles, if you know them, or by a family of items. Some grocery store apps, like Kroger, will list where you can find the product, like aisle 5. 

After making your list, start adding the items in order of the aisles. Now you don't have to worry about zigzagging around the store because you forgot to grab an item that was on your list.

Read more: Wine, beer, alcohol delivery: How to get alcoholic beverages delivered to your door  


Plan out your shopping trips and only buy what you need.

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Only buy what you need

The temptation to panic shop and stock up on supplies is strong in times of uncertainty, but not very helpful. Hoarding has caused temporary shortages of certain products, like toilet paper and frozen peas (here's how to get an alert when some stores replenish their supplies). That isn't fair to the community, or to you when it's your turn to replace an item you legitimately need. 

Some stores are limiting the number of items you can buy. If yours isn't, consider what you actually need. If you have three packages of toilet paper at home, don't buy another set. If you're stocked up on Clorox wipes, leave the last package on the shelf for someone else. The supply will return.

Read more: The best thermometer for cold and flu  

Wipe the shopping cart down or wear gloves

Before you grab a shopping cart, have a sanitizing cloth ready to wipe down the cart. Many retailers have these available, and some are wiping the carts down for you as you walk in. If you don't have access to disinfectant wipes, however, wear a pair of latex or other single-use gloves while you're shopping and discard them when you leave.

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Leave the family at home

If you can go to the store alone, do it. It helps limit the number of people at the grocery store at one time and makes it easier to socially distance. If you have to bring a child with you because you have no one else to watch them, make sure they don't touch anything and that they keep their distance from others as well.

Maintain your 6-foot bubble

While waiting to grab something in an aisle, wait until the other person has moved past what you're after. Not only does it help you follow the rules of social distancing, but the person will also appreciate that you're not hovering over them while they try to find what they need.

Also, when you're checking out, keep the six-foot distance between yourself and other shoppers. You should also try to use the self-checkouts when possible, too, so that you can worry less about someone standing too close.


Keep a good distance from others while shopping.

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Keep your hands clean when shopping

If you don't have gloves, make sure to sanitize your hands often in case you accidentally touch your face. That doesn't mean you have to apply hand gel after each item you touch, but it's a good practice to do so when you leave the store.

You should also sanitize your car when you get home from the store.

Watch this: Coronavirus lockdown: Why social distancing saves lives

Use a noncontact payment method 

Where possible, use Apple Pay or Google Pay when checking out at the store. Or, if your debit card has the contactless tap to pay (where you hover your card over the payment terminal), use that rather than inserting or sliding your card in the machine. These methods prevent you from having to enter your PIN code or signing on the touchscreen -- both areas that numerous people touch daily.

If the store you go to doesn't have any of these options for payment methods (the Kroger I go to weekly doesn't offer any of these for its customers, but has its own mobile pay system), make sure you use hand sanitizer right after touching the PIN pad. You'll also want to sanitize your debit card, too.


Use a contactless payment option when you go shopping.

Angela Lang/CNET

Grab items from the back of the shelf

Items that are located on the back of the shelf likely haven't been handled as much, so try to go for those. Make sure you slide the items in front to the side with your arm, rather than your hands. Or you can try to reach through the gap and slide the back product out so that you can easily grab it.

Go to stores during off-hours

If possible, plan your grocery trips during off-hours when social distancing is less difficult. Each location varies, so you can drive past the store at different times to see when it's less congested. For example, some stores have fewer people inside shortly after they first open than they do around lunch time. If you're still having trouble finding items you need during this time, sign up for in-stock product alerts if your store offers it.

In less than a month, our schedules have dramatically changed, but it's important that we adapt to stay protected from the virus. Here are 11 ways to help avoid the coronavirus when you need to leave the house, why homemade face masks may not protect you and how to help kill the coronavirus in your home and car after you go out.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.