A grocery store manifesto

Community transmission of COVID-19 is happening in Canada: The virus is affecting people without a recent travel history or known exposure to an infected traveller.

Now that community transmission is occurring, it’s impossible to know or track everyone who is potentially infected because it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear.

Staying at home and not going anywhere unless absolutely necessary is the right thing to do, especially now. Socially distancing from one another will prevent COVID-19 from spreading exponentially.

Even though we’re avoiding gyms, libraries, restaurants, bakeries, shops and gatherings, we still need to get groceries. The challenge now is that people who are at risk – and people who are contagious –  are also grocery shopping and touching communal surfaces.

I went grocery shopping yesterday and made several observations (and mistakes) that increase the risk for spreading COVID-19.


Grocery carts are viral vectors.  

People can be contagious with COVID-19 before showing any symptoms, spreading virus onto objects they touch. People with sick contacts at home are also potential sources of virus.

Do they wash their hands before leaving home or upon arriving in a grocery store? Probably not.

Un-sanitized objects in public, especially door handles, tables and grocery carts should be considered contaminated unless we have seen them sanitized ourselves.

Without proper disinfection of communal surfaces and objects between each and every use, we need to assume that things like doorknobs and grocery carts are potentially contaminated with virus. We do not know who touched them before us.

  • Wash your hands immediately before leaving your house to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others while you are outside your home.
  • Bring disinfecting wipes that are effective against viruses and carefully wipe down the grocery cart with them before using it.
  • Sanitize your hands after disinfecting the grocery cart.
  • Push the grocery cart with your forearm, not your hands.
  • Open door handles with your elbow.
  • Don’t touch your face or eat food without first washing your hands.

Ask your grocery store owner about their sanitation practices if you don’t see evidence of increased cleaning efforts. If they don’t have a strategy for disinfecting grocery carts, baskets, conveyers and debit/credit card keypads, they need one. Now.


Shop for vulnerable people.

We know that people older than 60 years of age, or anyone with diabetes, asthma, heart disease, active cancer, history of stroke or a condition requiring dialysis are at greater risk for serious illness and complications.

If you know someone who’s at risk, pick up their groceries or medications so they can stay home.

If you’re at risk, now’s the time to ask for help.


Cell phones don’t belong.

We know viruses can survive on cell phones. Keep them at home or in your car while you’re shopping.

If you must bring your cell phone with you, clean it with an antiviral disinfectant when you get home, then wash your hands.


Keep children away.

Evidence to date shows that children are not at a higher risk for COVID-19 than adults. The trouble is, grocery carts can and will be contaminated with virus, unless thoroughly disinfected between use.

Most children will not get very sick with COVID-19, but they will help spread the virus if they are sitting in un-sanitized grocery carts and touching contaminated surfaces.

  • Keep your children at home.
  • If they can’t be left alone at home, ask someone to watch them for you why they play outside.
  • If you are a single parent with small children, go shopping when they are asleep and ask a trusted family member, friend or neighbour to stand in your front hall while you are gone.
  • If they must come with you, avoid placing children in grocery carts if you can and wash their hands with soap and water upon returning home
  • Wear infants/small toddlers in carriers


Keep a distance.

Since we don’t know who is infected and who is not, we need to keep our distance from each other in public places at all times. A safe distance is at least 2 metres (i.e. the length of two baseball bats or two guitars lined up).

People cough and sneeze into the air, not in their arms. We need to remain far enough away to avoid getting infected when this happens.


Grocery store workers are front-line workers.

They are providing an essential service during this health crisis.

They are vulnerable, potentially exposing themselves to infected people for hours a day.

Many of them have no choice but to work within a few feet of other people. We need to protect them for everyone’s wellbeing.

Like front-line health care providers, grocery store workers should wear masks when they cannot keep a safe distance from people who are potentially infected.

And, they need to frequently and properly wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer. If that’s not possible, they may use disposable gloves and change them frequently.

Pack your own groceries.


Reusable bags help spread virus.

Reusable tote bags are known to be sources of infection.

Place them on the floor, not the counter when you get home.

Wash them between use.


Most importantly, wash your hands.

When you arrive home, wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.

Put your groceries away – and wash your hands again.


The majority of people who get sick will recover without intervention, but it can cause serious illness. People who are older, and people with underlying medical problems like heart disease, asthma, COPD or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness, or death is severe cases.

Let’s do our part to protect people at risk.