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How to Behave in Grocery Stores According to Grocery Workers

Updated: Apr 20, 2020 09:14
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Photo by: Xavier Minguella

The rules and sanitation standards are constantly being updated in your neighborhood grocery stores during the COVID pandemic.  Knowing your store’s rules and safety practices will help you stay safe, and help keep our grocery store workers safer, while they keep the country supplied.  For the official COVID safety practices go to the store sites themselves.   Policies and hours may change periodically, so check before you leave to shop: Wholefoods, Safeway,  Trader Joe’s. Rainbow Grocery, Grocery Outlet.

We interviewed grocery store workers from Safeway/Albertsons, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Grocery Outlet, & Rainbow Grocery.  We asked them about their work lives during COVID-19, what their employers are doing to keep them safe, and how shoppers can make everyone safer.  This is what actual grocery store employees throughout the Bay Area, wanted you to know, they all asked to remain anonymous.

How You Should Behave in a Grocery Store During a Pandemic:

Photo by Abi Chae

Shop alone, leave your family at home

“We see a lot of people using the Grocery store as a ‘Date Night’ or an excuse for a family outing.” 
– Whole Foods grocery worker, San Francisco

“This is not a vacation.  The grocery store is not a fun outing for your entire family, it’s not a time to take your husband or wife grocery shopping…the less people in there the safer for me and my family.”
– Safeway Shelf Stocker, North Bay

The number one concern from the grocers we interviewed, was ‘crowding’ and poor ‘social distancing’ practiced by customers.  Employees at national chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s & Safeway are all given a daily safety briefing on how to keep the food and public safe.  Social distancing, crowd management and disinfecting surfaces are cheif concerns.  So shop alone, and when you can, stay home.  The grocery store is not the place to spend an afternoon with your kids, or to catch up with your friends from the neighborhood.

Photo by Griffin Wooldridge

Don’t bring your own Bag!

We spent years getting people to bring in their reusable bags, but now is not the time, please leave your bags outside of the store, we don’t want them touching the counters, carts, or even the floors. Be patient, we are all just trying to keep up in an ever-changing atmosphere.”
–  Trader Joe’s Employee, Oakland

Plastic bags are back in grocery stores.  Safeway started using them again this week, and the the debate over which materials (cloth, paper, plastic) can harbor the coronavirus longer, are ongoing.  In an incredibly ironic turnaround, San Francisco, who in 2007 became the first major city to ban plastic bags, has now banned the use of re-usable bags in grocery store as of March 31st.  Cloth bags from home were determined to be risky for spreading the coronavirus to surfaces in stores. So leave your totes at home.

Please do not sit on anything in a grocery store right now. Photo by Grace Foster

Practice social distancing with Grocery Employees

“Please for the love of God, stay away from the workers.  I have more people come up to me and I just keep backing away from them until they figure out that I won’t stop until they stop.” –  Safeway Stocker, North Bay

The 6ft social distancing measures applies to your friendly neighborhood grocer too.  They have to be around hundreds, if not thousands of people a day, so be respectful and keep 6ft away from them while asking questions.  Like you, they have families to go home to, let’s try to keep from infecting them.

Line at Safeway, San Francisco

Make a Grocery list Before you go

“Have a grocery list of what you need, be efficient, there are people waiting outside.” 
– Whole Foods Employee San Francisco
Crowd control measures are there for a reason.  They allow people to social distance while shopping, they also keep crowds and lines from forming inside the store, this makes life much easier for grocery employees.  Fewer people in the store, allows for staff to restock shelves quicker, as well as check people out faster.  Crowd control measures have made stores manageable despite staffing shortages during COVID.

Photo By Scott Warman

When you go, Stock Up

“To help keep us safe please only come to really stock up. Every time you come into the store you expose us and everyone else, so fill up your carts.”
– Trader Joe’s Employee, Oakland

Some items you cannot stock up on.  ‘Hoarding’ scarce items is a problem during shortages.  By far, the items reported to most likely be out of stock were; toilet paper, paper towels, and hand sanitizers.  No surprise there, but it was also made clear to us that limitations on the number of certain items you can buy are there for a reason. A Safeway employee told us, “please limit yourself to one item when it says it’s ‘restricted’ don’t try to sneak in 2 or 3.”  She also said, “Do not ask if we ‘have it in the back’, if we had it, it,would be on the shelf.”

Photo by Grace Foster

Wear a mask when you shop

  “Wear face coverings.  Give us space.  Understand that these are odd, scary, rapidly changing times and policies and availability changes every day.”  – Rainbow Grocery employee

Currently it is not a requirement to wear a face mask and gloves in public.  But that might change.  In New York City this week amid ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Cuomo Issued an Executive Order requiring ‘All People in New York to Wear Masks or Face Coverings in Public’.   For now, face masks are optional in California.  But the grocers we spoke with, really appreciate it when you wear a mask while shopping.

Also, make sure to dispose of your masks, gloves and wipes in the trash, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR DISCARDED items on the ground or in your shopping cart or basket!

Be Kind

“Be kind to your local grocery people, we’re working our ass off.  A lot of us are working multiple days with no days off.  It’s very stressful and it’s nice to feel appreciated.” 
– Trader Joe’s Employee, Oakland
“Many people have been very appreciative since the pandemic started, it would be really nice if they were like that all the time.” 
-Whole Foods Employee San Francisco.
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