Here’s How You Can Keep Yourself and Others Safe in the Supermarket Amid COVID-19

Supermarkets are also our lifeline.

Introducing etiquette tips when shopping at your local supermarket. 

As the call to self-isolate continues during this Coronavirus pandemic, people are worried about going to the supermarket.  We frequently buy supplies for our own daily needs, so it’s inevitable that we visit it regularly. Being prone to the Three Cs (Closed spaces, Crowded places, Close-contact settings, it is normal for people to be concerned about being in supermarkets. 

Last April 23, Tokyo
Governor Yuriko Koike urged residents to go grocery shopping only once every 3 days. Now, we talked to supermarket researcher Yoshimi Sugawara about the things we have to be mindful of when going to the supermarket these days. We will also introduce important tips for safe, smart, and considerate shopping among other “shopping etiquette.” Check them out!

Use substitutes when your preferred product is out of stock. For example, replace pasta with Inaniwa udon or somen.

Supermarkets are a lifeline - 3 important things to remember

The need for information on how to spend your time at home has increased during this Coronavirus pandemic. It is important to enrich your free time by engaging in indoor activities, collecting takeout details of nearby stores, and trying trendy food recipes like
fruit sandwiches, and tapioca drinks at home. Today we focus on the supermarket, which supports our daily routines which in turn allows us to enjoy these unusual activities.

“Here are 3 important things to remember:
prevent infection, don’t contribute to the panic, and don’t spread the virus. It’s natural to prioritize not being infected, but it is more vital when you think like you’re already infected and act accordingly. Supermarkets serve as a lifeline. If you bring the virus into the supermarket, you are risking cutting off the food supply in your area. We must avoid infecting supermarket employees at all costs.”

Ms. Sugawara
gave advice on protecting oneself and the lifeline divided into 3 zones: how to prepare at home, what to do in the supermarket, and what to do from the cash register to after going back home.

For this article, let us discuss the things you must do and observe whenever you shop for your daily necessities at the supermarket.

10 things to do in the supermarket

Numbers 1 to 4 in this list are common knowledge as preventive measures against infectious diseases, but numbers 5 to 10 are equally important.

1. Disinfect your hands with the alcohol set up near the entrance.


2. Do not touch your eyes, nose, and mouth while shopping.

3. Maintain a constant distance from other shoppers. Keep your distance when asking employees for assistance.

4. Do not speak loudly.

5. Never touch any product you don’t intend to buy.

6. Do not buy more than necessary.

7. Even with good intentions, do not take photos of shortage in products or empty shelves.

8. When your preferred product is out of stock, substitute with another.

9. Follow purchase limits set by the store.

10. Do not blame or question employees for sold out items or items that have no confirmed restocking date.

First, let’s check tip #5 (never touch any product you don’t intend to buy). “The good thing about supermarkets is that you can touch the product and check their quality but right now, we must avoid doing that. Try to stop when you find yourself reaching out due to habit. When you’re with children, explain to them in a way they can understand.”

As for tip #6 (do not buy more than necessary), “The toilet paper shortage was caused by hoarding due to fake news. People heard the rumors and thought, ‘maybe I need more too.’ We’ve witnessed the collective behavior of consumers buying more than necessary without even realizing it.”

“According to a research conducted by Walmart, the U.S.’ largest supermarket chain, a customer buys 4 times more items when using a shopping cart than when without one. Shopping carts are magic tools that make customers buy more. I recommend those who tend to fall into this trap to use only shopping baskets instead. In another study, using shopping carts make the customers stay for up to 1.7 times longer than without it so to prevent infection, using only shopping baskets is more advisable.” (Source: Drugstore Kenkyukai “Latest Product Composition of U.S. Drugstores”)

Even if some items are out of stock, do not post on social media

For tip #7 (even with good intentions, do not take photos of shortage in products or empty shelves), “When the toilet paper shortage was analyzed later on, it was revealed that the first tweet containing the false rumor was ignored initially. But the tweet that denied the hoax had a total of 300,000 retweets the following day, fueling people who saw it with anxiety, leading to panic buying.”

Ms. Sugawara advised the 8th tip (when your preferred product is out of stock, substitute with another) to avoid using something that is not available. “Right now, pasta and pasta sauce (ready-to-eat variants) are out of stock in most places because they have long shelf life and are easy to prepare. But you can always use thin, dried
udon noodles or somen noodles instead. For the sauce, you can use zhajiangmian, dry dan dan noodles, or instant udon packages from any brand. Add vegetables or use instant miso soup with lots of toppings and have a pasta alternative that’s just as filling and healthy or maybe even more. Have fun improvising and overcome the crisis!”


and dry dan dan noodles as pasta sauce alternative

Lastly, for tip #9 (follow purchase limits set by the store) and #10 (do not blame or question employees for sold out items or items that have no confirmed restocking date), “Let’s go back to the toilet paper and mask shortage. A lot of customers grilled employees with ‘Why is it sold out?’ or ‘When will the next batch arrive?’ causing them stress when in most cases, the lack of stocks is caused by hoarding and is not the employee’s fault. Please understand this.”

3 things to do at the cash register

11. Maintain distance when lining up at the cash register.

12. Cashless payment is recommended.

13. Do not touch the wet towel at the self-bagging area with your bare hands.

According to Ms. Sugawara, the basis of the countermeasures against Coronavirus is social distancing. Also, when paying, use contactless payment options such as IC cards, or e-money, and smartphone payments which you only have to hold over the scanner which is ideal. Cash payment heightens the risk of infection between you and the cashier due to the physical contact. So for those who can, please use cashless payment to reduce the contact with others.

Tip #13 (do not touch the wet towel at the self-bagging area with your bare hands) is about how people shouldn’t touch the wet towels for opening plastic bags in the self-bagging station. Recently, plastic bags are made so the opening is easy to find. If you still can’t open it, rub both sides between your hands instead of wetting it.

Viewing things differently in the time of Coronavirus crisis

Ms. Sugawara says the world is going through a difficult time, but she likes to think that human beings are creatures that adapt well. Instead of seeing only the painful, distressing, and inconvenient things, she thinks there are good things too that we can appreciate especially because of the pandemic. It’s nice to be aware of the positive aspects that improve our lives.

Things to be positive about in the supermarket

・By planning what to buy thoroughly, wasting money on unnecessary items has been reduced.

・Without my children in the store with me, I stopped buying toys and extra snacks.

・I realized the importance of food, so I try to use up and eat up everything I buy.

・Instead of picking products that are cheap and easy to cook, I learned to focus on things that are


good for my body.

・Since I don’t eat out anymore, I became interested in ingredients and seasonings that are a little more luxurious than usual.

・I didn’t have interest in dry food before, but now I buy them because of their long shelf life and nutritional value.

Protecting the supermarket is protecting our lives

We can’t be healthy without eating. Eating is living. Right now, by protecting the supermarket, we are protecting our lives. While under the state of emergency declaration, the supermarket isn’t a place to hang out with your family. Also, don’t throw masks and tissues in the supermarket.

Many supermarket employees are unable to work due to school closures so they actually lack manpower right now. All the employees are working hard as the lifeline during a time of crisis even when they are faced with a high risk of infection themselves. If you can, give them kind words so that maybe we can at least make them feel better. But of course, most of all, be proud of yourself for shopping carefully, without being infected and without infecting anyone, and don’t forget to thank the employees on your way out.

Furthermore, as part of the new Coronavirus infection control measures by the
Consumer Affairs Agency, a “requests when shopping” (in Japanese) guide was released so check it out!

Yoshimi Sugawara
, a supermarket researcher, introduces etiquette tips for when grocery shopping.

■Supermarket Researcher Yoshimi Sugawara
Born in 1965, Tokyo resident. Published two “Supermarkets in Japan” books in 2012 and 2014 under Kodansha Ltd. From housewife to supermarket researcher. Featured in many TV shows, radio programs, magazines, and newspaper articles, she also served as a judge in Bento and Prepared Meal Awards 2020.

Provided by Japan Walker™, Walkerplus™, and Tokyo Walker™ (29 April 2020)

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