Warning of coronavirus risks over careless handling of shopping

Environmental health experts describe supermarkets as ‘high-risk sites of infection’

Customers stand in social distancing squares  a supermarke in Nairobi, Kenya. Photograph: Simon Maina/AFP/via Getty

Customers stand in social distancing squares a supermarke in Nairobi, Kenya. Photograph: Simon Maina/AFP/via Getty


Supermarkets have been described as “high-risk sites of infection” and careless handling of shopping both in stores and at home is putting people in danger, environmental health experts have warned.

The “disregard of hygiene standards” in some shops has been highlighted by the Irish Global Health Network (IGHN) as coronavirus continues to spread.

It says although some supermarkets are exercising caution and standards have improved more widely in recent days, the inconsistency is worrying

It has said more detailed guidance is needed for consumers as well as more, comprehensive sanitisation practices by supermarkets and clearer oversight by the authorities to ensure staff and shoppers are protected.

The IGHN, in partnership with the Environmental Health Association of Ireland and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health in the UK have released a set of guidelines for shoppers which they hope will help slow the spread of Covid-19.

The groups said a lack of clear controls on the numbers of people entering the store, the exposure of baked goods and fresh produce, along with the lack of facilities for handwashing should be red flags for shoppers .

“We know that the virus can survive on hard surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours,” said environmental health specialist Niall Roche. “It can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours. Supermarkets should adhere to the same guidance and practices that are being exercised in healthcare facilities, particularly for vulnerable shoppers.”

The guidelines set out a number of protocols to help the public protect themselves while at the shop. They advise people to use their non-dominant hand to pick up goods to reduce the cross-contamination risk from touching of the mouth, nose or eyes and say contactless payments should be made where possible.

The guidelines also say that because of the capacity of the virus to live on surfaces, shopping trolleys, baskets, pin pads, and other regularly touched items, they should be sanitised after each use.

People should reduce the frequency of shopping trips and only go when absolutely necessary and should avoid taking children to shops if possible and visit off-peak.

People are being encouraged to assess the infection control measures in local shops. Among the measures the groups say people should look out for are controls of the entry and exit of customers, the cleaning and sanitising of trolleys and baskets between use and the provision of hand sanitisers at entrances .

The guidelines says that best practise mandates there should be clear marking on floors to help customers maintain social distance and messages via posters and public address systems reminding customers and staff to maintain social distance.

Staff should also be practising social distancing on the shop floor and cleaning critical contact areas such as screens on self-service checkouts and debit card pin pads The group also says baked goods should be covered to protect from sneezes and coughs.

Consumers are being advised to wash their hands immediately after returning home and take great care when packing goods away.

Prior to stocking fridges and cupboards, shelves should be wiped with sanitiser and a paper towels and as coronavirus can survive on hard surfaces, the outside of all canned/hard surface pack goods should be wiped with a paper towel and warm soapy water,

An alternate option would be to leave non-perishable foods in a safe place for 72 hours. Remove outer food packaging and discard, being careful to limit handling of the inner packaging of items such as yoghurts.

However the group says no reported cases of Covid-19 have been linked to contaminated food. and the main risk to shoppers is coming into contact with an infected person.