Lowering COVID-19 Risks is Essential for Food Retail Businesses

Learn what supermarkets and grocery stores need to do to keep customers and workers safe.
April 2, 2020

In Australia, strict measures are being imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19. These measures are forcing many food businesses that allow the public to dine-in, such as restaurants and bars, to close their doors temporarily. Despite the negative effects to these types of food businesses, there is one type of food service that is actually growing during the pandemic: food retail businesses. Supermarket chains and grocery stores are having dramatic increases to the amount of customers and their overall revenue. The decrease in purchasing food from a food service has an opposite effect on the purchasing of food from food retail businesses. Also, more time at home means more groceries and household items that need to be purchased.

Risk management needed in food retail stores

Food retail businesses need to acknowledge that there is a risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19 within the establishment. During the crisis, staff are continuing to work to ensure that the public can access the goods they need. At the same time, customers are flocking to food retail locations to keep their families healthy and safe during the crisis. This convergence of people means supermarkets and grocery stores must put in place protocols and standards that will keep staff and customers safe.

Steps for COVID-19 prevention

The following are some of the essential ways that supermarkets and grocery stores can keep staff and customers safe:

Increase cleaning and sanitising

COVID-19 is passed from human to human through direct contact with an infected person’s saliva. This contact can occur through kissing, hugging and shaking hands, or by simply touching an object or surface with infected droplets from a person’s cough or sneeze. Supermarkets and grocery stores are frequented by hundreds of people in a given day, so there is a risk of contamination by COVID-19 on food or surfaces. An increase in cleaning and santising — including the sanitisation of items that are not normally sanitised — is the best defence against the virus. It is also important for food retail businesses to make sure that the sanitiser used throughout the premises is effective against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Businesses should check with the supplier of the sanitiser to be sure.

Always protect staff

The staff that work at grocery stores and supermarkets are the lifeblood of the business. They are the ones that are ensuring products are restocked, customers are checked out in a timely manner, and that the establishment is clean. It is essential that the staff working in the business are protected from the risks of COVID-19. Providing staff with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as disposable gloves or masks is an efficient way to do this. Staff should be trained on how to properly use any PPE, including how and when to wash their hands when changing protective items.

Cashiers can also be protected by installing physical protection barriers at checkouts such as plexiglass screens. These barriers protect staff and customers from being exposed to infected droplets from coughs or sneezes.

Ensure physical distancing

Physical distancing is achieved by maintaining a distance of at least 1-2 metres from other people. This can be done within supermarkets and grocery stores in a few ways. Markings can be placed on the floor at checkouts to ensure that customers stay at least 1 metre apart from each other while waiting in line. These markings can also be put in areas where people tend to congregate such as deli counters and the bakery. Signage can also be used to remind customers and employees about physical distancing and explain why markings have been placed on the floor.

Reduce operating hours and limit customers

Reducing the operating hours of the food retail business might not seem ideal, but it is an efficient way for supermarkets and grocers to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is because it allows food retail businesses to spend extra time cleaning and sanitising the entire establishment, which can take much longer with a new sanitation schedule. Cleaning and sanitising is one of the most important tasks to keep COVID-19 from spreading, so food retail businesses should reduce operating hours if needed to keep on top of the schedule.

Limiting the amount of customers within a store is another way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Not only does this reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 among customers and staff, but it makes enforcing physical or social distancing much easier.

Train on COVID-19

All staff at food retail stores should be trained in COVID-19 specific training in order to maintain a safe establishment and help prevent the spread of the the coronavirus. Training should include recognising COVID-19 symptoms and knowing what to do if they, a coworker or a customer falls sick while at the establishment. Staff should also be trained on personal hygiene, the updated cleaning and sanitising protocols, and any other health and safety procedures implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supermarkets and grocery stores are essential services for keeping the public healthy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, extra precautions and risk management need to be enforced to protect staff, customers and the community as a whole.