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Shopping during COVID-19: 7 Signs a Store Is Not Sanitized Properly

 The way we have to behave in public spaces has changed dramatically with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the responsibility to abide by social distancing measures and sanitary norms is not just our own. During the past few weeks, we have witnessed the reopening of many businesses on a worldwide scale, but it's not likely that shopping will return to normal any time soon, and government agencies around the globe like the FDA in the US have published health safety guidelines for businesses as well.
Stores that don't abide by these guidelines are putting their customers at risk, and you should beware of such poor business practices and avoid grocery shops and shopping malls that don't follow them. Here are 7 warning signs that will tell you whether a store you've entered is following coronavirus health safety guidelines or not:

1. Employees Don’t Wear Masks

COVID-19 Shopping Bad Hygiene in Stores cashier
One of the telltale signs of a store ignoring health guidelines is its employees. Are they wearing masks and other protective equipment? Are they disinfecting their hands before and after handling your purchases or credit cards? Are employees following social distancing guidelines with customers and each other?

If these measures aren't put in place, it's not a good sign, as it is the workers who come in close contact with hundreds or thousands of customers every day, and so they are the ones with the highest risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to others, even if they don't exhibit any symptoms. It's also a sign that the business owner may not follow other Covid-19 guidelines.

Related Article: 6 Practical Tips to Make Face Masks More Comfortable

2. The Store Still Offers Samples

COVID-19 Shopping Bad Hygiene in Stores in-store cheese samples
It used to be a fun bonus and a way to test a product before purchasing it, but today, samples pose a danger to consumers, so any store that continues to offer samples isn't keeping customers safe. All samples, be it food samples at the grocery store or cosmetics samples at beauty retailers are a potential contaminant since so many people touch and use them all the time.
Naturally, stay away from samples yourself at all costs these days, but also consider pointing out to the store management that this practice is unsafe to their consumers.

3. The Restrooms Are Untidy

COVID-19 Shopping Bad Hygiene in Stores wc
This old restaurant trick will come in handy everywhere these days, be it a grocery store, a hair salon, or a coffee shop. Before you buy or decide to get anything done, take a quick trip to the restroom and see if it's tidy and well-stocked with soap, disinfectants, and paper.
If not, it's safe to assume that the business doesn't really care about the sanitation norms in the store itself as much as it should (even during a pandemic) and you should definitely avoid the place for your own safety.

4. The Store Doesn’t Encourage Social Distancing Measures

COVID-19 Shopping Bad Hygiene in Stores social distancing at checkout
Now, the way customers behave while shopping is crucial. If you're not sure how you should change your shopping habits these days, read our previous article: 5 Rules For Safe Food Shopping During the Corona PandemicThat being said, the store itself has to manage customer behavior, too, and make sure people don't remove their masks while shopping, sanitize their hands before entering the store, and maintain social distancing guidelines at all times.
Temperature checks, social distancing markers, and clear posters with the limited capacity of customers allowed into a store are some good signs you should look out for. If you noticed customers violating social distancing rules without reproach from the store management, it's a bad indication.

5. There Are No Disinfection Stations

COVID-19 Shopping Bad Hygiene in Stores alco gel at checkout
Did you enter a store and had no chance to disinfect your hands or sanitize your shopping cart before using it? If so, guess what, neither did any other customers, and chances are, these essentials aren't available to the employees either.
Sure, you can bring your own disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer with you, but the fact that the store owner doesn't encourage sanitary norms is a definite red flag. This is one of the biggest signs that the store isn't prioritizing health and safety guidelines and a legitimate reason to avoid the business in the future.

6. There Is an Open Salad Bar or Hot Food Bar in the Store

COVID-19 Shopping Bad Hygiene in Stores open salad bar
One of the FDA guidelines clearly states that businesses should "discontinue operations such as salad bars, buffets, and beverage service stations that require customers to use common utensils or dispensers." The issue with self-serve services is that they are touched and exposed to many people, turning them into a hotbed for germs. 
If a store continues to offer any of these services, you can assume they aren't abiding by other FDA regulations either and could not be safe for your health.

7. The Store Still Offers Returns

COVID-19 Shopping Bad Hygiene in Stores shopping bag
Being able to return an item you don't like is often very useful, but this cool feature is not the safest during a pandemic since the coronavirus can linger on surfaces for a long time. This is why many major retailers have limited returns and updated their return policy to not include food, cosmetics, clothing, and health items. 
Any products that had the potential to come into contact with customers' bodies could put shoppers at risk. So, if you find that a store has a return policy that's too loose and includes any of these items, you can definitely 'put your suspicious glasses on', so to speak.
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