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The #1 Most Dangerous Place at Your Grocery Store, According to Health Experts

It's the busiest area, which makes it a prime spot for spreading COVID-19, experts warn.
Self check out

It's no secret that prepping for a grocery store run these days can feel decidedly—and unsettlingly—more like battle planning than family meal-prep. Strategized the perfect time to go? Check. Armed with gloves and a mask? Done. Fully stocked in extra wipes and disinfectants? Of course. After all, for even the most devout social distancers among us, stepping out for groceries is likely the single chore that puts them most at-risk of contracting COVID-19.

In the last several weeks, so many grocery store employees have died as a result of the coronavirus that The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a raft of safety measures for protecting yourself and them during your shopping trips. (In fact, many experts believe that grocery stores should shut their doors completely and institute a policy of curbside pickups only.)

If you're among the grocery-shopping masses heading out to Walmart, Whole Foods, and other stores (and you likely are, given that 70 percent of Americans surveyed by Harris Interactive/Toluna still prefer shopping for groceries in-person over online), it's important to know the dangers lurking and where they are.

RELATED: 9 Worst Grocery Stores to Shop at During the Pandemic

According to new reporting and interviews with grocery store workers and public health experts, the place in the supermarket that puts you most at-risk of contracting the virus is the cash register.

After all, this is where "every customer passes … and stands … for some time while groceries are moving down the counter," Brandon Brown, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Riverside, told CNN.

It's also the riskiest place where you'll find yourself in closer proximity to other people. As a Trader Joe's employee recently said, the number one thing grocery story workers don't want you to do is crowd the cashier area or payment line.

"The large carts at Trader Joe's are around four or five feet long," said the staffer, describing how shoppers and cashiers drift closer together near the register. "If your cart reaches the register, let go of it, walk back behind the guideline if there is one, and let us grab the cart. Let us do the work from there."

Proper guidelines extend to self-checkout as well. Never forget to wipe down the payment machine before use—even if you think an employee has already done so—and be sure to use hand sanitizer immediately after touching anything (and obviously, avoid touching your face).

It's no secret that grocery stores are aggressively increasing their safety measures as the pandemic has continued, but that doesn't mean all of your fellow shoppers are following the rules. This week, for instance, Walmart instituted several new policies for all of its stores, and one of its most unique and innovative measures isn't going as planned: One-way shopping movements, replete with arrows on the ground, to ensure proper social distancing are ineffective and largely being ignored by many shoppers.

"Walmart had the good idea to make their aisles one way to improve social distancing," Tweeted one shopper. "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. I ran into directionally challenged persons at every turn. Come on, people!"

So, stay safe out there by practicing the utmost safety measures when approaching and while standing near the cash register at grocery stores. And for more up-to-the-minute advice on staying healthy during the pandemic, sign up for our newsletter.

Eat This, Not That! is constantly monitoring the latest food news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed (and answer your most urgent questions). Here are the precautions you should be taking at the grocery store, the foods you should have on hand, the meal delivery services and restaurant chains offering takeout you need to know about, and ways you can help support those in need. We will continue to update these as new information develops. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.
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