Shopping for Food during the Coronavirus Pandemic

Government Advice (England)

Previously the government’s instruction (in England) was to “stay at home”, whereas now it has changed to “stay alert”. As a result, more shops have opened and many more may reopen soon. A number of people I have spoken to are now even more worried about venturing out, as there will be more people to avoid.

So what is the government advice about shopping for food?

  • The government website gives advice on how to get food and other essential supplies during the coronavirus pandemic. It explains who should self isolate and not leave their home to obtain food and essential supplies.
  • For those who do not have to self isolate, the government has stated that they should shop in store so that supermarket delivery slots are available for those who need them the most.
  • The website states that supermarkets are disinfecting trolleys and baskets to protect you.
  • Government advice is to use the markings on the floor and advice in store to follow social distancing rules.
  • It is also advised to plan ahead to ensure that trips out to buy food are as infrequent as possible.
  • According to the Food Standards Agency, it is unlikely that you can catch coronavirus from food and it is not known to be transmitted by food packaging.

Supermarket Opening Times & Priorities

Below are details listed in alphabetical order, showing the opening times and special slots set aside for NHS workers and the vulnerable.

SupermarketOpening HoursKey workersVulnerable/Elderly Shoppers
AldiMon – Sat: 8am-10pm
Sun: 10am-4pm
NHS workers, police & fire service showing a valid ID &/or Blue Light Card get priority ahead of queues all day & every day.
Early access before tills open on Sundays.
Mon-Sat: access 30 mins before store opens for the elderly (over 70) & vulnerable.
AsdaMon – Sat: 8am-10pmNHS & care workers are prioritised in larger stores every Mon, Wed & Fri from 8am to 9am
Co-opMost stores open from 7am – 8pmNHS & carers are prioritised Mon – Sat: 8am to 9am & Sun: 10am to 11am.Vulnerable are prioritised Mon – Sat: 8am to 9am & Sun: 10am to 11am.
IcelandMon – Fri: 9am – 5pm (most stores)NHS get priority Mon – Sat during the final hour of trading (ID must be shown)First hour of trading is dedicated to elderly & vulnerable shoppers.
LidlFor your local store opening times check store locator
Marks & SpencersCheck your local store opening times here.First hour of trading on Tue & Fri for NHS & emergency services, health & social care workers.First hour of trading is reserved for vulnerable & older customers on Mon & Thurs.
MorrisonsOpening times vary. Check your local store opening times here.NHS hour Mon to Sat 6am – 7am, & Sun 9am – 9.30am (need an NHS badge)
SainsburysMon – Sat: 8am – 10pmNHS & social care workers have a dedicated half hour slot between 7.30am & 8am Mon to Sat, before the shop opens.Elderly & vulnerable have a dedicated hour between 8am & 9am Mon, Wed & Fri.
Tesco (exc Express stores)Opening hours vary. Check here for your local store opening times.Tue & Thurs 9am – 10am + a browsing hour on Sun before checkouts open. Also, all NHS, emergency service & care workers allowed to go to the front of a queue at any time (valid ID required)Mon, Wed & Fri between 9am & 10am dedicated to the elderly & vulnerable.
WaitroseCheck here for your local branch opening times.NHS staff & social workers given priority access to the shops and checkouts on production of a suitable ID. Daily essentials also put away for NHS workers.First hour of opening dedicated to the elderly & vulnerable.

Supermarket Check-In App

A web developer, Paul Hulatt, who was placed on furlough in March has developed a supermarket app from his home. The app tells you how long you will have to queue at supermarkets near you. It also shows stock levels at supermarkets , such as Aldi, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. His aim in developing the app was to relieve the headache caused by visiting food stores during the coronavirus pandemic.

But does it work?

The app is dependent upon customers actively using the app – the more people that use it, the better it is. As a result, there are differing reviews as to whether the app helps. It is undoubtedly a brilliant idea and hopefully more people will download it.

The Supermarket Check-In app is available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play for android phones.

What are Supermarkets doing to make Shopping Safer?

Queuing for Entry

Few will have failed to see the queues outside the supermarkets! Some supermarkets have staff checking that everyone is social distancing. Often there are caps on how many people are allowed inside the store at any one time. Aldi is introducing a new automated traffic light system outside its stores to help manage its queues.

Limit on Shoppers from Same Household

Most supermarkets have a restriction on the number of people from the same household who are allowed to enter the store. Invariably, this is limited to one – but children are allowed to accompany their parent if they cannot stay at home.

Priority Shopping for the NHS & Elderly

Most supermarkets have given priority shopping slots to the NHS and the vulnerable (see above). Some even give them priority at the checkout tills.

Contactless Payment

Most supermarkets will encourage contactless payments if the amount is less than £45.

Floor Markings

To enforce the two metre rule, supermarkets have floor markings to keep everyone in store a safe distance apart.

One-Way Aisles

Some supermarkets have a one-way system in place to prevent shoppers from bumping into one another.

Protective Screens

Most supermarkets have installed perspex screens at checkouts between the cashier and the customer.


All supermarkets have increased their cleaning operations. Hand sanitising facilities have been made available to staff and, in some cases, to customers as well.

How to Stay Safe when Shopping for Food

Social Distancing

Keep two metres away from customers and staff at all times.

Pay by Card

When possible (i.e. for shopping up to £45) make contactless payments. Where the payment exceeds £45 pay by card rather than cash.

Don’t touch food you are not intending to buy

To protect other customers and staff, only touch food that you are going to purchase.

Limit Trips to the Supermarket

Plan ahead to avoid having to visit supermarkets more than once a week.

Sanitise & Wash Hands

We’ve all been told how to wash our hands while singing “Happy Birthday” – but at every opportunity when out use a hand sanitiser and wash your hands when you return home. It is probably advisable to wash your hands again after your shopping has been put away.

Wear a Mask

There is conflicting advice as to whether we should wear masks. It is generally agreed that a mask does not protect the wearer, but it is possible that it protects others.

Shopping for Food – Are There Safer Places to Shop?

  • Undoubtedly, the safest place to shop is online. However, supermarket delivery slots are prioritised for the vulnerable – and rightly so.
  • Some argue that farmers’ markets are a safer place to shop for food. This is because they are outside. It is also due to the fact that the produce is likely to have been handled by fewer people.
  • Farm shops are providing a vital lifeline in supplying food to many local communities. Those that have introduced Covid-19 safety measures are seeing an increase in trade. Some are offering click and collect service and have set up a delivery service. Again, as there is less handling of the produce, they could well be a safer place to shop.
  • Independent shops that have introduced the appropriate safety measures could, in some cases, be a safer place to shop. They do not have such a diverse range of products and tend to be more expensive, but they are local. More importantly, those with smaller premises can exercise more control over the safety of their customers.
  • Some wholesalers (who normally trade with restaurants, pubs, schools, etc.) are now offering their products to local people. sometimes they provide a delivery service too.

Restrictions on What You Can Buy When Food Shopping

At the beginning of the lockdown there were shortages of a number of items in the supermarkets, notably toilet rolls! Most supermarkets are now removing the restrictions on purchases. Here is the latest:

AldiNo in-store restrictions at present.
AsdaOccasionally impose purchase limits on items in high demand.
Co-opSome in-store items restricted to 2 per customer.
IcelandMaximum purchase limits for some household, health, hygiene & baby products.
LidlNo restrictions at present.
Marks & SpencersNo restrictions at present.
MorrisonsNo in-store restrictions at the moment.
TescoIn store there are restrictions on some items e.g. toilet roll, alcohol, pasta & hand sanitisers.
SainsburysLimits remain on UHT milk, pasta & tinned tomatoes.
WaitroseTemporary limits on most popular items, e.g. pasta, rice, long-life milk, toilet rolls, antibacterial & cleaning products & some frozen foods.


During the pandemic there have been so many acts of kindness. There have been companies quietly helping out local communities; pubs and restaurants cooking meals for the vulnerable; neighbours shopping for others who are either vulnerable or self isolating; and people just pulling together to help others. Unlike shopping in a supermarket – where you are afraid to sneeze or cough for fear of the glare you will get – in many communities people are going the extra mile to make the world a better place.

Another upside to the pandemic is that more people are baking! Here are some recipes to tempt your taste buds.

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