Quebec recommends grocery stores install handwashing stations, avoid using cash

As grocery stores all take different measures to enforce physical distancing, the Quebec government has put out a series of guidelines to help stores reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Grocery stores urge customers to be patient with new sanitation, distancing measures

Some grocery stores, like this IGA in Trois-Rivières, have installed barriers to protect cashiers and have put up signs saying employees will not pack groceries into customers' reusable bags. (Radio-Canada/Martin Chabot)

Handwashing stations, more frequent cleaning and clear signage to show customers how to keep their distance from one another are among the measures the government is encouraging grocery stores to adopt, in order to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

The guidelines, released on the Quebec government's coronavirus website Tuesday, come as different grocery stores have been putting in place varying protocols to protect customers and staff, such as installing plexiglass barriers or refusing reusable grocery bags.  

"The big chains have already put measures in place, but for the smaller stores that have fewer resources, we had asked the government for some minimal directives" said Stéphane Lacasse, spokesperson for Quebec's association of food retailers.

While the government guidelines do say stores should remind customers to stay two metres away from other customers and from cashiers, they do not mention the use of plastic barriers. 

The guidelines do suggest putting up signs to show customers where to stand. 

The government also recommends offering customers the option of paying by Paypass, smart phone or online, in order to discourage the use of cash. 

Some stores refusing reusable bags

Other recommendations include: 

  • Handwashing stations at store entrances and exits. 

  • More frequent cleaning of high-traffic surfaces, such as door handles, grocery carts, checkout counters and menus.

  • Reminding customers that only one family member should be shopping at a time.

  • Prioritizing frequent handwashing by employees, rather than gloves, which the guidelines say can give a false sense of security. 

New Quebec government guidelines do not mention protective barriers for cashiers but suggest that stores use visual indicators to show where customers can stand in order to stay at least two metres away from cashiers and other customers. (Radio-Canada)

The government's recommendations also say stores should avoid accepting reusable mugs, but make no mention of reusable bags. 

In an email, Loblaw, which owns the Maxi, Provigo, Intermarché and Pharmaprix banners, confirmed that some of its stores were asking customers not to bring reusable bags, while others were asking customers who do bring them to bag their own groceries. 

"We can't guarantee that everyone's personal bags have been properly sanitized which could pose a risk to our colleagues and customers," the Loblaw statement said, adding that the fees for plastic bags have been waived.

The Quebec government guidelines do recommend that all customers pack their own groceries at the checkout, in order to limit interaction with the cashier.

'People ... get belligerent,' says shop owner

Leyenda Lee, owner of Marché Soupson, a small corner grocery store and lunch counter on Jean-Talon Street West, had already put hand sanitizer at the door earlier this month and asked customers to use it before touching the door handle. 

She said while most customers obliged, a small number did not follow that rule or respect physical distancing. 

"One of my employees got berated by a local customer for being diligent about telling him to sanitize," Lee said.

"People that get called out publicly get belligerent. They don't like it. They get reactive," she said. "I understand that it's a time of high anxiety for everyone, but I don't like being mocked for being cautious or vigilant for following protocols."

'It’s just so much less stress and less effort for us to just walk back and get something for someone,' said Leyenda Lee, owner of Marché Soupson, who blocked off the aisles of her small store and has customers order their groceries online or from the counter. (Leyenda Lee)

So she decided to block off almost the entire grocery store and ask customers to order what they want at the counter. 

"We have metal baskets that we sanitize after each use. We sanitize our hands; we pick up the basket, and then they just tell us in the store what they want, and we put it together," she said.

"It's just so much less stress and less effort for us to just walk back and get something for someone, than to tell someone who doesn't want to be compliant to do the right thing."

Customers can also order and pay online and pick up their groceries from a separate room of the store, which is sanitized after every customer. 

She said overwhelmingly, her customers have been supportive, with some even volunteering their time to help deliver groceries to others who can't leave their homes. One customer offered to design a website so the store could accept online orders. 

Lacasse said the food retailers association is calling on customers to be patient with the changes they see in grocery stores. 

"We understand it's not easy," he said. "We just want to make sure that people keep a smile on their face while they're in the stores. It's an adjustment for everyone." 

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