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By: Kaleb Kalbflesh
How often do you go out grocery shopping? Depending on your household, it might range from every couple of days to a few days of the month, but no matter what, for most people it’s likely to be a regular part of a routine. And since the average person is likely to be in and out so often, it makes sense that a grocery store should be a clean and sanitary place that you can trust to get clean food. Especially during the past couple of years of living in a pandemic, grocery stores need to hold sanitation and protection as one of their highest priorities to help protect the public. But does every store do the most that they can to provide proper mitigation tactics for COVID-19? In asking this question and discussing it, there is a great chance to check up on our local stores. I want to talk about 3 different grocery stores and discuss what mitigation tactics they use and what I think they could work on. The stores will be called Store 1, Store 2, and Store 3 for the duration of this post. This is my personal opinion on what I feel these stores could do better to help the average person who walks in their doors.
Before doing any analysis though, I should first describe each store to give context on how I viewed them. Store 1 is the largest store on this list, so I will hold it to a higher standard as more people could be in the store at once. I had the chance to go to two different locations of this store to compare how the two locations differed in how they mitigated the virus, naming them Store 1-A and Store 1-B. I do not think there was one place in either 1-A or 1-B that did not have an employee within 20 feet, as the stores were extremely busy. Store 2 is the smallest store on this list, with only a couple of aisles to navigate before you reach the from one side of the store to the other. The small size of the store also meant there were fewer employees. My best guess would say that there were about 15 customers in Store 2 at one time. Store 3 takes elements of both Store 1 and Store 2 in all aspects. While Store 3 is twice the size of Store 2, there was still less staff. Universally, all stores had plastic barriers at their checkouts, as well as having all employees wearing masks when it was required. All three of these stores are multimillion to multibillion dollar franchises, meaning they should have the financial ability to provide the sufficient mitigation techniques available to them.
First up are Stores 1-A and 1-B. Despite being the same company, the difference between the two stores was substantial. Store 1-A took me by surprise by how clean it was. As soon as I walked in, I saw a dispenser for wipes to clean off the cart handles. After going past the carts, I noticed a sizeable hand sanitizer dispenser for the public when entering and leaving the store. Next to the hand sanitizer was a box full of packaged masks that anyone could take. My initial reaction was shock as I initially had low expectations for Store 1. Hand sanitizer was placed throughout the store at strategic spots to cover the maximum amount of space available. Thoroughly impressed, I made one last stop at the bathroom to check if it was clean, and it was. After leaving Store 1-A, I was surprised by how impressively the store was still utilizing mitigation tactics this long after the initial outbreak, and even as some local health restrictions are relaxing. Clean bathrooms, plenty of hand sanitizer, and giving free masks are all fantastic steps in mitigation against the virus – and also for general cleanliness.
Sadly, its sister store, Store 1-B, did not meet the same quality standards as the first location. When I initially walked into the store, there were no wipes to clean the carts. This would be fine if it meant that at the moment they were out of wipes, especially as (to give the benefit of the doubt) Store 1-B was a lot busier than Store 1-A. After looking around for a second, I realized that there weren’t just any wipes but also no dispenser, leading me to believe that it wasn’t a supply issue; there were simply none out for public use. After walking past the carts, I did see that there was a hand sanitizer dispenser, but no masks. Again, it is a very possible that the store was out of them, given how busy it was. However, this is reviewing how an average person’s visit to the grocery store would go, so it does lose some favor by not having masks available, as opposed to its first location. After seeing that both the dispenser of wipes and masks were not available at this location, I went around the store to check on the various hand sanitizer stations. Unfortunately, aside from one behind the counter for employee use, I could not find any other sanitizer stations anywhere in the store. I did check the bathroom inside this location, and it was also clean. So between the two, Store 1-A did better than its sister store in the mitigation department in multiple areas, offering various options in numerous locations throughout the entire store. Store 1-B faltered mainly by both not giving any options throughout the store, but this was especially noticeable in comparison to the variety of options available in Store 1-A, such as the dispenser of cleaning wipes.
When I walked into Store 2, I immediately noticed that there were cart wipes and a hand sanitizer dispenser, which is great. Beyond the main entrance, I did not see any other hand sanitizer stations. However, the store is small enough that the one station might be considered enough for the entire store. The store also strongly encourages people to wear a mask. Why, then, did they not have masks available out in the front of the store for people to take if they wanted to? If I were to take a guess, I would say that it is because there is not an employee standing by the entrance to watch for people taking more masks than they need. To keep costs low, they may have decided to forgo dispensing masks, and relied on customers to be wearing their own.
I have to admit that Store 3 did take me by surprise. I was shocked to see that there was no dispenser or hand sanitizer available for the public to use. A spray bottle of disinfectant and a roll of paper towels were the only sanitation supplies the customers had access to. After walking past the main entrance, I searched for other sanitation supplies and found none. There were no hand sanitizer stations inside the entire store, being very compact in both their aisle spacing and the general layout of the store. It disappoints me to see a store not have many different mitigation tactics despite its substantial size. I also noticed that there are not many signs giving out safety tips to customers, while all other stores that I have reviewed had them in almost every corner of the store. At least to me as an observer, the effort put into the health and safety of their customers seems to be lacking and really recommends immediate improvement.
But if we’re talking about improvements, it’s worth suggesting some instead of just pointing out flaws. How could these stores do better in their mitigation against COVID-19?
Analysis & Conclusion
Store 1-A is almost perfect in my eyes. I do not think any new additions can be made to the store, as they already offer a generous amount of sanitation supplies for their customers. Store 1-B is the complete opposite, lacking essential supplies in multiple areas. An essential sanitation feature that every store should own aside from hand sanitizer is cart wipes. In pandemic conditions, if not properly cleaned, a single cart could transfer pathogens to many, many customers. Also in need of a fix is the lack of hand sanitizer throughout the store. With big box stores like this one, there need to be multiple stations to dispense hand sanitizer, simply to ensure they are visible and available to customers across so much floor space. So I would recommend stationing hand sanitizer stations throughout the store and obtaining wipes for the carts as the most critical areas of possible mitigation improvement in this scenario. Having free masks is also invaluable to customers as it eases them if they are worried about the number of people in the store, but if a store has to prioritize, they are lower on the list.
Store 2 does a great job of mitigating with the resources provided to them. I recommend adding an extra hand sanitizer station towards the back of the store as the only current location to sanitize is the very front, but aside from adding another sanitation area, there is not much else the store could reasonably do to help with their mitigation tactics, given their space and resource constraints.
Store 3, however, needs to regroup and decide what they want to do with their mitigation strategy. They need to add proper sanitation wipes and hand sanitizers to the front of the store at least. It would not be difficult to add hand sanitizing stations, especially, as they have become an accepted standard across most stores today, and should be easily available. These additions would be best done sooner rather than later, as the current gaps are large, and the more time that there is improper sanitation, the more likely COVID will spread, even in a period of decreasing cases.
While all of the different stores did have at least one mitigation tactic, some outshined others in their abundance and their use. While Store 1 was the best in its mitigation, it showed an alarming difference between the two stores, maybe due to inconsistencies in leadership across different franchise locations. Store 2 may have been small, but it did provide good sanitation supplies that anyone could use, and for its size, that effort is worth praising. Store 3 shows the true range of possibilities, though, as it might be the worst store on this list, having minimal supplies for sanitation for its customers, despite its size.
Something that I think people could learn from this comparison is the ways that, even with the same information and guidelines on what mitigation tools are recommended, there can still be such different interpretations in the ways businesses choose in looking out for their customers. All of the stores did start from the same place, making an effort to help their customers by promoting sanitation and distancing from one another, the recommendations we are all familiar with, but ended up with seriously varying results. That’s a good reason for people in this field to study and review these efforts, so that they can help identify ways to improve. After all, while they did not always meet the mark for my personal guidelines on what I think should be provided, I can not deny that there is a definite effort by each store to give its customers clean food and a sanitary experience, and those are worth helping succeed.
Kaleb Kalbflesh is currently a student in the Track II Emergency Management AAS program at Frederick Community College, and a work-study student in the MACEM&PS offices for the Spring 2022 semester. He is a graduate of Washington County Technical High School, where he completed the Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness CTE program and earned certifications as an emergency medical, fire, and police dispatcher.