Coronavirus: Why shoppers are afraid to put things back on the shelf

By Angie Brown
BBC Scotland, Edinburgh and East reporter

  • Published
Supermarket shoppersImage source, Getty Images

It's a new dilemma facing shoppers as they try to follow the correct supermarket etiquette to prevent the spread of coronavirus... should you put an item back on the shelves after you've touched it?

People who have picked up packets to check ingredients or calorie content have been left concerned that they will be accused of contaminating the product if they try to return it to its place.

For some, the only answer is to buy anything they touch - even if it isn't what they actually wanted.

Michaela Johnson, 30, from Leith, said she had picked up some golden breadcrumbs during her shopping because she couldn't find the ingredient she was seeking for a recipe.

Image source, Getty Images

"I put them in my trolley, but then when I got to the Asian section I found Panko breadcrumbs, which were the ones I needed.

"I felt I couldn't put the golden breadcrumbs back because I had touched them, so I bought both.

"It made me feel stupid but I do laugh now every time I see them in my cupboard."

Grace McLean, 30, from Edinburgh, said she had picked up the wrong newspaper in his supermarket.

"I felt I couldn't put it back because I had contaminated it by touching it," she said.

"I had a moment of wondering what to do and looking around to see if anyone was watching me, and then I just felt I had to buy it as I couldn't put it back. I've been wondering ever since if I should have just put it back."

Image source, Getty Images

Rory McKenzie, 35, from Edinburgh, felt a similar emotion after reaching to the back of a shelf for the last remaining bag of flour - only to find it was white rather than the wholemeal flour he wanted.

"I put it back, but then I got worried that someone was going to say I had contaminated it so I ended up putting it back into my basket," he said.

"It was quite annoying buying it but it was better than worrying I was going to get someone pulling me up about having touched it."

The British Retail Consortium does not have any particular guidance on how shoppers should handle such a situation.

However, a spokesperson said: "We would encourage consumers to follow government advice and wash their hands, use hand sanitiser and avoid touching their face as much as possible when shopping."

Fears over contaminating products on the shelves are not the only worry for shoppers who are trying to adjust to the new etiquette.

Katie Cormack, 43, from Edinburgh said: "I feel like I can't put my food on the conveyor belt at the till until the person in front has completely finished.

"It's funny - I feel like I don't know what the etiquette is in the supermarket so end up being on my best behaviour and feeling like I can't talk to the person on the till and things like that."

Susan Gray, 49, from Edinburgh, said: "I feel like I have to be overly polite to the staff on the door of the supermarket or they are not going to let me in.

"I've found myself almost getting nervous and really being overly smiley at them.

"It's the same feeling I get at airport security or when police cars are behind my car when I'm driving."

Image source, Getty Images

For Sally Johnston, 40, from Edinburgh, a single cough while queuing outside a shop was enough to cause embarrassment.

"I don't have a cough. It was just a one-off because my throat was dry, but all of a sudden everyone started turning around and glaring at me," she said.

"I actually was so embarrassed I had to leave the queue and go back to my car and go to another supermarket nearby."