An interesting consequence of the pandemic for the food retail industry is the extent to which national and regional chains have had to assume responsibility for public health.
At this point, you likely feel safe when you walk into a Costco, Walmart, or Whole Foods and see the directional arrow decals on the floor, the plexiglass barriers at the registers, and the Purell dispensers at the store entrance (and exit). More importantly, you carry this feeling with you, perhaps all the way home. (Related: 8 Grocery Items That May Soon Be in Short Supply.)
Across the board, major supermarkets and retailers have made significant adjustments in the way they do business in order to prioritize—possibly to a greater extent than ever before in the food industry—consumer health. But, not all chains leapt into this new role as successfully as others, and as COVID-fatigue continues to set in, not all have remained vigilant in maintaining in-store precautions.
Moreover, as our understanding of COVID-19 has progressed, so have the standards to which national and regional grocery chains have become answerable. Several months after clarifying that surface-contact is not a main route of infection, the CDC offered guidance in October suggesting that airborne transmission accounts for some part of the the virus's spread.
What should you be looking for in a grocery store, right now?
Customers are looking for supermarkets that not only offer complimentary hand sanitizer, but those with the means and methods to enforce social distancing. As Marissa G. Baker, an industrial hygiene program director at the University of Washington, explained, in a recent article with the Boston Globe, the precautions supermarkets should be taking at this point are largely behind-the-scenes: improved ventilation and air filtration systems, as well as paid leave for sick employees—to incentivize self-isolation when appropriate.
Add on top of this the numerous other, and by now well-established, precautions, such as frequent store capacity monitoring, regular deep cleanings, mask-policy compliance checks—it's not difficult to imagine how easily a supermarket might begin to let things slide.
With all this in mind, we've compiled a list below of five U.S. supermarket chains, both national and regional ones, that have largely underperformed in terms of COVID safety precautions this year. For ease of comparison and ranking, we also consulted Consumer ReportsGrocery Stores & Supermarkets ratings and made use of its metrics throughout.