22nd May 2020

Coronavirus: Shopping, Food Safety and Pricing Practices

Information about the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) to retailers, supermarkets, food safety and a note on sales and pricing practices during the coronavirus pandemic.

The information on this page was last updated on 22 May 2020.

Sales and pricing practices during the coronavirus pandemic

Contactless Spending

From 1 April 2020, the spending limit for contactless card payments will be increased from £30 to £45. This may not be available immediately as some retailers may need time to update their systems.  

In addition to this, Tesco Bank has increased the contactless payment limit on the free Tesco Pay+ app to £250, which customers can use with one scan of their phones at checkouts

Unfair Pricing

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) wants to ensure that traders do not exploit the current situation to take advantage of people by charging excessive prices or making misleading claims about the efficacy of protective equipment. The CMA has stated that it will take direct enforcement action in appropriate cases. In addition, the CMA will assess whether it should advise Government to consider taking direct action to regulate prices.

The CMA's statement on this matter is available here.   

Home food delivery

Supermarkets - Online delivery slots

Asda, Iceland, Sainsbury’s and Tesco have now confirmed they will allocate a proportion of online delivery slots to this group who need it most. To register your interest, you must complete a form here.

Deliveries from other food retailers 

Who is delivering? Northern Ireland is a Facebook page that is sharing information on businesses in Northern Ireland that are delivering fresh food, groceries and pre-made meals. Have a check to see what local businesses near you are able to deliver food to your door.

There is an interactive map available by clicking here.

Restrictions when purchasing goods

Supermarkets have been inundated by shoppers panic buying which has led to shortages in certain key items, such as pasta and toilet roll, despite government advice. As a result, a number of supermarkets have placed restrictions on the number of items consumers can purchase.

The major supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda have started to impose limits on how many of each item people can buy in-store and online, in a bid to stop panic-buying. Use the drop-down menu below to see restrictions that supermarkets have in place. 


Tesco has purchasing restrictions on hand sanitisers, toilet roll and pasta.


Sainsbury’s will start to remove limits on the number of each item customers can purchase from Sunday 5 April. Limits will remain in place on the most popular items which include UHT milk, pasta and tinned tomatoes. 


Asda will let people purchase up to three of any food, toiletry or cleaning products.

Spar NI and ViVOxtra

Spar NI and ViVOxtra consumers can purchase no more than three of each item. 

Shop closures

Open Stores 

The government has advised that consumers go shopping ‘as little as you can’. All shops selling non-essential goods, such as clothing and electronic stores, have been ordered to close. Hair, beauty and nail salons, electronics shops, and outdoor and indoor markets are closed. 

Use the drop-down menu below to see retailers that will be allowed to stay open.

Retailers that are allowed to stay open

  • Supermarkets and other food shops
  • Medical services (such as dental surgeries, opticians and audiology clinics, physiotherapy clinics, chiropody and podiatry clinics, and other professional vocational medical services)
  • Pharmacies and chemists, including non-dispensing pharmacies
  • Petrol stations
  • Bicycle shops
  • Hardware shops and equipment, plant and tool hire
  • Veterinary surgeries and pet shops
  • Agricultural supplies shops
  • Corner shops and newsagents
  • Off-licences and licenced shops selling alcohol, including those within breweries
  • Laundrettes and dry cleaners
  • Post offices
  • Vehicle rental services
  • Car garages and MOT services
  • Car parks
  • High street banks, building societies, short-term loan providers, credit unions and cash points
  • Storage and distribution facilities, including delivery drop off points where they are on the premises of any of the above businesses
  • Public toilets
  • Shopping centres may stay open but only units of the types listed above may trade

Updates on re-opening of retailers/businesses

18 May 2020 - Garden centres 

18 May 2020 - Recycling centres 

18 May 2020 - Angling facilities 

1 June 2020 - Ikea is set reopen its Belfast stores with a new series of safety measures to ensure social distancing. The homewares chain said social distancing wardens will patrol the stores and the number of customers would be limited. Restaurants and play areas will remain closed but the food market will reopen. 

Food safety

Food Standards Agency (FSA) guidance on food safety

The FSA has published new guidance to help consumers understand more about COVID-19 and food. The guidance covers a range of issues including food hygiene, food packaging and social distancing when shopping. There is also advice on storing food at home, to help people manage leftovers and avoid waste.

Click here for more information.

COVID-19 and food safety

There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food as COVID-19 is not a food borne virus. The main risk of transmission is from close contact with infected people. The advice to food businesses and consumers is to maintain good hygiene practices and to wash your hands regularly. Thorough cooking of food will kill the virus and there is little scientific evidence relating to the survival of the COVID-19 on the surface of open food. Source: Ulster Farmers Union.

Home Delivery

Many consumers are having difficulties accessing home deliveries. Some members of the public are finding ways to share information about shops that are offering delivery services and local community groups that can offer help and support. One of these is the Facebook group 'Who is delivering? Northern Ireland'. This group have developed a map with links to local shops that deliver and this information is growing every day. For a link to their map click here

Opening hours

Some stores have changed opening hours to allow for increased cleaning and restocking and announced special opening times for vulnerable/older consumers. See the drop-down menu below for further details.

Opening hours (click to view)

Sainsbury’s have confirmed that elderly and vulnerable customers will be given priority and will have the first hour of the stores opening to themselves. 

Tesco have reduced store opening hours and will continue to open between 6am and 10pm for the immediate future.

Iceland's Kennedy Centre store in West Belfast will let older customers shop on their own between 08:00 and 09:00 every day.

Fresh Food Centre stores in Castlewellan and Warrenpoint have revised their opening hours from 8am to 8pm each day until further notice. 

Note: For everyone’s protection, many shops/supermarkets have introduced distancing measures at checkouts to reduce the risk of infection.

Keeping customers and staff safe

Most shops have queuing systems in place outside and ask you to queue at a safe distance of two metres apart. Try to keep a safe distance from other customers and from store staff when you are doing your shop. Many stores have placed markings on shop floors to help you know what a safe distance is and many manned checkouts are now screened. Stores are also encouraging payment by card where possible.

Stores have also started installing large plastic screens in front of tills. Some stores also have a one way aisle system in place.

From 3 April 2020 Sainsbury’s are asking everyone to only send one adult per household to their shops. Store teams will be asking groups with more than one adult to choose one adult to shop and will ask other adults to wait. Children are of course welcome if they are not able to stay at home.


The latest advice is that anyone in self-isolation should ask friends or family to drop off anything they need, or order supplies online.

Any deliveries should be left outside their homes.

Food banks

There are numerous food banks operating across Northern Ireland. Many of these are operated by The Trussell Trust, who can point you in the direction of your local food bank. 

We are monitoring food banks in Northern Ireland and have published the most up-to-date information in the link below. 

Weekly food delivery service

The Department for Communities has announced a new weekly service which will see 10,000 food boxes being delivered to the most vulnerable in society during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Read more in our 'Vulnerable Consumers' section. 

Guidance for food businesses

The Food Standards Agency has now published guidance to assist food businesses during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.  The new guidance has been developed with The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and covers a range of areas including good hygiene practice, management of employee sickness, and social distancing for specific food business settings.

Following the announcement by the Northern Ireland Executive and the publication of the ‘Pathway to Recovery’ document, the Food Standards Agency has collated guidance for food businesses operating during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Advice is provided to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely in the food sector and complements the wider business guidance published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. You can also find more information on workplace safety guidelines and social distancing on NI Business Info.

The Food Standards Agency website provides information for food manufacturers, restaurants and takeaways, and the farming and agriculture sectors. The guidance covers a range of areas, including social distancing, cleaning and staff training. It outlines the hygiene processes and requirements food businesses must follow as they develop new ways of working.

Reopening checklist for food businesses during COVID-19

The Food Standards Agency has published a checklist to support food businesses to reopen safely during COVID-19 after a period of inaction. It is available here.


Pharmacies and chemists, including non-dispensing pharmacies, currently remain open. 

Boots has produced a FAQ regarding the coronavirus, prescription deliveries and collecting prescriptions for other people.