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Costco is bringing back its sample stations this week

Food sampling is back — here's how to enjoy it safely.
Inside A Costco Wholesale Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
Customers wait in line to check-out at a Costco Wholesale Corp. store in San Francisco, on Dec. 5, 2018.David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Food sampling is back: Costco is bringing back sampling stations at 170 of its roughly 550 locations this week, after the warehouse club suspended sample stations 14 months ago, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sam’s Club is also bringing back sampling at all 600 locations this week, the warehouse club announced Monday. The company is also relaunching its demo program, Taste & Tips, where consumers can sample foods and review them in stores. For now, demos will only be held on weekends with sealed samples and limited quantities.

Regional chain Stew Leonard’s resumed demos this week, a company representative told CNBC, with samples also being offered in some stores. However, the chain's olive bars and buffet bars will remain closed.

Hot and cold food bars at regional grocer Wegmans also remain closed. A spokesperson told WIVB “currently, we do not have plans to bring the self-serve bars back in their traditional way.”

BJ’s Wholesale Club, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s did not respond to requests for comment.

But is supermarket sampling safe? At Costco, those handing out samples will be behind plexiglass. At both Sam’s Club and Costco, employees who are fully vaccinated will not have to wear a mask unless it is state mandated.

Consumers should still be cautious when visiting supermarkets and eating in crowds, especially if not vaccinated, said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

“We know the main transmission is airborne,” Galiatsatos said. “The risk comes from having your mask down and eating. Recall that restaurants have been main spreading events.”

If you want to sample something in a store, try not to have your mask off for too long. And make sure the workers handing out the samples are taking proper precautions, he said.

“To get life back to normal, we would need vaccinations to continue and to practice safety, especially for those passing out the samples,” he said.