Can Vending Machines Be Used During COVID-19?


The COVID-19 global pandemic has changed a lot in all of our lives and left us asking many questions that we likely hadn’t considered before.

When it comes to buying everyday items, most of us are now asking ‘is it safe?’ before entering a store or supermarket, even to buy essential items.

With that in mind, many people have the following question:

Can vending machines be used during COVID? Yes but be sure to take the usual precautions of using hand sanitizer or hand washing before and after. Minimize contact when collecting your items and, where possible, pay by contactless card. There are a few other points to consider, as covered below.

Safety Tips for Vending Machines During COVID

The key things to remember when using vending machines during the pandemic, and generally, are that the touch points are the main areas for concern, along with keeping appropriate social distance when queuing for any goods.

When you purchase an item from a vending machine, be sure to touch the screen with just your fingertips if possible and wash/sanitize them immediately afterwards. Although the risk from this is low, particularly for outdoor machines, it is still worth being vigilant.

When collecting your items, also try to only touch the machine in a minimal way, but again remember that this is very similar to all the items that you will be handling at a supermarket so there is not a huge amount of difference there.

As for queuing, it’s worth always keeping your mask on in case the person behind you is too close or the person in front isn’t wearing theirs.

Wherever possible, pay for your items using a contactless method such as your bank card or smartphone as many vending machines now have contactless options.

By doing all of the above, you will be doing all that you can to remain safe and hygienic when using vending machines but, again, note that the risk is relative to the location of the machine and, in most cases, will be quite low.

Face masks and vending machines – a common sight around the world in 2020, 2021 and perhaps beyond. Commuters walk past vending machines with their face masks on in Japan.
Photo Credit: Zhipeng Ya on Unsplash

Safety of Using Vending Machines During COVID

In terms of safety, vending machines are often actually safer than buying items in other ways.

For instance, when you go to the grocery store or supermarket, you will be picking up and handling goods that others have held just before you, without any idea of their hygiene. 

In supermarkets, you will also often need to get closer than you’d like to other people just to get to the items you want, which goes against the recommended social distancing guidelines.

Now, I am not suggesting that you try do to your weekly shop from a vending machine, far from it! More that buying from a vending machine involves similar and usually less contact with surfaces and other people than you would when going to a store or supermarket.

Of course, vending machines not having a teller or clerk also means that there is not the person at the checkout to deal with or come in close contact with, so that’s another point in their favor for customers and hygiene.

On top of this, many vending businesses have suffered huge losses in revenue from the closure of locations or sites where they their most profitable machines, such as in offices and on college campuses all over.

This kind of downturn in business means that they have to be extra careful with their vending machines in the current COVID pandemic climate and are working extra hard to maintain high standards and public trust in their machines.

Vending Machine Owners and Operators Need High Hygiene Standards During COVID

If anything, you can be reassured by the fact that so many people have started to question the hygiene of so many everyday things in their lives.

The impact of this on vending machine operators and owners has been one to actually improve the hygiene of their machines since they know that business will drop or disappear if they do not maintain excellent cleaning routines and standards.

For instance, if a vending machine was ever linked to a COVID breakout, then it would tarnish the reputation of vending machine businesses all across the globe given the negative media attention and public perception this would cause.

From that standpoint, COVID has forced vending machine owners to increase the hygiene standards they employ and be more mindful of the user experience of their machines.

Vending Machines Used for COVID Prevention Equipment – A Sign of Safety

As a sign of the safety of vending machines during COVID, some machines have actually been used to sell preventive equipment and during COVID-19.

COVID Testing Kits Sold through Vending Machines in the US, UK and Hong Kong

As I write this, it has just been announced that UC San Diego have installed vending machines dispensing COVID-19 rapid test kits on campus, again showing the perceived safety of vending machines during the pandemic.

As for from other countries, there are currently touchless vending machines offering rapid COVID testing kits in the UK. 

These machines offering rapid-testing COVID kits can be found in high-traffic areas and one type are offered by the company Stop the Spread.

Stop the Spread’s vending machines offer “personal protective equipment such as rapid COVID-19 test kits, KN95 face masks and medical grade hand sanitiser”, meeting the rigorous standards of the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK.

Vending machine COVID testing kits are also on sale in Hong Kong, where their machines have been installed in subway and public transportation stations, as you can see in the video below.

Face Masks Are Sold Through PPE Vending Machines

Personal protective equipment (PPE) vending machines selling face masks and hygiene kits have also sprung up around the world during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

This again points to the usefulness and safety of vending machines in general at the current time given that they are being used to sell items to prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19 itself.

This again offers a convenient way to get a mask to someone who might have lost theirs or whose mask has broken on the move (which is always possible given the lightweight material involved in most of the face masks you see for sale).

For more information, be sure to check out my article on PPE vending machines in general!

Steve Beale

Hey there! I am Steve and I run Vending Focus, where I share all the info I've gained from researching the vending machine business as I learn about it myself. I truly believe that vending machines have a huge role to play in the future of commerce and am here to share all the key information I can. Happy to help!

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