Photo: Melanie Acevedo/Getty Images
Coronavirus has confined many of us to our homes, save for the absolute necessities: trips to the pharmacy, walking the dog, and grocery runs are about the only times people should be going outside. But supermarkets, vital though they are, come with their own quandaries: Every item in the store has been handled by numerous other people, perused and potentially sneezed on by countless others. Given what we know about coronavirus’s staying power on surfaces — as far as the National Institutes of Health know, it can live for 24 hours on cardboard, four hours on copper, and 72 hours on plastic and steel — simply buying the food we need feels like a risky proposition, if also a necessity. So please, allow this Michigan doctor to show you how to stock your shelves responsibly.
In a 13-minute YouTube tutorial, Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, a family physician in Grand Rapids, explains in measured and soothing tones how to adapt surgical “sterile technique” for your kitchen. Granted, some of his tips — like leaving groceries outside the house, as in on a porch or in a garage, for three days — will not be feasible for everyone. Nonetheless, VanWingen’s analogy for approaching contamination mitigation should be digestible for all.
“Imagine that the groceries that you have are covered with some glitter, and your goal at the end of this is to not have any glitter in your house, on your hands, or especially, on your face,” he says. “Imagine that disinfectants and soap, they have the power to dissolve that glitter.” Can do.
While you — a healthy person who has not been exposed to coronavirus and who exhibits zero distressing respiratory symptoms; if you do not meet these criteria, VanWingen says stay home — are in the store, wipe down your cart before you put anything in it. Then, he recommends, only pick up items you are definitely going to buy. Also, it helps to make a list of everything you’ll need for two weeks’ worth of meals and snacks, so that you’re not dawdling in a possible germ zone.
Before you bring your groceries inside, prepare an unpacking station: first, VanWingen says, sanitize a large surface, designating one half for the grocery bags and the other half for cleaning their contents. As you start unbagging your items, get rid of any extraneous packaging — dump bread into a Tupperware and dispose of the bag; take a frozen pizza out of its box and store the plastic-wrapped product in your freezer — and use a sanitizer-saturated paper towel to wipe down anything that someone else has touched.
Fruit, VanWingen says, should be soaked in soapy water and then washed exactly the same way you’d wash your hands: for at least 20 seconds, with friction, per piece of fruit. Rinse it thoroughly, and store it somewhere clean.
For takeout, VanWingen’s procedure looks pretty much the same: The food itself is probably safe and can go straight onto a plate, although VanWingen says microwaving is recommended. Place all wrappers in a bag and get them immediately out of the house.
“I know all of this seems like it’s time-consuming, but these days, in truth, people do have a bit more time on their hands,” VanWingen says. “Let’s be methodical and be safe and not take any chances.”
And yes, many of us do have more time at our disposal than usual — time to watch this video, as many times as it takes to commit the protocol to memory.