If you are practicing self-isolation at home, chances are you are still making some trips to the grocery store or pharmacy. The virus poses a particular threat to older people and people with underlying health problems. Here’s how you can protect your home from COVID 19. The sterile procedure outlined here will reduce the pathogens coming into your home during an outbreak, including COVID-19, using regular items including nitrile dishwashing gloves, a sponge, bleach, and vinegar.
Years ago, I trained in a biohazard level 3 lab, where I worked routinely and safely with airborne and blood-borne pathogens, including anthrax, HIV, and malaria. This information is based on my direct experience of sterile technique applied to a home environment with limited safety equipment.
Let’s get started by prepping your kitchen. This will take a lot longer than typical shopping, but once you know what to do, it will keep you safe no matter how bad things get outside.
Part 1. PREP
The grocery store is a hot zone, so imagine everything you touch is contaminated. Bring reusable bags (i.e., cotton) that can go through a hot water cycle. You will need to wash them right after you unload.
Do you have nitrile gloves (even for dishwashing)? Alcohol or hand sanitizer? If so, you need both on and at the ready on your person the moment you touch the store’s door handle or cart, whichever comes first.
If you don’t yet have nitrile gloves, add them to your list.
Don’t bring your phone or wallet. Bring only your keys, credit card/cash, and ID. Wear only clothes that can go through a hot wash. No hats, belts, or jewelry.
If you have a pair of back up shoes that you can leave out in the hall, or just inside your front door sealed inside ziplock bags, you want to use those shoes for every grocery run. Take them on/off in outside and never wear them inside your home.
Clear a hard landing spot for the bags that you can later douse with bleach or vinegar, such as a tiled countertop. Remove everything from this surface.
Fill both sinks with water and add 1 tablespoon of bleach into one tub and 1 tbsp of vinegar per gallon of water into the other tub. These are your decontamination baths (vinegar for fresh food and bleach for canned/jarred/boxed/packaged items, including meat). The water can be room temp. If you only have one sink, you will do the vinegar bath first for fresh food. Vinegar helps to preserve fresh food, especially leafy greens.
If you are especially vulnerable, consider adding a bleach bath to kill any viruses on fresh food. Bleach, not vinegar, has been shown most effective for killing. However, the taste is awful, and the food will need abundant rinsing.
Set up a drying area for your items that is separate from the landing area. Layout a few towels and choose towels that can take bleach and a hot wash.
Still with me?
Part 2. The Hot Zone
Put on your nitrile gloves and stick a small tub of hand sanitizer in your front pocket before you enter the store or touch the cart outside, whichever comes first.
DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE.
DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE.
DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE.
Okay, now pick up your food and check out.
After you leave the checkout and are standing outside, apply a quarter-size dollop of HS to your gloves. DO NOT remove your gloves. You only remove your gloves AFTER you have decontaminated your food.
Head home, hopefully enjoying some sunshine! If you drove, you will need to decontaminate your car surfaces with bleach or vinegar wipes before going inside. Yes, you drive with your gloves on, and then wipe down the car after you’ve unloaded your groceries and BEFORE you head inside. Try to park in the sun for an hour as this helps to kill pathogens.
While you wipe down your car with bleach or alcohol wipes, set your grocery bags outside on a hard surface, such a bench, wall, lawn chair, or the steps.
Unlock your front door, and remove your shoes outside. Walk inside with your bags and close the door with your elbow. Set your bags on the prepped landing area.
TOUCH NOTHING ELSE AT THIS POINT.
Remove your items into the decontamination baths. Start with the vinegar bath. Soak your gloved hands in the vinegar bath for thirty seconds (i.e., happy birthday song twice). Then add your fresh food, soaking for at least 30 seconds. Avoid leaning against the sink.
After you finish with fresh food, shift to the bleach sink. Soak your gloved hands for another 30 seconds. Then continue decontaminating the remaining items (including packaged foods and meats). If you have items inside cardboard, wipe these down lightly with a dedicated sponge damp with bleach.
At this point, wipe down your keys, ID, and credit card with the damp bleach sponge. Set them aside to air dry.
Using the now-dedicated sponge, douse the landing area with bleach. Let the bleach stand for 30 seconds and wipe dry. You will probably need to open a window. Put the sponge into the microwave and hit 30 seconds with your elbow.
Now you can take off your gloves and leave them for a few minutes in the bleach bath (keep the insides dry) while you strip off your clothes, and together with the grocery bags, put it all into the hottest wash cycle with vinegar where the rinse agent goes.
Go take a shower and wash your hair and face, particularly thoroughly. Enjoy putting on some fresh clothes!
Come back to kitchen refreshed and ready to put away your food, hang up your drying towels, and remove the dedicated sponge to a glass jar for easy identification next time.