Can I go to the shops and just, you know, browse around? What’ll I find at the shops, anyway? How do I, what happens, where and why? There’s patchy information out there and I’ve been collecting and curating… I’m keeping this article pinned and will keep adding practical information as I find it.
Stock in many supermarkets has returned on the shelves. Quite a few countries are proving that they can prevent having any new cases at all some days, now the aim is to have those zero new case days turn into zero new case weeks, months, and years. Masks and staying isolated until given new instructions are the most important issue right now, no false sense of relief and rushing out and risking a whole new wave of infection.
SARS-cov-2 appears to become unviable at temperatures above 98C (208F) so boiling or blanching in boiling water should make most foods safe to consume.
Back to the original article:
What We Personally Did.
Wifey and I have masks for going out.
We use them whenever we feel we may be in an exposed situation.
Our locale covers a fairly large geographical area, it has reported two cases to date, our main problem is that we’re on a highway and we get – sorry, we got – a lot of tourists. Lockdown has eliminated all but the stupidest tourists, and you just know they’re the ones you’re going to run into. So masks are mainly to protect others from any possible infection emanating from us and thanks to some good luck in the pantry we can last a week or two between restocks.
We also carry disposable gloves for the odd situation:
- Using an ATM. Anyone else could have used it and left our friend SARS-cov-2 smeared on the touchscreen and keypad.
- Obviously disturbed shelves and produce at the supermarket. Most people have gotten used to appraising what they need by sight, picking the one they want, and then just touching and lifting that one – but there always the ones that have to maul the produce, handle all five tins of baked beans before deciding they only need one, and so forth.
- An obvious one – pushing the trolley. (Although – see next – there’s a better way of coping with trolleys.)
Gloves are a “one shot” Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in this situation. Unless you have a way to sterilise them, they carry just as much contaminant as your hands would. Use them like a shield that you then remove – carefully, first turning both the cuffs, then turning inside out and disposing of so you never touch the outside of the gloves – and dispose of.
And if you forgot the gloves, all is not lost. Go inside the supermarket to the fresh produce section, grab two plastic bags off one of the rolls, put your hands inside – and go back and grab that trolley or basket.
Hand sanitiser and alcohol (or soap) wipes:
- Sanitise hands before entering a premises, to avoid leaving germs on places you touch. (This is safety for everyone else, and you’d hope everyone else is also doing it for your safety – but don’t bet your health on it.)
- Sanitise hands when you leave a premises, or before entering your car. (We unload groceries into the trunk first, return the trolley, then sanitise and get in the car.)
- Alcohol wipes (or soap wipes) are used on the handle of the shopping trolley because – everyone holds a trolley by the handle.
- Also on some outsides of packages of groceries in some cases. (After you’ve seen the previous person handling all five tins of baked beans, for example.)
Hand sanitisers should be high alc/vol percentages, as should your alcohol wipes. They may not outright kill SARS-cov-2 but will usefully slow it at the least – they may kill it, but always expect the worst case and anything better’s a bonus. You’re trying to keep your hands and surfaces your hands touch as safe as possible, don’t rely on the sanitiser and touch your face afterwards as that may well leave you infected, and wash properly with soap and water as soon and as often as you can, especially when you get home.
And we have a simple protocol for going out:
- Outerwear. Before we go out we put an outer layer of clothing on. Nothing flash or ‘level two biohazard, stat!’ – just an outer shirt and ‘going out’ pants. Hats or scarves are good too.
- Check that we have sanitiser, wipes, a spare pair of disposable gloves each.
- Go out and shop.
- Come home, unload groceries from the boot to the kitchen.
- Remove outerwear and put aside either for washing or hanging out for a week. (SARS-cov-2 has a limited lifespan so just hanging clothes in fresh air for a week or two seems to be as effective as washing them.)
- Wash hands with soap / detergent and water. 20 seconds. No cheating.
- Now put groceries away.
- A quick wipe with alcohol or bleach may be effective – if you’re not sure the outside of goods were clean.
- A soak in the sink with a cupful or two of white vinegar and water may be helpful in the case of vegetables and fruit that can be washed like that.
- Having a rotation longer than the half-life of the virus is good too. Our pantry has a lot of stuff, and I use the oldest first, put the newest to the back of the shelves. That way there’s a very good chance any virus is dead by the time I use that bottle or jar or tin.
- Wash hands with soap / detergent and water. 20 seconds. No cheating.
Using outerwear may seem like overkill but it’s a simple thing you can do, remember that SARS-cov-2 is a virus and doesn’t move about on its own. Wash those clothes or leave then out airing in a safe space until twice the virus’ half-life. Washing hands is the best because it breaks down the virus’ coating which ‘kills’ it. Just leaving soap on your hands won’t crush the soap into the virus coating, that needs you to rub soap over every part of your hand with a bit of pressure. Imagine you’re crushing SARS-cov-2 when you’re washing your hands because that’s pretty much what happens.
The half life of SARS-cov-2 varies depending on the surfaces it is attached to. It needs to infect our cells in order to multiply, it needs our hands or sneezes to get to the entry points which are your mouth, nose, eyes, ears, or fresh cuts on your hands or anywhere else. By itself on surfaces, it just lies there slowly dying.
‘Half-life’ means the time that it takes for measured density of viable (live) virus particles is reduced to half. (If the virus is spread at 10,000,000 particles per square centimetre, after one half-life one half of the virus is dead or unviable, leaving only 5,000,000. After another half-life period, that 5,000,000 is reduced to 2,500,000, and then after another half-life period, it’s down to 1,250,000.)
- Obviously, if you can wash off three quarters of the virus before letting the item sit around, you start off much lower and the reduction would be 2,500.00 – 1,250,000 – 625,000 – 312,500 so cleaning and then resting a product will be far more effective than just relying on half-life to sterilise it.
- On many plastics it is 72 hours. (That means the viable amount of virus (the amount still alive enough to infect) is halved every three days.)
- On stainless steel the half-life is 48 hours, I presume similar on tins and glass jars. (Every two days on these materials,)
- Copper and cardboard (and one would presume leather, cotton, and so forth?) the half life is 4 – 8 hours and that means probably no viable virus after a day.
Those are guidelines only, the actual half-life may vary because some materials behave anomalously and so it’s better to treat everything as having a 72 hour half-life. That means that I’d leave things for around ten days where possible, for best chance of them being clean or almost so.
THIS IS WHY HAVING A PANTRY IS A GOOD IDEA.
A ‘pantry’ in this case can be four or five cartons each stocked with items you’d consume in three or four days, and you just work to fill them all bit by bit, using the oldest carton and working backwards through them, all the while filling the emptied cartons again. You don’t need a dedicated room for this.
SARS-cov-2 spreads from coughing, sneezing, and just talking, by people who are carrying the virus but may not yet know it. (In the early stages you just don’t know you have it yet – and that period can be as little as two days but has been known to be as long as ten or twelve days. So a person could in theory go around spreading the virus for up to ten days without realising it.)
Masks prevent those sneezes and coughs from spreading quite as much virus over quite so much of an area but they don’t stop it from happening.
Masks don’t totally prevent you from getting infected, (especially if not worn and fitted properly) but they can be helpful. Also, they make you aware not to touch your face, and cover the two main entry points for the virus which are nostrils and mouth. You have to remember not to rub your eyes.
Gloves are not a fulltime shield. If you wear gloves when shopping you’re still transferring the same amount of material between things you touch. If you pick up apples someone else has handled and put virus on, and then pick up oranges, you’re still transferring the virus from the apples to the oranges. The only difference is that your hands stay clean. (And you can achieve much the same thing using hand sanitiser between handling the two things.)
The one time I’d consider using gloves at all times while out is if I have a fresh cut on my hands. It goes without saying that if you have cuts or abrasions elsewhere in places that get exposed to the air, putting a dressing on is important.
Actual Shopping. Finally.
We’ve had the Great TP Stampede of 2020. (Probably.) The Pasta Prohibition followed it, along with All Your Yeast Are Belong To Us and the Say It With Flours incident.
I’ve said my piece a few paragraphs back where I make the case to
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build up a pantry stock that can last a week or two. Seriously. Not just now but for all time, get into that one habit and you’ll be able to ride right over crises like the ones a handful of people have caused us.
But I’ve noticed that the shelves are slowly coming back into stocked situations, and a few times we’ve just done without rigatone pasta for a fortnight rather than try to catch up a shortfall when new stocks arrived.
That seems to be the secret. Slowly build your pantry up, and if something goes out of stock, don’t madly buy it as soon as there’s new stock – just buy as per normal, and slowly everything will recover.
I replace my instant yeast once a year and the bit I have left is actually due to be replaced. But I won’t go out there and grab two tubs of it when it comes back into stock. In fact I might just eke out the life of the yeast I have for another few months before buying a new tub, and if it lasts me 18 months then from now on I’ll just switch to replacing it every 18 months rather then annually as I’ve been doing. In the process – look, I’ve saved myself the cost of a new tub of years every three years.
There are going to be shortages of just about everything, going forward from this point. The climate hasn’t been kind to growers and farmers, the SARS-cov-2 disease has laid workers low at every step of the supply chain, and to top it off some of us abuse those same people working tirelessly and bravely to put what there is on the shelves for us – and then try to buy it all for themselves. Don’t be a dick like that.
Be frugal, be adaptive. No rigatone? You know you could use just plain penne don’t you? And instead of cooking up that whole pack, cook up half of it and save the other half for another meal. Or do one of my favourite things – to hell with the store-bought pasta and either visit the small local store that still carries fresh pasta, or make some dumplings or spaetzle or gnocchi yourself. You’ll save yourself money – and the aggravation of not having pasta available at the drop of a dollar today…
And that’s Ted’s Tips for the week.