'Imagine it's glitter': Doctor's 'excellent' hack for safe shopping

Penny Burfitt
Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer

A US doctor has shared his extraordinarily detailed instructions for safe handling of groceries under the threat of COVID-19, and he is encouraging all shoppers to follow suit.

US Doctor, Dr Jeffrey VanWingen has been a family doctor in Rapid Falls, Michigan for 20 years and he tells Yahoo Lifestyle he made the video in order to advise people on how to minimise the risk of bringing COVID-19 into their homes.

Dr VanWingen has shared the very intricate process that will leave you groceries completely sanitised. Photo: YouTube/ Jeffrey VanWingen

“As [we] were preparing for a stay at home order in my state I recognized that while this will reduce infection, people are still going to need to leave their homes to shop for food,” he says.

“This would leave shopping logically as the main source of the potential spread of COVID-19 in my community, [that is] assuming everyone obeyed the orders.”

With this in mind, the 48-year-old put together a video for his YouTube page with the help of his teenage son.

In it, he shows how the ‘sterile technique’ commonly used by surgeons ahead of surgery can be adapted to the household and in particular, be used to minimise the risk of bringing coronavirus into the home from the supermarket.

The instructional video, posted on March 24, has exploded online with over 20 million interested viewers tuning in over just seven days.

He does warn, however, that the video is designed to be an exhaustive instruction manual, and that viewers shouldn’t feel anxious if they are not quite so detailed in their own disinfecting.

“These are just aggressive ideas and by no means a textbook that must be followed explicitly,” he says. “Everyone should just do the best that they can.”

‘Imagine the groceries are covered in glitter’ to visual COVID-19

Dr VanWingen starts out with a helpful visualisation of the coronavirus situation when it comes to your groceries, and it might be a tricky one to get out of your head.

“Imagine that the groceries you have are covered with some glitter,” he says. “Your goal at the end of this is not to have any glitter on your hands, in your house or especially in your face.”

Anyone who attended Mardi Gras this year and is still picking glitter out of their hair will find this analogy uncomfortably familiar, but luckily he has a genius way to get the glitter out.

Dr VanWingen divides his benchtop with tape to distinguish sanitised items from non-sanitised ones.

The bench top is divided into two clear sections to help keep the process smooth. Photo: Youtube/ Jeffrey VanWingen

He divides his benchtop into two separate areas using tape, thoroughly cleaning the space first.

On one side he places the groceries he has just brought home and, once sanitised, he moves them to the sterile area.

He also says between each item hands should be thoroughly washed for the minimum 20 seconds, a timely process but one that many have time for these days.

Top tips for disinfecting incoming groceries

  • Wipe down all thick plastic or cardboard packaging with spray and wipe, then place on the clean side.

  • For fresh produce or items in thin plastic packaging, dump directly into the fridge from the packet.

  • Do the same for bread or other goods, placing in a clean container if possible, wiping down packaging if not.

  • Remove any plastic packaging from inside cardboard (frozen pizzas or cereal) as the packaging inside is safe from infection.

  • Fresh produce should be soaked and washed as if they were your hands – that is 20 seconds of vigorous scrubbing. Hold the soap however, just water should be fine for your fresh stuff.

  • Place all removed packaging directly into the bin and take it outside.

Tops tips for disinfecting incoming takeaway food

When it comes to takeaway, an option many are choosing to indulge heavily in these days, similar rules apply.

  • Avoid eating from the provided packaging.

  • Remove and discard all packaging that may have been handled by the restaurant or delivery service. 

  • Dump food from packaging onto plates, without letting the food touch any contaminated surface. Put packaging directly into bin and remove from the house.

  • Microwave it where possible to kill any germs.

No need for anxiety, just do your best says Dr VanWingen

For those still feeling anxious at the exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts, Dr VanWingen says it’s important to remember surface contamination is not considered a main cause of coronavirus infection.

“To address potential anxiety [in viewers], the main spread of COVID-19 is from viral particles from respiratory droplets reaching our face,” he continues.

“Possible contact with surfaces is thought to be a much lesser cause. Still, every chance we can get to reduce infection as valuable as this illness spread wildfire.”

His advice echoes that of medical professionals in Australia, who told Yahoo News that while droplets dry quickly enough that infection from surfaces is not a huge issue, it’s still wise to err on the side of caution.

Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, an expert in infection control and prevention, from UNSW told Yahoo News we shouldn’t be too concerned about COVID-19 clinging onto our bags, but a thorough wipe down is good practice.

“Bags might be able to hijack it but the droplets dry out rapidly,” she said.

“When putting your bags on the kitchen counter - clean that down with soap and water and that should clean the envelope of the virus.”

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