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Shopping in the time of coronavirus: Brooklynites share their grocery and takeout sterilizing methods

April 3, 2020 Mary Frost
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Most New Yorkers have to go shopping outside their home for food and groceries during the novel coronavirus pandemic, taking the chance of contaminating themselves, their families and their apartments.

The National Institute of Health says coronavirus can live on cardboard for an hour, and on plastic or metal surfaces for three days, so care needs to be taken to disinfect groceries and takeout.

Some Brooklyn residents have shared with us their methods for disinfecting their groceries and food deliveries. Visit the CDC website ( first, then check out these tips from your neighbors:

Don’t forget the dog

Kate Chura, executive director of the Montague Street BID, says she’s always left her shoes outside her apartment. To that she has now added the packaging from her shopping.

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“I wipe down everything before it crosses the threshold,” she said. “Wipes and a box cutter are on my welcome mat. Even my dog Wiley gets [an] all-four-paw-cleaning after a walk.”

One-glove method

Brooklyn Heights resident Beverly Closs has developed an ingenious “one-glove” system for shopping without actually touching any groceries.

“I go to Peas and Pickles [aka All In One Market, on Pineapple Walk] at midnight. There is usually one person shopping and four cops hanging around inside. I wear a mask and only one glove,” she said. “My gloved hand picks the groceries. My ungloved hand is in my pocket, always, holding my keys and the money. I bring my own plastic bag and tell the cashier to throw the change in the bag. When I get to my apartment, I leave the bag outside the apartment door, use my gloved hand to take out the groceries and change. I wash the items, throw out the bag and wash my hands.”

Brooklyn Heights resident Beverly Closs has developed an ingenious “one-glove” system for shopping without actually touching any groceries. Photo: Courtesy of Beverly Closs
Brooklyn Heights resident Beverly Closs has developed an ingenious “one-glove” system for shopping without actually touching any groceries. Photo: Courtesy of Beverly Closs

She explained why she just wears one glove.

“My theory is that if you put your gloved hand in your pocket, you are contaminating your pocket and keys. I also don’t bring my phone to minimize contamination. Also, the ungloved hand can unzip my jacket without contamination,” Closs said.

Leave it for three days

Cobble Hill resident Lynn Gordon has also put a lot of thought into her disinfection method.

“First of all, any item that isn’t perishable stays in the bag for up to three days. Same for packages delivered. I leave them downstairs after accepting them, go upstairs and wash my hands, and don’t touch them again for three days,” she told the Eagle. “Mail, too.”

“For perishables, I wipe them down with sanitizing wipes. The wipes actually expired a few months ago so even though they’re still wet they might not as potent. So I boost their sanitizing power by adding a little bit of the worst smelling ‘wintergreen’ isopropyl alcohol,” Gordon said. (The wintergreen variety was all that was available.) “Anything that wouldn’t do well with alcohol on it but can withstand plain old soap and water (apples, lemons, potatoes) gets washed with that.”

Cut back to once a week

Councilmember Stephen Levin told the Brooklyn Eagle that his family shops for groceries only about about once a week to limit exposure.

“And yes, we’ve been using Clorox hydrogen peroxide wipes to wipe them down,” he added.

Disinfect doorknobs and light switches

Lara Birnback, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, says she has started wearing gloves when going shopping, and may be making a homemade mask if she can’t find an official one.

Mayor Bill de Blasio urged New Yorkers on Thursday to begin wearing a face covering like a scarf or a bandana when they leave their homes. The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the White House is said to be considering advising all Americans to start wearing masks or some sort of ad hoc facial covering.

“I haven’t been truly sanitizing anything from the store but washing my hands carefully many many times a day,” she said. She said she tries to wipe down her phone “a lot” and Lysols her doorknobs and light switches.

When shopping for seniors

Will Hasty, a Brooklyn Heights resident, is shopping for his parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hasty is following recommendations he got from cousins and family friends who are doctors, he told the Eagle.

He keeps an extra set of clothes in his house’s front vestibule. “I treat it like an airlock,” he said. When he gets back from shopping, “I disrobe, drop the outside clothes into a container and take it to the washing machine.”

Hasty uses sterile wipes to disinfect the shopping bags’ handles before he brings them inside. “Inside the house, I wipe every container and put the groceries in a separate, sterile bag to give to my older parents,” he said.

He leaves the newly filled bags in the elevator bank in his parents’ building. “I’m in quarantine. They pick them up.”

Hasty wears a mask and gloves as well, he said. Since masks are scarce, he cleans and reuses his. To clean the mask, he sprays it with Lysol and puts it in a plastic bag for awhile.

Imagine your groceries are covered with glitter

Councilmember Laurie Cumbo has shared a YouTube video put together by Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, a family medicine specialist in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Dr. VanWingen says to imagine your groceries are covered with glitter, and your goal is to not get glitter all over your house, on your hands or especially on your face. Disinfectants and soap have the power to dissolve that glitter.

His tips include:

– Wipe down your shopping cart
– Commit to buying an item before you pick it up.
– Don’t go shopping if you are sick or have been exposed.
– Get two weeks worth of groceries at a time.
– Before you go out shopping, sanitize your table or counter and mark off half where you will put the “dirty” items and half where you will only place disinfected items.

Dr. VanWingen throws out unnecessary cardboard packaging, like cereal boxes. He washes fruit for 20 seconds in soapy water, and he lets it soak a bit for good measure.

For takeout food, “Be more concerned about the wrappers than the food,” he sad. Unwrap the food and dump it on the plate without letting it touch the outside of the wrapper.

Heat destabilizes some forms of coronavirus, so choose hot takeout foods over cold foods, and go ahead and reheat them in the microwave. Some coronaviruses can survive frozen up to two years, so scrub down the outside of the ice cream container before you put it in the freezer.

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  1. Clara West

    Great ideas, I normally use mask and gloves.
    But, carry a small squirt bottle with 70% alcohol.
    Even with glove, if touch non sterile item will spray my glove
    and basket. Then re spay glove and while still wet with the
    alcohol will wipe outside of bottle.
    Most of us women have bunches of these small bottles.