Remember When You Didn’t Have to Sanitize Your Cheerios?

My wife and I had been planning the trip for weeks.  The night before the big day, we reviewed the procedure.  “While you are out, I’ll mark off the loading area on the floor with painter’s tape,” I said.  “This is where we put the groceries that have not been sanitized yet.”  

photo of isopropyl alcohol in a cereal bowl

“Okay,” my wife said.  “But are you sure this is all necessary?”

“Yes,” I said. “I read an article about it. The experts say you need a marked-off contamination zone. They also said you could put the tape on the counter if you prefer.”

“No, that’s all right,” she said.  “The floor is fine.” 

“Are you sure you don’t want me to go instead?” I asked, reviewing the list again.

“Um, sure, you can go, if you want.  But do you know where to find everything in the store?  Like, do you know where to find the broccoli?”

“Broccoli’s back on the list?”  I started flipping through the pages. “I thought it was deleted from an earlier draft.”  I looked up, but she had already gone to bed.

In the morning, just after my wife left for the supermarket, the kids came downstairs demanding frozen pancakes.  I informed them that we ran out four days ago.  They demanded cereal.  Alas, I replied, no milk.  Bananas?  Oatmeal?  Bread?  All out, I reported.  

While they breakfasted on Triscuits and hummus, I put down blue painter’s tape in the shape of a trapezoid by the door and unlocked the Lysol spray from its bicycle chain by the sink.  I then opened the fireproof safe, moved aside the birth certificates and passports, and took out the roll of paper towels.  

I don’t know how long I was waiting.  Time had started to take on an elastic quality.  When at last we heard the garage door opening, the kids ran to the door, screaming about frozen pancakes.  With a swift, practiced move I handed each child a fully-charged iPad, and thereby neutralized the primary threat to grocery sanitization.  

As my wife brought in the bags, I went to work.  I sprayed each plastic container of perishables with Lysol, covering the entire surface as the experts had directed.  “You know that’s all the Lysol we have,” my wife said, and while she got more bags from the car, I got down on the floor to sop up the precious drops that had fallen.

The next step was to open each box of cereal, and dump out the sealed plastic bag directly into a mixing bowl.  As I attempted this method, a corner of the cardboard flap graced the edge of the bag as it fell into the bowl.  Now both bag and bowl were contaminated.  I put the box down on the counter while I got the Lysol spray, when I remembered that the box was still contaminated, and now I would have to sanitize both the box and the counter.  Did we have enough Lysol for that?

But just then there were some eggs that needed taking.  I took the eggs and paused. Was I supposed to wipe down the carton?  Or wash each egg with soap?  I searched on YouTube for that video where the epidemiologist showed you how to sanitize groceries, but it was so hard to type with one hand, especially after I saw my wife holding out a produce bag with broccoli inside.

I grabbed the colander – I had memorized its location the night before – and held it under the bag as she dumped out the broccoli.  Just then, a news alert from my phone distracted me, and I let the colander drift a few inches to the side.  The broccoli landed on the floor, right inside the taped-off contamination zone.  I read the breaking news on my phone, while my wife questioned my commitment to vegetables.

“It’s all right,” I said.  “The experts now say that we don’t have to sanitize our groceries at all.”

Mark Kaplowitz

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