Still Self-Isolating

Nearly four weeks into isolation we don’t have any complaints about our confinement. Au contraire, the strict rules which the French government imposes upon the country are designed to keep us safe and for that we are grateful. We have a small garden to enjoy and when we want to exercise a little more, we can walk within a one-kilometer radius around our house. But we have to walk separately, family outings aren’t allowed. This is the form we have to fill out and carry with us every time we leave our premises, even when we just go for a walk. One has to indicate the time of departure, too, because each person is only allowed one hour of exercise per day. As of today, the French government made a smartphone app available which can replace the printed version. Well done!

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I, the undersigned, … You pledge on your honor, but the fines are steep.

We are also appreciative of the fact that we happen to live in a small town in a largely agricultural region in the far southwest of France. The population density is low with only a few industrial activities centered around the distillation of cognac. Cognac, which is, after all, called Eau de Vie! Seriously, the numbers below show that a well-disciplined rural area can be much safer in an epidemic than an urban area. This is a graph published in today’s morning e-edition of our local paper, the “SUD OUEST”.

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Department of Health Data from Sunday, April 05, 2020, for the Region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. Charente is our department [similar to county]. 

The Gironde department includes the city of Bordeaux which has the most extensive hospital system with the highest number of patients in the region. The city also received patients who were evacuated to Bordeaux from overburdened regions in the North and East of the country. Additionally, the paper mentioned that during the third delivery wave of protective gear for medical professionals and institutions, the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine received 3.8 million masks, 2.9 mils. of which were surgical masks, the rest FFP2s.

Online food procurement has been, without a doubt, our main preoccupation during this isolation. Because the fulfillment slots were moving further and further out, we started loading our virtual shopping baskets in three different supermarkets on two different computers in an attempt to find active delivery options. By the time we actually put an order in, we had little idea if we had omitted or doubled up on desired articles in this confusion of baskets. Adding further suspense was the question which of the items ordered would ultimately be available. For our one and only delivery, so far, eight days passed between placing the order and our delivery slot. By the time we received our merchandise, the 70% alcohol and protective gloves we had ordered were no longer in stock, nor were three out of five frozen foods. 

On Thursday morning last week, I set out to retrieve an online order from the drive-through of our closest supermarket chain. I carried with me a print-out of the mandatory attestation and the store’s order confirmation with a bar code. Naturally, being German, I arrived a good five minutes ahead of my allotted pick-up slot, the first of the day. The bar code reader at my drive-through lane beeped reassuringly and I settled back into my car seat to wait for my order, which didn’t arrive. Eventually, I found out that I had checked in before the drive-through warehouse officially opened, thus my “beep” hadn’t registered inside. Bummer. My eagerness to be first in line and avoid as much interaction as possible added a 25-minute wait to the errand.

Our house has an attached barn on one end which we use as a garage and catch-all for things that need to be thrown out, eventually. This garage has now become the official receiving bay for everything arriving at our place from the hostile, virulent outside world.

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The garage: first point of entry for possibly contaminated items.

We let new arrivals sit for a while in case of swirling viri. The next stage is The Great Decontamination which requires quite exacting preparations, especially regarding frozen food products. In the laboratory, SARS-CoV-2 seems to lose its infectious capabilities in an environment > 56ºC, while it is pretty much unknown how well the beasties may survive in the cold. We bought frozen foods specifically to have food resources on a longer-term basis thus reducing the need to leave the house. We also know that bleach kills the virus, yet bathing frozen food in hot bleachy water is somewhat counterproductive. To prevent the possible introduction of the virus to our freezer drawers, a special decontamination protocol had to be activated for frozen foodstuffs. The key element was, very simply, to remove and discard all outer packaging. However, storing frozen food nacked as it were, would create a couple of new difficulties, as in identifying the commercially prepared meals and no longer having any associated cooking instructions. Therefore my protocol had to include distinctive stages of preparation.

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First stage: Label freezer bags with the name of each food item and …

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… set up the opened bags.

The door between the garage and this utility room, or l’arrière cuisine, the back kitchen or la buanderie, the laundry room as it would be called around here, is a very old, ill-fitting glass-paned door. The garage itself, being a barn, has no insolation. So we hung this quilted blanket as a temperature barrier, both against icy drafts and the heat of summer.

For the next steps in the protocol, I donned a pair of gloves, grabbed my camera and pushed that blanket fully to one side before opening the door to the garage. There, I laid out all our frozen purchases and took pictures, one by one, first of each front panel, followed by the relevant cooking instructions.

That done, I took each container, again one by one, and cut it open, being very careful not to touch the content with my potentially contaminated gloves. Stepping through the open doorway back into the utility room, I slipped either the inner pack or the loose content, for example, broccoli rosettes, in the pristine freezer bag with the matching label. The outer packaging went straight into the recycle bin in the garage, which won’t be collected for another week, so our dustmen will be safe.

When all frozen goods were processed, I dipped my gloved hands in a bleach solution and also washed them with hot, soapy water. Then I took the gloves off – I have to be very careful with these gloves, we have only six pairs left – and washed my hands again before closing the freezer bags and storing them in the freezer. Now I have a record of instructions on my computer to consult whenever necessary. It goes without saying that the scissors and the camera also needed to be sterilized.

Afterward, it was time to continue the tedious chore of washing whatever can be washed in a hot, bleachy solution.

Ultimately we had two areas with washed articles that had to dry completely first before refrigeration, and two more areas with unwashed dry goods that will stay in the garage in social isolation till the virus shall have died a natural death – or we need a Cheetos fix.

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During this pandemic, we are clearly benefiting from our rustic, semi-dilapidated outbuilding in which one can age chips and cookies to perfection!

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STAY HOME – STAY SAVE

P.S. If you’re short on grated Emmental, ring at the garage door. We have more than we can possibly eat before its date of expiration!

 

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