Grocery stores are diligent with following food safety protocol. We expect this high standard of food safety without really thinking about it. But, just as grocery stores are concerned with following food safety guidelines, we consumers should be just as diligent. It is our responsibility—both as we fill our carts and at our homes—to follow safe food handling practices.
- Wipe the handle of your shopping cart, since food safety starts the moment you enter the store. And, if you like to pull your cart along with you, consider wiping the top edges of the cart. Before you touch your now-wiped cart, don’t forget to sanitize your hands.
- Make sure your hands are clean before touching and enjoying food samples. It’s always a good idea to carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer.
- Inspect packaging for holes or tears. And, check to be sure cans are not dented, swollen or rusted.
- Frozen foods should be solid, with no signs of thawing.
- Place raw meats, poultry, and fish items in separate plastic bags before adding them to your shopping cart. This helps reduce the risk of cross-contamination, since raw meats, even properly packaged, might leak and drip onto your fresh produce or other unprotected items in your cart.
- Place unprotected fruits and vegetables into their own plastic bags before placing them into your cart, as well, to protect against cross-contamination.
- Shop meat, poultry, fish, refrigerated and frozen areas last, since items from these areas are temperature sensitive. At home, unpack and refrigerate these items first.
- Pay attention to the “sell by” and “use by” dates on your perishable foods. These dates are sometimes confusing. Simply, if a “sell by” date has passed, don’t buy the item. The “use-by” date indicates for consumers how long we can use or eat the item safely and at peak freshness, while stored at home. Remember to buy foods that will be fresh when you are ready to eat them.
- Unpack cold and frozen items together at checkout, and pack them together in your carry-out bags, boxes, etc. Packing these items together will help maintain an appropriate temperature. Even better, make sure these items are packed into your reusable, insulated bags. If you don’t own any reusable bags, just ask the clerk to pack these items in a paper bag.
- Take your groceries home as soon as you have completed your grocery shopping, and then put away refrigerated or frozen items as soon as possible. If you need to complete some errands, consider doing so ahead of your grocery shopping. If this isn’t possible, take a cooler with chill packs along to store your temperature-sensitive foods.
- Wash your hands before and after unpacking the groceries at home.
To reduce the risks of foodborne illnesses, you need to follow safe food handling practices. When food is mishandled by improper preparation, cooking and storage, we put ourselves—and those sharing meals and food with us—in danger of foodborne illnesses.
For more information on foodborne illnesses, visit:
- FoodSafety.gov, the “gateway to food safety information provided by government agencies.”
- Partnership for Food Safety Education combines government, industry and consumer leaders to promote education to reduce foodborne illness risk
- Eat Right is the web site of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “committed to improving health and advancing the profession of nutrition and dietetics.”
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