For whatever reason, people tend to call about food safety issues more in the summer. While the questions run the gamut, many are regarding getting food home safely from the grocery store. That’s a great summertime concern, but safe grocery shopping is a year-round challenge. Protecting our family from food poisoning begins at the grocery store and to that end, we need to shop like a food safety expert. So here’s some quick tips to insure grocery shopping safety year round.
Make Cleanliness a Priority.
- Clean your cart. If your store doesn’t provide wipes, bring your own. The Journal of Food Protection Trends found E. coli on 50 percent of shopping cart handles tested.
- Clean your hands before sampling foods. Since stores rarely provide wipes in the sampling areas, you might want to carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you.
- Wash your reusable grocery bags often. The Department of Agriculture’s Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education recommends laundering bags with hot, soapy water at least once a month and storing them in a clean area of your car. If the bags are soiled, wash them immediately.
- Wash coolers and ice packs after each use.
Inspect Your Food Choices.
- Check your eggs. Open the carton and make sure that none of the eggs are cracked. Should an egg crack on the way home, remove it from the carton and place in a separate container; use within 24 hours.
- Check food temperatures. Frozen foods should be solid with no signs of thawing. Refrigerated foods should feel cold.
- Check packaging. Avoid open boxes, tears or holes in bags. Avoid dented, bulging, or rusted cans. Cans with these symptoms may be a warning of internal issues or may have put undue stress on the seam of the can allowing bacteria to enter. Avoid containers or jars with a loose lid. If the lid is loose, the vacuum has been lost and the contents may be contaminated.
- Pay attention to package dates on perishable foods. If the “sell by” date has passed, don’t buy the product; also, make sure that you will be able to use the product by the “use by” date.
Organize Your Cart.
- Keep meat and produce separate. Put raw meat, poultry, and seafood into plastic bags before placing them in your cart. Bagging keeps meat juices from dripping and contaminating other foods. Further, when checking out, place meat, poultry, and seafood in bags separate from other foods—you may have to instruct the person packing your groceries to do this!
- Keep frozen and cold foods together in your cart. This helps to keep the cold foods cool longer.
Plan Your Trip.
- Last stop. Make the grocery store your last stop if you have a number of errands to run.
- Shop for perishable foods, frozen foods, meat, poultry, and seafood last.
- Pack a cooler. If the trip home will be longer than 30 minutes, place perishable foods into a cooler with an ice pack. Perishable foods must be refrigerated within two hours if it is over 90F outside.
- Avoid placing groceries in the trunk of the car. Place groceries inside the vehicle where air conditioning can be used in hot weather to help keep perishables cooler and heat in cold weather to prevent produce from freezing.
So with these tips in mind, I use an insulated bag that works well as a cooler and it also serves as a clean place to store my reusable grocery bags in the car. In the winter, the bag provides some insulation for fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, and other groceries that should not freeze. The bag has a couple of zipper pockets on it which is a good place to keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer, extra plastic bags, and wipes. In the summer, I simply have to remember to grab a couple of ice packs from the freezer to pop into the bag, and off I go—errands first, of course!