Grocery shopping skills to keep your food safe

Food safety begins at the grocery store – with selection, transportation and more!

Every little step to keep food safe is important not only for your wallet, but your health as well. Food safety starts as you prepare for your trip to the grocery store. The first step is to make plans to protect your food before you head to the store by preparing your kitchen for new purchases and transporting it home. Also remember a deal isn’t always a deal when it comes to the dented can bin. Try following these tips for optimum safety:

  • Clean and organize your refrigerator and kitchen prior to shopping. This will help you store your food more efficiently and organize items in a first in-first out order, allowing you to cut back on waste and over buying. Clean off counter-tops to make it easier to rotate food items and empty bags once you return from the store.
  • Avoid purchasing dented cans. The dented can bin may seem like a deal, but the bargain may not be worth the risk. Cans with deep dents, or bulges are a sign of botulism; cans with a sharp dent may damage the seam and allow bacteria to enter the can. Stay away from cans that have deep dents (your finger fits into), are bulging, rusting or have dents on the top or side seam.
  • Pay attention to dates. Be sure to look at the “sell by” and “use by” date on perishable foods. If the “sell by” date has passed, don’t buy the product. The “use by” date applies to the date you should use by at home, so make sure you will be able to eat the food within that time frame.
  • Use separate plastic bags for raw meats. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) discovered shoppers spreading raw poultry juices into shopping carts and other food items, even on children while shopping. The juice from raw meat can spread easily; utilize the plastic bags to keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from ready-to eat-foods in the cart, bags, coolers and at home. One study showed 85 percent of stores supplied bags in the meat department to customers; fewer than 20 percent of the customer used them.
  • Keep coolers and ice packs in cars when shopping. Most shopping trips involve visiting two or more stores. This means your perishable foods could be in the temperature danger zone (40– 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for more than two hours, resulting in food being stored in unsafe temperatures. All perishable foods need to be refrigerated within two hours; and one hour if it is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Regardless of the season, it is a good idea to keep a cooler with ice packs in your vehicle. When the sun is out a “greenhouse effect” happens, making it warmer than the actual temperature, resulting in an environment that can allow bacteria to quickly grow.
  • Utilizing re-usable grocery bags. Making use of re-usable grocery bags is a wonderful way to save on the excess use of plastic bags when shopping. These re-usable bags should be washed weekly; they are in car trunks, shopping carts, hauling canned goods, produce and raw foods. They can be tossed in your washer and air dried. This is very important to prevent cross-contamination. Wash out your cooler and ice packs weekly as well.
  • Clean hands before sampling food. We all love to try new foods, but don’t forget to wash your hands prior to doing so. If that isn’t possible use the stores free hand sanitizer or bring your own sanitizer with you, especially if you are touching food directly with your hands. Remember you have been touching shopping carts and who knows what else!
  • Pick up your frozen and refrigerated foods at the end of your shopping trip. Stores aren’t always designed to follow this guideline, but try to organize your list to get the frozen and refrigerated items last. This keeps them “unrefrigerated” for the least amount of time.

Michigan State University Extension encourages consumers to follow Four Simple Steps to Food Safety: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill. Following these guidelines will help keep families safe while shopping.

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