The COVID pandemic has taught us all to take greater precautions when we shop. But airborne viruses are not the only danger. The CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of food-borne diseases. You can reduce the risk of illnesses by following a few easy tips when making your next trip to the grocery store.
In a Consumer Reports article Chief Scientific Officer, James Dickerson, PhD offered some tips for making your next trip to the grocery store safer:
Clean Your Resuable Bags
While replacing paper or plastic bags with cloth tote bags is better for the environment, they can become contaminated with bacteria (like e-coli) or mold which build up over time. “To prevent this from happening,” Dr. Dickerson advises, “periodically wash your reuseable bags. If they can’t be tossed in with a load of laundry, use soap and hot water and rinse thoroughly. Let them dry completely before using them again.”
Disinfect the Cart
When you get to your store look for a dispenser of disinfecting wipes. Most stores have them next to where you pick up your shopping cart (and if they don’t find a new place to shop). Wipe the cart’s handle, seat, and anywhere else you might touch. This is the best way to get rid of any stray bacteria that might be sticking to the cart handle, Dickerson says.
Shop in the Right Order
A game plan will make for a safer trip through the store. “Plan your route through the grocery store that you are shopping for your items in the reverse order of how fast they will spoil.” Dry goods—like dried pasta, rice, and flour—that have shelf lives measured in weeks, months, or even years are usually found in the center aisles, so go there first. After combing those shelves head to the fresh foods and produce sections followed by the frozen foods section. “Finally, save items like raw meat and fish including cuts you get from the butcher for the last stop.” Not only will this offer protection against food-borne illnesses, it will also help insure the freshness of your food.
Handle Produce with Care
Dr. Dickerson recommends “[b]efore placing wet produce in a plastic bag, give it a little shake. In the store, the water helps keep produce fresh. But once it’s in the bag in your fridge, excess water can speed up spoilage. Try to store your produce in the top seat area of your cart, rather than the cart’s main compartment to help protect it from being jostled [in the cart] by other heavy items like boxes and cans. The bruising from this can shorten the shelf life of produce.”
Protect Against Contamination
We all know that meat products need to be thoroughly cooked to prevent food poisoning. But in the store, packages of fresh meat, poultry, and fish which may leak juices can be sources of contamination. To protect your family, “use an inside out produce bag to pick them up and then turn it rightside-out around the item. This adds a layer of protection between you and any contaminants on the package. Plus, it protects other foods in your cart from cross-contamination.”
Keep Perishable Items Cool
It is also advisable to keep fresh meat, poultry, and fish from warming up once you take it out of the store’s coolers. “Bring at least one insulated shopping bag plus cool packs to use for your fresh meat and fish. This will allow you to keep [them] at a safe temperature until you can get them home and into your fridge,” advises Dickerson.
If you have other errands to run, try to do those first and make grocery shopping your last stop. Keep perishable foods out of hot trunk in the summer. Once you are done shopping take your groceries home immediately and store them right away
Although it is something we typically don’t give a lot of thought to, smart food shopping is the first step in providing safe and healthy foods for our families.