Most of us want to get in and out of the grocery store as quickly as possible. (It can feel like SUCH a chore, right?) But if you’re rushing, you’re likely ignoring important safety precautions you should be taking.
Biggest food safety mistakes you're making at the grocery store
Biggest food safety mistakes you're making at the grocery store
No. 1: WIPE DOWN SHOPPING CART
According to Peter, the first thing you should do when you walk into a supermarket is wipe down your cart.
"You don’t know how often these carts get cleaned," Peter says.
The good news is that most grocery stores will have a box of wipes at the entrance, so use them! And if they don’t, don’t feel silly bringing your own.
Pro tip: Be sure the wipes contain bleach!
"The bleach is going to kill the viruses and all the stubborn things that are on there," Peter stresses.
(Rest assured we’re stocking up as we speak!)
No. 2: GRAB MILK + DAIRY FROM BACK AND BOTTOM
Do you know what the "cold line" in the refrigerated section of the grocery store is?
"It's a stock-to line," Peter explains. "You don’t want to over-stock the refrigerator. The manufacturers have it that way because [they] want to make sure the food stays cold, so it doesn’t spoil quickly or develop bacteria."
(Watch the video above to see an example of a "cold line"!)
Word to the wise: Stores will usually put the items with the soonest sell-by date front and center, so don't just grab the first one you see. Do some digging!
But don't ignore the expiration date either! Shoppers shift products around all the time, the food safety expert points out.
No. 3: ASSESS YOUR EGGS
Nobody wants to go home with cracked eggs, so do your due diligence before you check out.
"[And] if one cracks [during your trip home], don't use that cracked egg," Peter recommends. "Throw that cracked egg out. [And] never return a cracked egg to the carton."
Essentially, a cracked egg is more prone to bacteria, like salmonella.
No. 4: DOUBLE BAG RAW MEAT
The plastic wrapping on pre-packaged raw meat can easily get punctured, letting its juices to run on your other food (welp), so ALWAYS double bag it.
(Pro tip: Just grab extra baggies from the produce section!)
Then, once it's wrapped, place the raw meat near the cold or frozen food in your cart.
No. 5: CHECK CANNED GOODS FIRST
A warped or punctured can of food may seem harmless, but it could be a food safety red flag!
"If you can lay your finger [in the dent]," Peter explains, "it's too big of a dent."
If a can is dented at the seams or swollen, Peter explains, it could be a sign of bacteria, including botulism.
"If you see any cans like that," he advises, "you should report it to the supermarket."
"Let them take that can [and] send it back to the manufacturer. It may be a recall. You may be saving a life."
No. 6: *NEVER* PUT PRODUCE OR UNPACKAGED GOODS ON CONVEYOR BELT
Okay, you've gotten to the homestretch and you can't wait to bolt out of the store after checking out -- but hold up! Don't just throw everything in your cart onto the conveyor belt!
In fact, NEVER put produce or anything that isn’t packaged directly on there.
Much like with your cart, you never know what contaminants and germs could have gotten on there from other shoppers.
"This is probably as dirty, if not dirtier, than the [shopping] cart," Peter says.
No. 7: WASH REUSABLE GROCERY BAGS
Peter suggests washing your reusable grocery bags at least once every two weeks -- or as soon as you notice it's contaminated!
If you have a plastic one, wipe it down with a soapy dish towel. If it's canvas or fabric, you can just throw it in the washing machine.
Oh, and one more thing (though it may seem obvious) -- always, always, ALWAYS wash your hands!
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BACK TO SLIDE
When Assistant Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Health Peter DeLucia, stopped by our show, he walked us through five key safety measures that the average person *probably* isn’t taking.
(Guilty! 🙋 )
It's never too late to start, though!
RELATED: Foods experts always avoid
10 things food safety experts won't touch
10 things food safety experts won't touch
"While food regulations have become more stringent and there are a plethora of policies in place for safe food handling and preparation practices, there are too many opportunities for mishandling for my liking. There are many chances for cross-contamination, especially when customers serve themselves. This can occur if a serving utensil ends up floating in a serving dish and anyone who touched the utensil previously had unclean hands. Improper temperature holding and insufficient cooling methods can also lead to the growth of unwanted bacteria." — Emily Ellis, MSc, quality assurance and research & development at Pellman Foods, Inc.
Photo: Juan Monino/iStock
"Many bars and restaurants serve a wedge of lemon or lime on the side of sodas, water or beer. I always ask for mine without it, or pull it off right away. I do not know who handled the lemon and if they washed their hands properly before slicing it." — Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., nutrition expert and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen
"Despite the health benefits, I won't eat raw sprouts. I stay clear of any food with raw sprouts in it, because they have the propensity to cause foodborne illness just by their nature and also by how they are grown. Sprouts have been documented as being hosts for many foodborne-illness pathogens. The best conditions for sprouting also support the rapid growth of foodborne-illness pathogens if present in the seed. Recent foodborne-illness outbreaks associated with raw-sprouts consumption have included E. coli 0157, Salmonella and Listeria. I will consider eating sprouts, however, only if well cooked." — Daniel E. Archer, MPH, REHS, senior manager of food safety, workplace safety and environmental compliance for Stanford University Residence & Dining Enterprises (R&DE)
Undercooked Ground Meat
"We do not eat raw or undercooked ground meat of any kind at our house. All raw meat has bacteria on the surface. Some are harmless and beneficial in breaking down the muscle fibers, as takes place in the aging process. However, raw meat can also have bacteria that could be harmful if the meat is not handled and cooked properly. Since these bacteria live on the surface of the meat, a steak can be enjoyed medium rare — about 145 degrees F internal temperature — but ground meat should be fully cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because the grinding process could potentially introduce bacteria into the middle of the patty. This is true for all types of ground meat — including pork, poultry or beef — whether it is local, organic, grass-fed or ground by hand at your local butcher." — Dr. Mindy Brashears, director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence and professor of food safety and public health at Texas Tech
Photo: Owen Franken/Getty Images
"Before I became a registered dietitian and learned about food safety, I loved eating raw oysters. Yum! But having learned about how risky they are I now only eat them thoroughly cooked. The culprit in raw oysters, Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, can be present even if they are harvested from non-polluted waters, and there is no way to detect it by sight or smell. Only heat can destroy the bacteria, so I only eat oysters that have been boiled or steamed until their shells are opened, or shucked oysters that have been fully cooked until they are opaque (milky white) and firm." — Mary Saucier Choate, M.S., RDN, L.D., manager of outreach and stakeholder engagement at the Partnership for Food Safety Education
Photo: Robert Kirk/iStock
Food from Bulk Bins
"Since I need to avoid gluten, I don't eat from bulk bins at supermarkets. Anyone with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or a serious food allergy should do the same, due to the possibility of cross-contact because the food is not packaged and tongs are often shared between bins." — Rachel Begun, M.S., RDN, culinary nutritionist and special-diets expert
Photo: Janine Lamontagne/iStock
"I see no reason to consume uncooked fish proteins. Well-seasoned and gently cooked, sauteed and steamed fish is nutritionally rich and food-safe! The goal for safe food consumption is to reduce and, when possible, eliminate any risk for foodborne illness. So when folks brag to me about eating sushi, I compare it to someone boasting about going through a red light. Sometimes nothing happens, but [other times] illness follows." — John A. Krakowski, M.A., RDN, CDN, FAND, food safety coach and trainer in Flanders, N.Y.
Photo: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images
"Raw milk has been associated with numerous outbreaks over the past decade or two. Additionally, the threat from raw milk isn't even from one bacterium, but rather from many. It may be contaminated with Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli or Campylobacter. Pasteurization of milk began back in the late 1800s because of the association of raw milk with foodborne illness. It just isn't worth the risk!" — Jennifer J. Quinlan, PhD, food microbiologist and associate professor at Drexel University
Packaged Lunch Meats
"From a food safety perspective, many consumers don't realize that once opened, the product needs to be consumed within three to five days and not the expiration/use-by date. There is potential for the growth of Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause listeriosis, and may lead to illness and in some cases be fatal. The groups at risk include pregnant women, older adults (age 65 and over) and those with weakened immune systems. The solution? Buy fresh meats from the deli, refrigerate at no higher than 40 degrees F and use within three to five days. For those populations at risk, heating the meat to steaming or 165 degrees Fahrenheit will reduce the risk potential." — Susan M. Piergeorge, M.S., RDN, food and nutrition consultant and author of Boomer Be Well! Rebel Against Aging Through Food, Nutrition and Lifestyle
"While many people view potluck meals as a fun opportunity to enjoy a variety of foods prepared by others, I view them as a risky dining experience filled with hundreds of food safety mysteries. Was the food properly cooked, cooled, transported and reheated? What about the health or hygiene of the person making it? Did little Johnny with norovirus help Grandma make the cookies? Thanks for the invitation but I'll pass." — Ellen Steinberg, PhD, R.D., L.D., food safety specialist and president of the Georgia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics