Safeguarding your home against foodborne illnesses begins not at home, but at
the supermarket, grocery store, or any other place where you buy food that you
plan to store and serve.
Combating foodborne illnesses is a top priority at the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA). That's because, according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne ailments cause about 325,000
hospitalizations and 5,200 deaths nationwide each year.
You as a consumer can play a key role in preventing these illnesses. While
shopping for food, you should:
1. Check for cleanliness.
Buying from a retailer who follows proper food
handling practices helps assure that the food is safe. Ask yourself: What is the
general impression of this facility? Does it look and smell clean?
2. Keep certain foods separated.
Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from
other foods in your grocery shopping cart. Place these foods in plastic bags to
prevent their juices from dripping on other foods. It is also best to separate
these foods from other foods at checkout and in your grocery bags.
3. Inspect cans and jars.
Don't buy food in cans that are bulging or dented.
Also, don't buy food in jars that are cracked or have loose or bulging lids.
Since foods sold in cans or jars are processed to be sterile, they can "keep"
for a long time if the can or jar is intact. A bulging can or jar lid may mean
the food was under-processed and is contaminated. A dent in a can, especially if
the dent affects a seam, may cause an opening in the seam which may allow
contamination, as would a crack in a jar. A loose lid on a jar means the vacuum
has been lost and the product may be contaminated. Don't buy a food product
whose seal seems tampered with or damaged.
4. Inspect frozen food packaging.
Don't buy frozen food if the package is
damaged. Packages should not be open, torn or crushed on the edges. Also, avoid
packages that are above the frost line in the store's freezer. If the package
cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. This could mean
that the food in the package has either been stored for a long time or thawed
and refrozen. In such cases, choose another package.
5. Select frozen foods and perishables last.
Meat, poultry, fish and eggs
should be the last items placed in your shopping cart. Always put these products
in separate plastic bags so that drippings don't contaminate other foods.
6. Choose fresh eggs carefully.
Before putting eggs in your cart, open the
carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and none is cracked. Buy only
refrigerated eggs and follow the "Safe Handling Instructions" on the carton.
7. Be mindful of time and temperature.
It's important to refrigerate
perishable products as soon as possible after grocery shopping. Food safety
experts stress the "2-hour rule" -- because harmful bacteria can multiply in the
"danger zone" (between 40° and 140° F), perishable foods should not be left at
room temperature longer than 2 hours. Modify that rule to 1 hour when
temperatures are above 90° F, as they often are in cars that have been parked in
If it will take more than an hour to get your groceries home, use an ice
chest to keep frozen and perishable foods cold. Also, when the weather is warm
and you are using your car's air conditioner, keep your groceries in the
passenger compartment, not the trunk.
For More Information
FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN):
Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins Handbook
Information for Consumers and Health Educators
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Reporting Problems with Food
Report Non-Emergencies About Food to FDA
Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, http://www.fda.gov/
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