I might only be speaking for myself when I say that I do my grocery shopping quickly and efficiently, without thinking about food safety. When it comes to weeknights after work, all I want to do is get home, eat, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. A farmer’s market on an early weekend is a different story, but for the most part I want to be in, out, and home.
But this efficiency hardly allows for the informal food safety checks we should all be practicing. After yet another food recall, this time from Trader Joe’s, I feel as though we might all need a refresher in how to check your food before you check out at the grocery store. But I don’t have time to stand there and inspect each food item for strange things like contamination, undeclared allergens, or physical contaminants. Even if I did, these store-bought item dangers often go unnoticed until opened or what’s worse, consumed.
Luckily, it doesn’t take long to make sure what you’re buying is safe to eat. Here are five quick food safety rules to keep in mind next time you’re at the grocery store:
Check those canned items.
It’s tempting to want to fill your cart with the half-price dented cans, but though it might be good for your budget, it could cause problems for your stomach in the long run. Bottom line: It isn’t worth the risk. Always be on the lookout for cans that have substantial dents in them, or a strange bulbous shape, as these could lead to a case of botulism. When buying canned food, it’s best to go for the normal-looking ones.
Pay attention to dates.
When checking stamped dates on food items, always look for the “use by” date, not the “sell by” one. The “sell by” date is for inventory purposes only, and isn’t related to food safety. The same goes for a “best if used before” date. This is a quick and easy way to optimize food safety while shopping.
Use separate plastic bags for meats.
Juice from raw poultry, meats, and seafood can leak through bags if they aren’t properly sealed. Always make sure you have extra plastic baggies with you in case the butcher doesn’t wrap up your chicken or salmon securely. This way, you’ll be decreasing your chances of contracting salmonella.
Keep a cooler in your car for perishables.
Our cars can get pretty hot, even if it’s not quite summer, due to the “mini greenhouse effect“. It’s always good, particularly when the temp is already sizzling, to keep a cooler with some ice packs in the back of your car so you can pop in those perishables right there in the parking lot. According to the USDA, the food danger zone is 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the type of perishable.
Buy frozen foods last.
Visit the frozen food aisle just before heading to the checkout line. This will ensure your ice cream and frozen fish or entrees keep cold for longer. No one wants to come home to find their chocolate ice cream has melted and leaked all over the backseat — especially if they’re of the leather variety!
Food shopping should be a delight for the senses. It’s also a privilege I don’t take lightly. To have access to fresh, beautiful food is such an integral part of living well. Just be sure that it’s safe to eat so you can enjoy it with your mind at ease!