Food safety and food poisoning don’t begin with the food your serving and eating. In fact, it begins in the grocery store before you bring the food home. There’s more to buying groceries than selecting an item and tossing it in your cart. In fact, you can prevent food poisoning even before it starts by how you load your grocery cart, and by paying attention to some small, yet very important details while shopping.
There’s a lot to know about food safety and buying groceries. Most parents with small kiddos get sidetracked by their kid’s behavior, constant questions or them cruising all over the store with their own shopping cart.
When my oldest son, who’s now 33, was 9, both he and his brother were making me a tad crazy at the grocery store. In my haste to hurry up and leave, I threw the remaining items into my shopping cart. I didn’t look at anything. I just grabbed what I needed, tossed it in the cart and went on my merry way.
Mind you, back then the only time I ever looked at the expiration date on anything was when I was purchasing milk, and sometimes I didn’t even do that. My mindset was, if it’s still on the shelves, it has to be good. Man, was I ever wrong?
Later that evening, my son grabbed a single-serve container of Motts Applesauce which we purchased that morning. Upon eating it, he asked why I bought the cinnamon kind.
Back in the early ’90s, the containers were not as clear as they are today. I told him I didn’t buy cinnamon, and upon inspection, I noted it smelled funny and was brown.
I called Motts the next day and gave them the lot number. It was at that time I was told the applesauce I purchased at Winn Dixie was 2 years old!
Needless to say, I never went back to Winn Dixie.
Things You Need To Do Before Heading Out To The Grocery Store
There are a few things you need to do before you journey out to the grocery store.
1. You will want to survey and take inventory of all the items in your refrigerator, taking note of those staple items whose expiration dates are drawing closer. Add these items to your shopping list. If you find something expired; throw it out.
2. Review your refrigerator’s thermostat. It should be at its optimal temperature. 4⁰c (35 degrees F) to 2⁰c (40 degrees F).
3. Throw out any refrigerated packaged foods that have expired, if you haven’t already done so.
4. Wipe clean any spills or food particles in your refrigerator with 2 tablespoons white vinegar to 1 cup warm water.
5. Look over your leftovers. If they’ve been in the refrigerator for more than 2 days, or if you don’t remember how long they were in there; throw it out!
6. Survey your pantry, cupboards, drawers, where-ever dry goods are stored, and check for weevils (little black bugs that love pasta, flour, rice, cereal, and grains). Clean area and remove any crumbs, seal any opened packages to keep foods fresh and bugs at bay. If you don’t have any chip clips to seal your bags or boxes, rubber bands, scotch or packing tape works really well.
Heading off to the grocery store
When you make your shopping list, set it up how you visit the store.
- Start with the innermost isles that hold non-perishable items.
- Follow-up by shopping along the perimeter of the store where the dairy, meat, and produce are stored.
- Finally, head to the freezer section.
While that may seem as though you’re going all over the store. By setting up a shopping strategy, you’ll actually be maintaining the safety of your fresh and frozen food without compromising its integrity due to defrosting or warming up to room temperature.
Superhero Tip: To avoid ice crystals developing on frozen food, make sure your food remains as solid as it was when you took it out of the freezer section.
How many times have you gotten home to find your sliced cheese isn’t that cold and your ice cream is partially melted? If this area was the last section you shopped, odds are in your favor you wouldn’t have to worry about either one. Your food will remain in the same manner in which you put it in your cart.
Guidelines for a successful shopping trip
1. Buy food in reasonable quantities to avoid spoiling.
2. Stay away from packages that are damaged or look like they were open. Most times, the stores will put these items on clearance, but grocery stores (not just Walmart) have issues with serial food grazers.
3. If you’re buying pasta or any item you can visibly see through the packaging (pasta, bulk beans, and bulk rice), shake it around and look for any bugs or mold.
4. Don’t buy packages that are loosely packed or those that are supposed to be air-tight and clearly are not.
5. Don’t buy cans that are bulging. If you see those, bring those to the attention of the store management. (In my case if it was Winn Dixie, they’d put it right back on the shelf again. GROSS!)
6. Keep your raw meat (chicken, pork, beef) away from your fresh vegetables or any ready to eat the items. You’ll stand a greater chance of cross-contamination. A good idea is to place your raw meat into a clear produce bag. This will avoid the possibility of cross-contamination from the juices intermingling with the other items in your grocery cart.
7. If you’re buying frozen fish and are able to see through the packaging, check to ensure there are no frozen ice crystals in the package, and there are no signs of freezer burn (white spots).
8. If you’re planning on buying fresh seafood and you smell the seafood when you walk in the front door, or while you’re standing at the fish counter. Don’t buy it! Fresh fish should not smell fishy. If you’re buying a whole fish, make sure the eyes are not cloudy and the skin is vibrant. Cloudy eyes trump everything. Stay away from it!
9. if you’re buying dairy, make sure it’s cold before putting it in your cart. There are times when the refrigeration goes out. If it doesn’t feel really cold to the touch, don’t buy it. Check the BEST BEFORE dates on dairy.
10. Open egg cartons and examine each egg. There should be no visible cracks and the egg should come out of the carton with ease. If you have to pull hard to get an egg out, it’s cracked and the egg has leaked out. Inform the store manager if you notice this. Don’t buy more eggs then you and your family would consume within 2 weeks.
11. If you’re buying pre-cut fruit, only select the ones that are displayed on ice or refrigerated.
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12. Make sure you thoroughly wash any vegetables that are “root vegetables” (i.e. carrots, beets, potatoes) thoroughly to remove all dirt before using. Wipe off mushrooms thoroughly with water and paper towels to remove residual dirt. You can also use a vegetable cleaning spray.
Pay attention to expiration dates
A lot of people take food safety for granted. Put on your thinking cap for a moment to the last time you went to the grocery store. Before putting that can of beans in your cart, did you look at the expiration date, or were you distracted by your kids?
Be careful with what you stockpile.
It’s really easy to hoard food especially if you’re thrifty and use coupons. I know it’s tempting to stockpile, but you should only buy as much food as your family will consume before the product expires to avoid it from spoiling. When it comes to stockpiling, contrary to popular belief, condiments do expire.
If you want to stockpile, stockpile the items that don’t expire such as laundry detergent, liquid dish soap (that’s my favorite stockpile item), toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning products; you get the idea.
Baggers can ruin our progress in a heartbeat
Keep an eye on whoever is bagging your groceries. Make sure they are not mixing raw meats with any other grocery items. 9 out of 10 times, they will put your vegetables in the same bag with leaky meat.
If they do that, it’s really okay to give them a dirty look and rebag your item yourself.
Just to sum things up
Remember, to always be cognizant while at the grocery store. With everything, the key to prevention is being aware of your surroundings and what you’re doing. The best way to prevent food poisoning is to stop it before it has a chance to start.
To continue with this topic on food safety, head on over to 3 insanely effective ways how to organize your refrigerator where you’ll learn the best way to organize your groceries.
How do you navigate the grocery store? Share in a comment below.
Until we meet again,