I know you’re super busy, so I’m gonna cut to the chase. You may think grocery shopping is a breeze, and in all reality it is; however, I’m going to share with you some actionable and immediate grocery shopping tips you can use while grocery shopping to avoid cross-contamination of foodborne pathogens to prevent food poisoning.
Let’s get started with these 5 actionable grocery shopping tips which help you avoid food cross-contamination while at the store.
Don’t you just love the grocery store? I’d be lying if I said I did. At one point in my life, I liked it, but now; yeah, not so much.
Let’s get going on a field trip to the grocery store. Make sure you have your permission slip signed! – Okay, that was pretty lame, but it made me chuckle a bit.
Be careful with what you stockpile.
It’s really easy to hoard fooled especially if you’re a coupon queen. 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 soap (that’s my favorite stockpile item), toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning products; you get the idea.
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 supermarket. Before putting that can of beans in your cart, did you look at the expiration date, or were you distracted by your kids?
There is more to buying groceries than selecting an item and tossing it in your cart.
There is a lot to know about food safety and buying groceries. Most parents with small children get sidetracked by their kid’s behavior, constant questions or them finding coupons and bringing them over to us with such excitement in their eyes.
When my oldest son, who is 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 in the remaining items into my shopping cart.
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.
Later on 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.
This was the beginning of my food safety journey.
With this story behind, let’s get to the simple things you may take for granted when you’re shopping.
Before we venture on learning how to prevent food poisoning before you actually bring your groceries home, make sure you sign up for the 3-day clean your kitchen challenge. This challenge is a compliment to this post. You can sign up right here! You will also get a print out of this insanely long and informative post.
Getting Things In Order – Tips To Clean Out Your Pantry
This part of your food safety journey is really easy; however, I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be pretty time-consuming. Depending on how much food you have stockpiled in your home, this may take you a few days to complete. That’s perfectly okay, as there is no need to rush. Make sure you save or bookmark this post for easy reference.
We’re going to start off with your pantry, or where-ever you keep your dry and canned goods.
1. Pull all of your items out of the pantry. To avoid making a mess, I would suggest you do one shelf at a time.
2. Review each item, looking for dents, rust around the lids or expanded cans. If there is visible rust or the lids are expanding, throw it out!
3. Now that everything is out, start looking at the expiration dates of each item. With a sharpie or any other permanent marker, write the expiration date on the front of the can/jar/box as big as you can. Do this with every item, until you’ve marked everything.
4. Put all your items back on their shelves in date order. For example, if you have 3 cans of green peas, but the one which will expire first in the front of the row, this way you will use that one up first.
5. Do the same thing for your refrigerator and frozen staple items. If you find expired items, throw them out.
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 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 didn’t throw out your expired items during your pantry/refrigerator clean-out session, then do it now.
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. (You will notice I repeat this a lot)!
4. Wipe clean any spills or food particles with 2 parts vinegar and 1 part 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, scotch or packing tape works really well.
The Most Important Tips, You Will Ever Need While Grocery Shopping.
Here are your guidelines for a successful shopping trip:
1. As mentioned above, buy food in reasonable quantities to avoid spoiling.
2. When most of us are at the supermarket, we typically start at the furthest point to the right. Most stores keep their perishable items along the perimeter of the store. As you’re walking up and down each aisle, the perishable food is no longer refrigerated and they’re starting to warm up to room temperature.
I’m not saying this to freak you out or anything, but when you make your shopping list, set it up where you visit the center isles where the crackers, cans, and paper goods are first. Gather your dairy, meats, and frozen items last. How many times have you gotten home to find your sliced cheese isn’t that cold and your ice cream is partially melted?
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Do not buy packages that are loosely packed or those that are supposed to be air-tight and clearly are not.
6. Do not 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!)
7. Keep your raw meat (chicken, pork, beef) away from your fresh vegetables or any ready to eat the item, as there is a possibility of cross-contamination. A good idea is to place your raw meat into a clear produce bag to avoid the possibility of cross-contamination from the juices intermingling with your other items in your grocery cart.
8. 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).
9. 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. Do not 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!
10. if you’re buying dairy, make sure it’s cold before buying it. 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.
11. 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.
12. If you’re buying pre-cut fruit, only select the ones that are displayed on ice or refrigerated.
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13. 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.
14. 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.
If they do that, it’s really okay to give them a dirty look and rebag your item yourself.
I know a lot of the things I mentioned you do anyway, but sometimes when we’re rushed to finish shopping or the kids are making you go bonkers, you may inadvertently miss something important.
Time To Bring Those Goodies Home! Tips To Keep Your Food Safe From Bacteria.
Okay, we’re on a roll now. We’ve prepared our pantry and refrigerator, we checked the expiration dates and threw out expired and/or science projects growing in the back of the refrigerator, went grocery shopping and now, we get to bring the groceries home.
I know it seems simple enough, but there are a few things we need to do once the food is brought into our home to ensure it’s safe to feed to our family.
This first part is going to depend on where you live and what time of the year it is; however, let’s assume it’s summer-time.
If you have a thermal tote or a cooler, it’s a good idea to place it in the trunk of your car. Even in the cooler months, I put my cooler in the trunk, because you never know if you’re going to be delayed somewhere.
I’m weird, I still use my thermal totes during the winter, aside from making it easy to bring my groceries into the house, I like knowing my food won’t freeze due to the blistery cold weather before I’m ready to freeze it. I told you I was weird, and you didn’t believe me.
If you’re looking for an awesome thermal tote Thirty-One Gifts have the best ones on the market. They’re sort of expensive, but totally worth it.
1. Plan out your day and do all errands before your grocery shopping, especially during hot weather.
2. Immediately bring your groceries home and unpack them, keeping the raw foods separated from your fruits and vegetables. I like to put my raw meats into the sink on the rare occasion the juices drip.
Ick, drippy meat juice all over the refrigerator. That will never happen again after you take the 3-day clean your kitchen challenge. Sign up down below. You will also get a print out of this insanely long and informative post.
3. Keep your eggs in their carton. Do not put them in the door of the refrigerator or those cute little egg cups. There is a slight possibility, some of the eggshells can harbor a small number of bacteria on it. Also, the door of the refrigerator is the warmest area of the refrigerator which means the small number of bacteria living on the outer shell of the eggs can cross-contaminate the other contents of the refrigerator.
4. Put frozen food in the freezer immediately. If you are planning on using the frozen food for your evening meal, place it on a plate and keep it in the refrigerator to thaw. Do not leave it on the counter. If you’re in a rush to use it, submerge the package in a clean sink that is filled with cool water.
5. As much as they want to help, do not let young children handle raw meat, EVER! This is one of the number one ways children contract E. Coli.
6. Check all labels for storage instructions. If it states refrigerate after opening, get out your sharpie and write that on the outside of the bottle or jar.
7. Never keep an open can in the refrigerator! If you have leftover canned peaches, put them in a food-grade storage container.
8. If you accidentally left an item that requires refrigeration out for more than 4 hours. THROW IT OUT! Regardless if it was opened or not!
9. Get out your sharpie, and place the expiration dates on all items purchased. Place new canned and boxed items in accordance with the expiration date.
Meal Prep, Serving The Meal And Clean Up Tips.
I feel as hungry as a fluffy cat eating some cocktail wieners.
I know you know the importance of washing your hands in warm soapy water; however, there are times, we totally forget about it. Before you begin to handle any food, make a point to wash your hands first.
There are times we may pet Fido, then without thinking start handling the food. There are a lot of things we all forget. It’s normal, and don’t feel bad if you just now realized you pet the dog then made your kid’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich and didn’t wash your hands before doing so.
I’m not here to judge. I’m here to educate.
1. Wipe the lids of all canned items thoroughly to remove any dust or dirt prior to using the can opener.
2. Wash all fruits and vegetables in warm water with a vegetable brush or by using a vegetable cleaner. Pay attention to vegetables that will be served raw. If you will be serving a raw vegetable such as zucchini, cucumber or carrots, make sure it is washed thoroughly before removing the peel.
3. I know a lot of people like their hamburger meat cooked medium. It’s okay if you eat your hamburger where it’s a little pink inside just as long as the internal temperature reads 160°F. An internal temperature lower than that can still harbor bacteria.
4. If you use a bowl, utensils or anything to hold your raw meat, clean it with hot soapy water before putting it in the dishwasher. Do not use anything that touched raw meat with any other food item until it has been thoroughly washed to avoid cross-contamination. Even before you put it in the dishwasher.
5. Use a separate cutting board for both raw meat, fruits, and vegetables. DO NOT use the same knife or the same cutting board. If you only have one cutting board available, cut your vegetables on a plate.
If you’ve read or just skimmed this far, then you totally need to take the 3-day clean your kitchen challenge. It’s super simple. You get 1 email a day for 3 days with actionable steps you can actually complete. This isn’t one of those mamby-pampy challenges you start and never finish. What are you waiting for? Sign up below and whip that kitchen into shape.
6. Make sure to wash your dish rags, and aprons on a weekly basis in hot water with bleach.
7. Don’t use kitchen sponges, but if you’re old school and like to use them, change them out weekly. You can get a pack of 6 to 8 at the dollar store for a buck. (Read why kitchen sponges are horrible and why they should be burned)!
8. Soak your blades, gears, and gaskets on food processors and blenders in hot antibacterial soapy water for a minimum of 5 minutes before rinsing and scrubbing.
9. If you’re sick, have a cold, or think you’re coming down with a cold, either wear a surgical mask (you can get them at Walmart or any drug store) or have someone else prepare your meal.
If you have open wounds on your hands, such as but not limited to, cuts, abrasions, stitches, scrapes, wear either a waterproof bandage or wear a surgical glove. Dispose of the glove after each use. You can get a box of 100 gloves really cheap at Amazon. Please make sure you use gloves that are rated food grade.
There’s nothing grosser than tasting some “latex powder” on your food if you used the gloves you swiped from the gynecologist’s office. Did I give you a gross visual? Good, that was my intention.
10. Use a meat thermometer to check to see if your meat is cooked thoroughly. Different meats require different internal temperatures. The listing will be on the outside of your meat thermometer.
If you don’t have one, you can pick one up at Amazon. Handwash your thermometer. Do not put it in the dishwasher, as it can affect the temperature gauge to malfunction. If your thermometer starts to bend (due to poor storage), purchase a new one immediately.
11. Immediately pack all leftovers in food-safe containers. Do not store your food in the refrigerator in the same container you served it in.
For example, if you made roast beef and served it in a glass dish, don’t just seal it with aluminum foil and be done. Cut it up into smaller portions and store it in a food-grade plastic container. Larger portions take longer to cool properly and will become an ideal environment for bacteria to grow.
Is Your Head Spinning With All Of These Tips For Grocery Shopping And Beyond?
Please remember, not everyone is perfect and these tips were not meant by any stretch of the imagination to make you feel bad for not doing some of these.
We learn from our parents. When I was a kid in the ’70s, no one ever thought about foodborne illness or the proper way to go grocery shopping; so, therefore, it’s a good chance your parents were never taught the importance of it.
I wasn’t taught anything about food safety. Heck, I wasn’t even taught how to cook. I learned all this from trial and error, and occasionally giving myself and my boys a case or two of food poisoning.
Do you just toss things haphazardly into your shopping cart or are you strategic in your placement? Share in a comment below!
Until we meet again,
P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for the 3-day clean your kitchen challenge!