How clean do you think your grocery shopping experience is?
You might just be surprised — and disappointed.
Detective Foodsafe® wonders just how clean and germ-free our supermarkets really are and decided to tour one with you. Together we will point out areas of concern so you can be on the lookout in your local grocery.
Let’s get started, we have some investigating to do…
Walking through the sliding doors that magically open when you enter your favorite supermarket, do you ever think about how clean the store is?
Do you ever wonder about other shoppers and what they might be leaving in the store when they are done? Do they carry pathogens on their hands? Have they practiced good handwashing practices after they leave the restroom in the lobby and begin shopping, pushing their shopping cart and touching the produce?
Detective Foodsafe thinks of those things each time she steps in the grocery store.
Always pull the sanitizing wipes and clean off the handle of the grocery cart. Keep going and clean the child’s seat, especially if you have a child who will sit there.
Detective Foodsafe also wipes off the rail of the cart knowing at some point it will be used to pull the cart up the aisle or out of someone’s way.
Finally, pull a fresh wipe and clean your own hands. Hopefully there will be a wastebasket at the entrance to toss out the used wipes so you don’t have to leave them in the cart for the next customer.
Now we’re ready to visit different parts of the store checking for food safety pitfalls.
Deli and Ready-to-Go Food
Most grocery stores have begun preparing food for busy families who don’t have time to cook themselves.
They are making sandwiches, salads, and smorgasbords full of ready to eat foods. Many have full self-serve salad bars with hot and cold foods not just salads.
These are great options when we want to grab and go or get a quick lunch on the run while picking up other essential items we need. But (you knew there was a but), they are also great ways to open your plate to time and temperature abuse.
That means it could have a food safety failure, depending on how long the food is stored compared to the time it was made, how long it might be sitting on the preparation or serving table, and how many times it wasn’t kept at the proper temperature throughout this process before you take it home.
Was the baked chicken cooked to the proper internal temperature, how long has it been sitting on the steam table, was it held at the proper temperature the entire time? Has an employee been keeping track of the temperature or serving time?
How about how many people have possibly touched that chicken trying to find a piece they want? Has anyone coughed or sneezed on it? Did someone use the same utensil for the other foods and possibly one that touched a food your child is allergic to?
Detective Foodsafe wonders if the employees who prepared this grab and go food wear hair restraints and gloves? Do they keep the work surfaces clean from cross contamination and wash hands often?
This may seem to some like overthinking things or looking for trouble where there might not be any, but your food safety is that important to Detective Foodsafe who has seen firsthand the severity of food poisoning.
Fish and Seafood
For those of us trying to eat more fish and seafood, having a variety of raw fish available in our local supermarket is a real advantage.
Detective Foodsafe reminds us all that there could be dangers lurking in the seafood department.
The biggest of these is separating what will be eaten raw with the fish that will be cooked to prevent cross contamination of pathogens. Is the raw ready to eat fish separated in its own display case or barriers in the same case with the fish that will be cooked?
Is the seafood counter and display case clean?
Seafood has specific food safety risks including freshness, proper handling and keeping it at the right temperature. Fish and seafood not held at proper temperatures can make you sick. Bacteria grows quickly when fish isn’t held at the proper temperature.
Be sure the store seems to be handling the seafood appropriately. Are they keeping it on ice or properly refrigerated? Are there any cracked or open shells in their supply? Do live seafood show signs of movement? Does the frozen seafood look as though it might have been defrosted and then re-frozen?
Fresh fish should not be dark, dry, green, mushy or have an unpleasant aroma. This could signal a breach in food safety practices.
As with any meat or poultry, place your purchases in a plastic bag and don’t discard the bag until you are ready to cook it. This will prevent juices from cross contaminating food in the grocery cart or your home refrigerator.
Between the Aisles
Awareness of food safety while shopping through the entire store is important. Detective Foodsafe says its important to think about the order of the food you put in your cart.
Save the perishable food for last. This isn’t the way supermarkets are usually designed. Most have the perishables on the outside perimeter where we tend to pick up those enticing foods first.
Detective Foodsafe encourages us to shop between the aisles first getting packaged and canned foods first saving the cold foods for later. Scoop up any ready to eat deli foods last.
When selecting canned foods, check the expiration dates to be sure you are giving yourself enough time to use them before they expire. Also avoid dented, broken, bulging or damaged cans. Detective Foodsafe also always washes off can lids before opening once she gets them home!
Other Shopping and Storage Tips
Detective Foodsafe has several other tips to help you have the safest food shopping experience.
- When shopping for produce, remember that loose foods have probably been touched by many or dropped on the floor. It is important from this standpoint to wash under running water all your produce even those with peels you don’t eat.
- Buying only what you plan to eat in the coming week will help not only your shopping budget, but food safety because letting produce get moldy or foods to expire could lead to food poisoning.
- If you use reusable grocery bags, be sure to launder them regularly as they tend to pick up dirt and debris as well as food juices.
- Store all your perishable groceries in the refrigerator within 30 minutes of purchase. If you won’t get them home within 30 minutes, bring a cooler with ice to store them safely until you can get them home under refrigeration.
- Always store foods with a first in first out plan. Put the oldest products up front in your pantry to use first. Check the expiration dates regularly and either use or discard before they go bad.
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer clean; wiping out spills and juices that might have dripped which could potentially contaminate other foods.
Grocery shopping shouldn’t put your health and food safety — and that of your family — at risk.
Detective Foodsafe will be on another case soon to help you avoid food poisoning.
If you are on Twitter, check out @DetFoodsafe for #FoodSafetyFriday Tips for more great ideas to keep you and your family safe from food poisoning!