Food Safety - Start at the Store

Reviewed by Eleese Cunningham, RDN
man checking labels at grocery store

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Check out the Safe Food Shopping Guide - Infographic.

Protecting your family from food poisoning doesn't begin at home. It begins at the grocery store. It is important to carefully select, package and transport food from the grocery store to home to keep it safe. Follow these tips for a safe shopping experience:

Make Cleanliness a Priority

  • Check for cleanliness and only buy food from reputable businesses that follow food safety regulations. Determine the general impression of the facility and make sure it looks and smells clean.
  • If provided, use the hand sanitizer at the store's entrance. Wipe hands and the handle of the shopping cart.
  • Clean hands before sampling food. Either bring moist towelettes or carry a bottle of hand sanitizer to use before you taste.
  • If you use reusable grocery bags, wash them often.

Inspect Food Packages

  • Check food packages. There should be no holes, tears or openings. Frozen foods should be solid with no signs of thawing. Refrigerated foods should feel cold.
  • Check safety seals. 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. Report a defective cap to the store manager.
  • Avoid buying any cans that are deeply dented (one that you can lay your finger into), bulging, rusting or have a dent on either the top or side seam. Deeply dented or bulging cans may be a warning sign of botulism, while cans with a sharp dent may damage the seam and allow bacteria to enter the can.

Separate Certain Foods

  • Put raw meat, poultry and seafood in plastic bags before placing them in your cart. This keeps packaging from leaking and dripping onto ready-to-eat foods like bread or produce. According to a recent study, 85 percent of stores supplied meat bags to customers, but fewer than 20 percent of customers used them.
  • When checking out, place raw meat, poultry and seafood in separate bags from ready-to-eat foods.

Pay Attention to Dates

  • Pay attention to "sell by" and "use by" dates on perishable foods. If the "sell by" date has passed, don't buy the product. The "use by" date applies to use at home so make sure you will be able to eat the food within that time frame.

Keep Cold Foods Cold

  • At the store, shop for perishable foods including frozen foods, meat, poultry and seafood last.
  • Take groceries home immediately and store them right away. If you must run errands and will be out longer than 30 minutes, bring a cooler with chill packs for perishable foods. The temperature of refrigerated food can go up 8 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit on a typical trip home from the store. Perishable foods must be refrigerated within two hours and only one hour if it is over 90°F outside.
  • Keep perishable foods out of the hot trunk in summer and place in the air-conditioned car instead.

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