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By reporter Jeff Rivenbark.
Grocery shopping is a routine chore. You fill up a cart, pay the cashier, and walk out of the store with bags of fresh food.
But just how fresh is the food you take home, and is it possible you could be shopping in a way that could affect both the safety and quality of the foods you purchase?
About one in six Americans, or 48 million people, will get sick from food poisoning this year according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Researchers who study food safety say the way we shop could be contributing to a number of these food poisoning cases.
There are things you can do to shop smarter and prevent harmful bacteria from deteriorating the quality of your food.
Dr. Scott Whiteside is an associate professor in the Department of Food Nutrition and Packaging at Clemson University. His advice for most grocery shoppers is simple.
“Change your shopping habits,” Whiteside said.
Most consumers shop in the wrong places first and this causes perishable items in our cart to become what researchers describe as ‘temperature compromised.’
“Start with the places that are the dry good areas, bread, potato chips, soups, flour, beans, cereal—those kind of things. Buy those things first,” Whiteside recommended.
The reason for this is because most shoppers spend lots of time going up and down the aisles searching for deals, but no matter how much time you take, it won’t affect the quality of any dry good products in your cart.
Two things to avoid are ripped bags and dented cans.
“We’ve noticed at the university a lot of packages that have problems, have lost their seal, their hermetic seal,” Whiteside said. “Well, if it opens that seal, then now you have the potential for pathogens, and dirt and debris, and other things to get inside that package.”
Once you have picked up all the dry good items you need, head over to the produce section.
In addition to bacteria and pesticides on most produce we buy, there’s also germs from other shoppers who have picked up an item before deciding not to buy it!
“We don’t know what was on your hands when you handled that,” Williams said. “That’s why it’s very important for consumers when they take produce items home to disinfect, soak and repackage them into a clean bag and refrigerate immediately.”
The meat department should be the next place you visit, but be sure to place any raw items in a plastic bag.
“That’s one of the purposes of those bags, to minimize risks associated with these products dripping the juices or contaminants from these raw meats,” Williams said.
Slime on the surface of meat, poultry and fish indicates spoilage. So, no matter where you shop beware of this when you remove the cellophane wrapping.
“If you’re not confident that meat has been under good refrigeration temperatures, then I’d be concerned about the safety and quality of that product,” Whiteside said.
Williams says limiting the time raw meats sit in our cart will reduce the growth of harmful microorganisms.
“They start proliferating,” and he added, “Those microorganisms will change the flavor, texture qualities of your food as well as, obviously, compromise the safety of your foods.”
The dairy section is an area you should visit just before you check out.
“Don’t buy milk the first thing in, and 45 minutes later, be walking around because you’ll be surprised how quickly that product will warm up in your buggy just walking through the grocery store,” Whiteside said.
The very last area you should visit before checking out is the frozen food section to prevent excessive thawing of those items.
When you’re checking out, its important for you to be mentally checked in.
Make sure your raw meats are bagged separately.
Dairy and other refrigerated items should be placed in the bottom of a bag with frozen entrees or vegetables, placed on top to keep everything as cool as possible.
If you don’t like they way your groceries are bagged, speak up or do it yourself.
The best way to remember where to shop first, is by organizing your grocery list from the start.
A slight change in some of your shopping habits could eliminate harmful bacteria from affecting the safety and quality of the foods you eat.
You can extend the shelf life of a product if you refrigerate or freeze perishable foods within two hours of purchasing.
If it’s really hot outside, keep a cooler in your car with ice or frozen gel packs for transporting your perishables home.
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The following information is from Gallup.com (Source: http://www.gallup.com/poll/156416/americans-spend-151-week-food-high-income-180.aspx).
- Americans report spending $151 on food per week on average.
- One in 10 Americans say they spend $300 or more per week and, at the other extreme, 8% spend less than $50.
- One in six Americans could get sick from food poisoning this year alone.
- That’s about 48 million people. Most of them will recover without any lasting effects from their illness. For some, however, the effects can be devastating and even deadly.
- Food poisoning not only sends more than 100,000 Americans to the hospital each year – it can also have long-term health consequences.
- In the United States, approximately 3,000 people die each year of illnesses associated with food poisoning. Five types of organisms account for 88 percent of the deaths for which the cause is known: Salmonella, Toxoplasma,Listeria, norovirus, and Campylobacter.
- Here’s how to wash all your produce effectively…
- Cut away any damaged or bruised areas.
- Rinse produce under running water. Don’t use soap, detergent, bleach, or commercial produce washes.
- Scrub firm produce—like melons or cucumbers—with a clean produce brush.
- Dry produce with a paper towel or clean cloth towel… and you’re done.
- The good news? Bagged produce marked “pre-washed” is safe to use without further washing.
Dr. Leonard Williams, Interim Director and Professor of Food Safety and Microbiology at North Carolina A & T State University, and at the Center for Excellence and Post Harvest Technologies at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, NC. He has been a researcher for 13 years focusing on food safety, microbiology and epidemiology.
Dr. Scott Whiteside, Associate Professor in the Department of Food Nutrition and Packaging Sciences at Clemson University, Clemson, SC. He’s been at Clemson University 23 years.