Start At The Store

7 Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illness By Doriliz De Leon, Consumer Safety Officer in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN)

I think it is very important for consumers to realize that protecting your family against foodborne illnesses begins not at home, but at the supermarket, grocery store, or any other place where you buy food that you plan to store and serve. According to the CDC, foodborne ailments cause about 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,200 deaths nationwide each year. So, here are some simple things that you can do while you are shopping for food to safeguard you and your family:

  • Check for cleanliness Buy from a retailer who follows proper food handling practices. This helps assure that the food is safe. Ask yourself: What is my general impression of this facility? Does it look and smell clean?
  • Keep certain foods separated Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart. Place these foods in plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping on other foods. It is also best to separate these foods from other foods at checkout and in your grocery bags.
  • Inspect cans and jars Don’t buy food in cans that are bulging or dented. Also, don’t buy food in jars that are cracked or have loose or bulging lids. A bulging can or jar lid may mean the food was under-processed and is contaminated. Don’t buy a food product whose seal seems tampered with or damaged.
  • Inspect frozen food packaging Don’t buy frozen food if the package is damaged. Packages should not be open, torn or crushed on the edges. Also, avoid packages that are above the frost line in the store’s freezer. If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. This could mean that the food in the package has either been stored for a long time or thawed and refrozen.
  • Select frozen foods and perishables last And, meat, poultry, fish and eggs should be the last items placed in your shopping cart. Always put these products in separate plastic bags so that drippings don’t contaminate other foods.
  • Choose fresh eggs carefully Before putting eggs in your cart, open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and none is cracked. Buy only refrigerated eggs and follow the “Safe Handling Instructions” on the carton.
  • Be mindful of time and temperature It’s important to refrigerate perishable products as soon as possible after grocery shopping. Food safety experts stress the “2-hour rule” because harmful bacteria can multiply in the “danger zone” (between 40° and 140° F), perishable foods should not be left at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Modify that rule to 1 hour when temperatures are above 90° F, as they often are in cars that have been parked in the sun.

If it will take more than an hour to get your groceries home, use an ice chest to keep frozen and perishable foods cold. Also, when the weather is warm and you are using your car’s air conditioner, keep your groceries in the passenger compartment, not the trunk.

Combating foodborne illnesses is a top priority at the FDA we hope it will be for you too!

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Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40 year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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