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!
Questions and Answers
Posted May 4, 2010
Q: It seems to be more foodborne illnesses now than in the past. Is it?
A: The CDC’s FoodNet MMWR report, which was released earlier this month, indicates that the rates of six different foodborne illnesses have declined when compared with 1996-1998. However, most have shown little change since 2004. The notable exceptions in the report are E. coli O157:H7 infections, which declined to their lowest point since 2004, and Vibrio infections, which increased by 85% when compared with 1996-1998. For more details, see Incidence of Foodborne Illness, 2009.
Q: I am always concerned regarding food handlers wearing gloves. Is this a federal or a state mandated law?
A: Some states have laws requiring food handlers to wear gloves. Others do not. The FDA Food Code contains recommendations for the use of different types of gloves, but the Food Code is not law; it is a model code and reference document for state and local agencies that regulate retail food stores and foodservice operations.
Q: Is there a way to inform a large supermarket's central or regional office of consistently bad practices in their local stores?
Separate government agencies are responsible for protecting different segments of the food supply. If you have experienced a problem with a food product, be sure to contact the appropriate public health organization. For help with grocery store food problems, call the health department in your city, county or state. You may want to consult the State Agencies page to link to your state's health department.
Is there a way to inform a large supermarket's central or regional office of consistantly bad practices in their local store (products past their sell dates, produce that is wilted and bruised, frost covered frozen products, fishy smell in the meat department, check out lines that take longer than ten minutes, etc. Is there a listing somewhere of who to contact for the larger chain stores? I habve spoken to the frequently changing managers at my local store and none of this has changed.
I was reading Start At The Store 7 ways to prevent Foodborne Illness I never would have thought about making sure that the food was below the freeze line and about the ice crystals. Thank You so much for this information.
Good video, but it would be better if Ms. De leon brought her reusable shopping bags with her.
It seems that I have received alot of dent cans this year both from my supplier and what I get from the goverment .You can't see it until you unpack it and the case is not torn .Has anyone else had this problem ?
This is more of a question than a statement. I am always concerned regarding food handlers wearing gloves. Is this a federal or a state mandated law?
The FDA should put a stop to food addatives to extend the life of all foods.