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.
I had a difficult time finding something large enough for brining turkey. After placing it in a plastic oven roasting bag, which was ready to burst from the weight, we then put the turkey, bag and all, into one of those light weight silver thermal bags (with a beer logo on it). Then, in the end, we had to place the entire thing in a large aluminum roasting pan just so we would be able to get it in and out of the refrigerator. The thermal bag is white on the inside - not sure if it is food safe or not?
very interesting and i'm so thankful for sharing this information...it is really important to check the expiry date for all the can goods to avoid food borne..
If you don't store your food at the temperature indicated on its package, it can go bad much sooner. To make sure your fridge or freezer is working well and keeps the temperature at the level you want, call an appliance repair service to check it for you and fix it if needed.
Nice article with lots of tips about the food safety to protect our family against food borne illnesses which begins not at home, but at the place where we buy food that we plan to store and serve. Just following these simple tips we can protect ourselves from food borne illnesses.
Regarding bringing your own bags - remember they need to be put in the laundry on a regular basis. Another bag to include are thermal bags for your refrigerated and frozen items. Good article!
I would like to have some information about endocrine disruptors and genetically modified foods. I have read some very disturbing articles and am surprised that there is nothing on this website. I also saw a video called The World According to Monsanto - why is nothing being said about these very questionable pesticides, practices and problems? This silence is almost as disturbing as what I have been reading. It is time that consumers have the opportunity to have information about Genetically Modified foods - ON THE FOODS THEY BUY!
and don't forget to check, best to buy by, and expiration dates!
Very useful guidelines for purchasing the safe quality foods.
Thank you for the very informative information. I'll check back often.
This was a well written article. None of the information was new but it was important to re-think each item. It seems to be more foodborne illnesses now than in the past. Is it?