Protecting yourself and those that share your household from food-borne illness begins with careful grocery shopping. The U.S. government urges consumers to take these precautions:
• Shop only in stores that look and smell clean.
• Shop for items that are not refrigerated or frozen first. Put perishables and frozen foods into your cart last.
• Before putting cans and jars into your cart, inspect them. If a can is dented, bulging, or rusty, don't buy it. If a jar has a loose or bulging lid, don't buy it. A bulging lid on a car or jar may mean the food was under-processed and is contaminated.
• Don't buy any product if it looks like the seal was tampered with or damaged.
• Inspect carefully when selecting frozen items. Packages should not be open, torn, or crushed around the edges. Don't buy 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. These are indications that the food has either been stored for a long time or thawed and then refrozen.
• Before putting a carton of eggs in your basket, open it and make sure there are no broken or cracked eggs in the batch.
• Whether you do self check-out or have a store employee bagging your groceries, be sure that raw meat, poultry, and seafood are bagged separately from other items so that possible drippings from them do not contaminate other foods, especially those to be eaten uncooked.
• If any of your groceries need refrigeration or freezing, get them home fast. Food safety experts stress the "2-hour rule" because harmful bacteria can multiply in the "danger zone" (between 40°F - 140°F). Modify that rule to 1 hour when temperatures are above 90°F., as they often are when cars are parked in the sun.
• If it will take more than an hour to get groceries home, it's a good idea to put perishables in an ice chest. Also, when it's hot enough to use your car's air conditioner, put groceries in the passenger section of your car, not in the trunk.
FoodSafety.gov "Start at the Store: 7 Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illness"
ETHEL TIERSKY, the editor and frequent author for http://shelflifeadvice.com,has been a free-lance writer since 1963 and a food safety fanatic for even longer. She has published dozens of magazine articles and co-authored 14 grammar texts and readers for adults studying the English language. Developing http://shelflifeadvice.com has kept her busy since retiring from her teaching position as associate professor of English at Harry Truman College in Chicago. Some of her other writings for the site include "Don't Let Those Food Expiration Dates Scare You," product write-ups on mayonnaise and water, and "Pyrex Glassware: Is It Safe to Use?"