• Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Bring it home safely

    In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I was doing some grocery shopping, and I saw some things in other shoppers’ carts that really concerned me. No, it wasn’t their dirty, screaming children. There were food safety issues all over the store.
    One particular cart contained fresh, uncooked pork chops with a bag of Clementine oranges sitting directly on top of it. I considered (for a second or two) snapping a secret picture with my cell phone, but decided that might create a scene. Then, I considered recreating the incident and taking pictures, but that would have been so wasteful.
    The store is responsible for keeping meat products in a clean environment and at safe temperatures, but as soon as you select a package and place it in your cart, it’s all on you.  Only you can control how safely that package is handled from the time you select it until it is served to your family.
    To get things started, the folks at www.foodsafety.gov have a blog about keeping food safe while shopping called Start at the Store. It also contains a video. They talk about inspecting cans to make sure they are not dented and fruit to make sure it is not bruised.
    A friend of mine sent me this picture. Se was extra careful about
    keeping her fresh meat away from the rest of her groceries.
    When you are shopping for groceries, you should always wait to buy milk, meat and eggs until last. They are perishable and you want to minimize the time they spend outside of refrigeration. You want to observe the “2 hour rule.” This simply states that refrigerated food should not be stored at room temperature for more than 2 hours. When it’s hot outside (above 90°F), you should have your refrigerated foods home in the fridge in an hour.
    Also, when you are selecting that perfect cut, try to handle the packages by touching only the packaging. Don’t poke on the meat with your fingers. Even though they are wrapped in plastic, it is not a perfect barrier, so when you handle the meat, the germs from your hands could still transfer to the meat.
    You have every right to examine every package in the case to find that perfect one, but when you find it, put the rest of the packages back where you found them. Don’t leave them stacked up on each other. Those coolers can only keep the meat cold if it is below a certain point within them. Most stores only stack their packages three deep so the coolers can do their job efficiently.
    At most grocery stores today, there are plastic bags close to the meat counter for you to place the packages in. They will be just like the ones you’ll see in the produce section. You should use these to keep juices from the meat from dripping onto other foods in your cart.
    Remember that sandwich meats and hot dogs are already cooked. They need be refrigerated, but you don’t want to get raw meat juices on them. Don’t put them in the bag with the raw meat.
    When you put your raw meat packages in your shopping cart, keep it away from other food items. Do not set it on top of other foods. Do not set other foods on it. Remember those Clementine oranges? They were potentially contaminated. You will cook your meat to kill any bacteria that is on it, but fresh fruits and vegetables may not be cooked before they are eaten.
    But, don’t oranges have a thick peel? Even if they have a thick peel, the surface could carry bacteria that could be transferred to your hands when you peel it and then to the interior of the food when you eat it! Just keep it separated!
    After you go through the check-out line, make sure that raw meat packages are bagged separately from other foods. I think store employees are being trained in food safety and many of them will bag your raw meat items separately without you even asking.
    If you like to use those environmentally-friendly, reusable shopping bags, use a disposable one for your raw meat products. The juices from your meat could drip onto the reusable bag and allow bacteria to grow in it between shopping trips. Then, it would contaminate your food on the next trip to the store.
    If you are going to make it home and get your meat products in the fridge in less than two hours, everything should be ok without a cooler or ice pack. If it’s really hot outside (greater than 90°F), you should have it home in one hour and put your meat products in the front of the car in the air-conditioning rather than in the trunk.  If you can’t make it in an hour, you should put your meat, milk, eggs and other perishable items on ice.
    Once you get home, get your perishable meats, milk and eggs unloaded and in the fridge.  Double check all your shopping bags for everything that needs to go in the fridge.
    Enjoy this crazy Christmas season. I love it! I would also love some comments or questions for topics for my next blog. Thanks!

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