SUPERMARKET SMARTS: A 4-Step Safety Game Plan to Get You Started
1. Prep Before You Shop. Next time you head to the store, throw a cooler with ice packs into your car. Then if you have a bunch of errands to run or it's hot outside, you will be able to keep perishable foods from warming up in your car. If you forget a cooler, ask the butcher or fishmonger for some ice in a plastic bag. Also, put sanitizing wipes that contain alcohol in your purse.
2. Clean Your Cart. As you enter the store, wipe the handles with your wipes. Germs might be lurking there. The wipes will help you prevent transferring those bugs from your hands to the food you're buying, which is especially important when it comes to the produce you'll be eating raw. Wiping your hands on the way out can also help you banish germs you've picked up while shopping.
3. Shop in the Middle of the Store First. This is generally where you'll find drinks and packaged goods, which can sit in your cart for a while. Then you can hit the produce and bulk-food aisles.
4. Save Stuff that Needs to Be Kept Cold for the End. These items include meat, fish, eggs, milk and deli meats. Pick up frozen foods last and keep them together. Also, separate meat, poultry and other items in your cart to avoid cross-contamination. Give cleaning supplies their own area, in case they spring a leak. Make sure items you've kept apart are bagged separately, too.
AISLE BY AISLE: Food Safety Starts in the Supermarket
Lean in. When it comes to frozen food, raw meats and dairy products, be sure to pull from the back of the case or reach deep into the bottom for the items that usually remain the coldest.
Double Check the Pre-Washed Lettuce. Check "use by" dates on bagged greens and other prepackaged produce. In a recent test, ShopSmart found higher levels of some bacteria in pre-washed packages of salad that were one to five days from their use-by date. Packages that were six to eight days from their use-by dates were cleaner.
Don't Judge Meat by its Color. Carbon monoxide is sometimes used in packaging to keep meat looking red and fresh, even when it's not. So check dates! Look for the latest date, and use the meat within a day or so or freeze it.
Buy Everything Pasteurized. When it comes to dairy products many producers of raw milk are very careful how they produce it, but it's a risky product that can easily be contaminated with campylobacter, salmonella or e. coli. So consider liquid pasteurized eggs if you'll be eating them raw (as in homemade cookie dough). Just be wary of ultra-pasteurized milk as it's heated at a higher temperature to give it a longer shelf life so it can be shipped further, but we don't yet know what that does to the milk.
Skip the Scoops. With bulk foods, try to buy from stores that have gravity-fed bins (the kind of container that releases the contents only when you pull a lever). People can't stick their hands in the food, and they're forced to take the older stuff first. (But still make sure the bin looks clean!).
About Editor-in-Chief, Lisa Lee Freeman:
Lisa Lee Freeman is the Editor-in-Chief of ShopSmart, a shopping magazine from Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. With ShopSmart, Freeman has created a resource to help buyers make smart decisions about important household purchases. A visually compelling magazine, ShopSmart cuts through hype and gives consumers the bottom line on what to buy, whether they're shopping for food, cars, or cosmetics.
Previously, Freeman was a deputy editor on the personal finance, travel, and shopping beats at Consumer Reports. She has covered cutting-edge subjects such as when it pays to buy organic and how to keep your credit score from ruining your life. Freeman also helped launch a highly successful newsletter, Consumer Reports Money Adviser, on smart saving and spending strategies which included stories on topics ranging from finding great travel deals to avoiding credit-card rip-offs.
Before joining Consumers Union, Freeman was a senior editor at CosmoGIRL! magazine, covering education, money, and health, and the features editor at Working Woman magazine, where she developed news-making packages on the best companies for women and other topics. She also served as the New York bureau chief at Investor's Business Daily.
Freeman makes regular appearances on national news programs. She has been a guest on the Today Show, Good Morning America, the Early Show, CNN American Morning, CBS Evening News, CNN Headline News, and many other shows.
Shopping is in Freeman's DNA. Her grandmother opened an independent clothing shop in Queens at age 19, and an aunt and uncle owned apparel shops in Manhattan and New Jersey. Aside from being a self-described shopping fanatic, Freeman travels extensively abroad and enjoys painting and poetry. She received her bachelor's degree in English from Brandeis University and lives with her husband in Westchester County, New York.