Bringing Home the Bacon - and the Bacteria - From the Supermarket
Harmful bacteria can grow on food and make you very sick. Follow these tips for what to do at the grocery store and at home to stay healthy.

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Picture of person shopping Bringing Home the Bacon - and the Bacteria - From the Supermarket

When you bring home groceries from the supermarket, you may also bring home bacteria that can make you sick. If you are pregnant or have a health condition, you're more vulnerable to such illnesses than most people.

Health inspections
Supermarkets are inspected regularly. Health inspectors look for violations that can cause harm to someone, including:

  • Cross-contamination, such as using the same knife to cut meat, then fruit, without washing it in between
  • Improper refrigeration
  • Expired foods
  • Rodent problems
  • Insects
  • Poor hand-washing facilities
  • Improper storage of toxic chemicals

Supermarket health inspection reports are usually displayed in the store. If you don't see one, ask a manager. Some states post reports online at state or local government web sites.

Shopping tips

  • When buying prepackaged food in a refrigerated case, look for a thermometer. The temperature should be 40 degrees F or lower.
  • Shop for raw meats, refrigerated and frozen foods, and hot foods last, after you've finished the rest of your shopping.
  • Make sure meat packages have no leakage, odor or green color. Place meat and seafood in separate plastic bags to contain juices.
  • Check dates for freshness.
  • In summer, place meats inside car - in air conditioning - instead of in a hot trunk.
  • Refrigerate food as quickly as possible after leaving the grocery store. Food should not stay out of the fridge for more than 2 hours. In hot weather over 90 degrees F, food can spoil if it's not refrigerated within 1 hour.

What to do at home

  • Rinse all produce with water before eating.
  • If a label says a product is pre-washed, rinse it with water anyway - even bagged greens like lettuce and spinach.
  • Wash hands with soap and water before preparing food and after touching uncooked foods.
  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and vegetables. Don't use old wooden boards.
  • Buy a refrigerator thermometer. Keep the temperature below 40 degrees F.
  • Always use a food thermometer when cooking. You cannot tell if a food is done just by looking at it.
  • Use a cooler to transport perishable foods. If left unrefrigerated for more than 2 hours (or 1 hour in the summer), throw it away.
  • Don't defrost meat at room temperature. Thaw it in the refrigerator for a day or two.
  • Refrigerate all leftovers within 2 hours (or 1 hour if above 90 degrees) of serving. Place leftover food in shallow containers so it chills quickly.

What to remember
Avoid food borne illnesses by washing your hands often and controlling temperatures. Harmful bacteria can grow on food when it enters the food safety "danger zone" between 40 and 140 degrees F. Always keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.

By Diane Griffith, Staff Writer
Created on 02/23/2006
Updated on 07/06/2010
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chemung County. Food safety begins at the grocery store.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture and Partnership for Food Safety Education. Be food safe.
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Does FDA inspect grocery stores, restaurants, or dollar stores?
  • Iowa Department of Inspection and Appeals. The inspection process.
  • Iowa Department of Inspection and Appeals. How to read an inspection report.
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