Between rounding up the kiddos as you scramble out the door, remembering your reusable grocery bags, and the incessant, “Don’t put that in your mouth…” cries, a family trip to the grocery store can be quite a whirlwind for parents.
Nonetheless, it’s smart to practice food safety at the grocery store to avoid spreading germs to your food — and your family.
To help you out, here are some simple things you can do to avoid germs and help keep your kids safe while shopping for groceries.
Keep Reusable Grocery Bags Clean
When was the last time you cleaned your reusable grocery bags? According to a recent study conducted by a team of researchers at Loma Linda University, reusable grocery bags may be a vessel for spreading viruses like norovirus (the dreaded “stomach bug”) to other grocery store surfaces if bags are not properly cleaned and sanitized. Gross!
The American Cleaning Institute recommends washing canvas grocery bags after each use, following care instructions. For insulated bags, use a disinfecting wipe to sanitize, especially if these bags are used for transporting raw meats.
Please don’t leave reusable grocery bags in the trunk of your car in between trips. The trunk’s dark, warm environment incubates “bag bacteria” and increases the risk of spreading foodborne illness.
Sanitize, Sanitize, Sanitize.
A study conducted by Dr. Charles Gerba in five major metropolitan areas across the U.S. found that grocery shopping cart handles and seats may be significantly contaminated with bacteria. The study suggests the need for improved sanitation for grocery carts to reduce the risk of contracting an infectious illness. Before you load it up with groceries, wipe down the shopping cart handles and baby seat with a disinfecting wipe. Most grocery stores offer complimentary wipes for this very reason.
Also, bring your own hand sanitizer. If you find a moment amongst the grocery store chaos, use it after handling meats, seafood, and produce.
Keep Foods Separated
As you make your way around the grocery store, use the small plastic bags provided in each department to prevent cross-contamination. This is especially important when buying both raw meats and seafood, and ready-to-eat foods like fruits and vegetables.
Pick up meat and seafood items using the bag as a glove to avoid direct contact, and if you must lick your fingers to open the bag, use your other hand to handle the food.
When checking out, ask the cashier to bag raw meats and seafood separately from ready-to-eat foods. If you bring your own bags, have a designated one for each type of food item.
Use Common Sense at the Checkout Counter
You’ve finally made it to the check-out line — the one surface in the store touched by literally every shopper. Considering this, use hand sanitizer as soon as possible after checking out and give your hands a good wash when you return home.
What to Watch Out For at the Grocery Store
The chart below offers some helpful tips on food safety at the grocery store, broken down by department.
Information based on the Water Quality & Health Council’s food safety chart.