Shopping at the grocery store is a daily occurrence if not weekly, for most people. But have you ever considered food shopping with food safety in mind?
Chances are, that you are guided by the setup of the store. Usually this means fruit and veg first. Dairy, frozen veggies, dry goods and meats.
But is this the right routine to follow in order to ensure keeping the “cold chain” and ultimately the shelf-life of the products you’ve just purchased?
And what about the transport home? You’ve just left your car in the nice warm South African sun, which means, the boot of your car is roughly +40°C, perfect to allow your perishable foods to defrost, and create a warm environment for bacteria to grow!
What about the general cleanliness of the store? This may be the first thing we all look for when choosing a store to shop at, but is your local store following all the standards needed to keep a safe and hygienic environment.
Even if the store is pathogen (food-poisoning causing bacteria) free, there are millions of types of bacteria that cause your food to go off sooner than expected. The next biggest contributor to this is the fridge and freezer temperatures.
In our current economic environment, increasing food inflation, increased awareness about food security and wastage. It becomes ever more important to keep your food safe and edible for as long as possible.
Food safety does not only start and end with food factories and retail stores. Following the food chain, starts from farm to fork. This means that we, as the consumer, takes the responsibility for the food once purchased. This means that it is largely up to us, to make sure that foods stay fresh up to and sometimes beyond the best before dates.
There are simple and effective ways that we can ensure that our foods stay fresh and usable for as long as possible. In this article we provide these tips to help you maintain food safety throughout the home.
Let’s Consider Why Bacteria Grow
- Cleaning & Sanitising
- If food contact areas are not correctly cleaned and sanitised, bacteria can grow and spread.
- Staff Hygiene
- If those, that handle your foods do not keep their hands clean and free of germs, bacteria will contaminate those foods.
- Food Storage
- If foods that naturally contain bacteria (raw meats and vegetables) are stored together they will cross-contaminate ready to eat foods.
- Temperature Control
- Perishable foods can only be kept cold (4°C) or hot (60°C). The in-between temperatures are ideal for bacteria to thrive.
- Food Handling
- This area involves the cooking temperatures, reheating, defrosting and preventing of cross-contamination.
A. Preparation is key
- Make sure your fridge at home is well organised. This means there is enough space to keep raw meats and vegetables separate from your dairy and other ready to eat foods (foods that require no cooking and can be eaten out of the packaging). (Food Storage)
- Clean out your fridge, wipe out the shelves and compartments with soap and finish off with a disinfectant. (Cleaning & Sanitising)
- Make sure that you have bags at the ready to portion bulk foods. (Food Storage & Food Handling)
- Have a cooler box or insulated shopping bags to take with. Include some pre-frozen ice-bricks to keep your foods cool. (This will save you money on plastic shopping bags) (Temperature Control)
- Plan your shopping day: Food shopping should be the last item on the day’s list. If you’re planning a day out, have your meal first, do your clothes shopping before heading to the grocery store. This way, you will minimise the time your foods are kept out of the cold chain. (Temperature Control)
B. Grocery Shopping
Depending on your stores layout, the below route may seem crazy and you may find that you are going against the “flow” of the crowd. Yet, this is the best possible way to shop with food safety in mind:
- Ignore the veg and fruit section for now and leave the cold deli for later.
- Head straight for the cleaning chemical or sundry isles. A great tip is to shop with baskets in your trolley to separate chemicals, raw and ready to eat foods.
- Go for the dry goods next.
- Pick out your fruit and veggies.
- Work your way to the dairy section and any cold meats your shopping for.
- Head on to the meats, be careful to separate the meats from your other foods. (Food Handling – Cross-contamination)
- Finally close off your shopping in the frozen section. Frozen veggies work well as “substitute ice-bricks” whilst you are awaiting in the checkout line.
C. The Cold Chain
The clock on temperature control has already started to tick. Perishable foods should not be left out longer that 1 – 2 hours, before the bacteria in these foods start to rapidly multiply. The more bacteria there are, the faster your foods will expire.
At the checkout, if you have insulted shopping bags, pack your meats, cold foods, and frozen items into these bags. (don’t forget your ice-bricks). This will hep your foods cool for the journey home. (Temperature Control).
In the parking lot, pack meats and perishables into the cooler box. A pre-chilled box with ice-bricks can maintain the temperature to at least 8°C for the travel home.
D. @ Home
Packing foods into the fridge/freezer should be the first order of priority.
- Remember the separation rules for the fridge. (Food Storage).
- The best way to get good use out of bulk deals is to portion these into separate bags for freezing. This avoids continues defrosting and refreezing, which will cause your foods to go off. (Food Handling). If you need to cut or pre-prepare portions make sure your cutting boards, knives and counter tops are cleaned and sanitised before hand. This will prevent any possible cross-contamination.
Another best tip is to follow cutting board guidelines for the various food groups. Cutting Board Chart
Time and Temperature are the biggest contributors to the expiry of perishable foods prior to the “best before” dates. If you can manage these 2 factors, you are indeed well on your way to shopping with food safety in mind.
E. Additional Tips
Always be aware of what foods you are buying, understand what best before and use by mean. And always use your eyes to choose your foods.
- Dented, swollen or leaking cans or containers
- Foods with damaged or imperfect packaging
- Cracked or dirty eggs
- Chilled or frozen foods that have been left out of the fridge/freezer
- Fruits & veggies that are soiled or mouldy
- Ready-to-eat foods left uncovered on counters
- Hot foods from the deli that are not steaming hot
- Anything where you have doubts about the quality.
Understand your high-risk foods
Food-poisoning bacteria grow and rapidly multiply on some types of food more easily than on others.
These high-risk foods include:
- Prepared salads
- Raw and cooked meat, including poultry such as chicken, such as casseroles and stews
- Dairy products, such as milk and dairy based desserts such as cheesecake
- Eggs and egg-based products
- Cold meats including polony.
- Cooked rice
- prepared fruit salads
- Ready-to-eat foods, including sandwiches,
High-risk foods should be kept out of the temperature critical danger zone (20 °C to 45 °C).