Food safety at your house starts with your selections when shopping at the grocery store, the farmers’ market, or on the phone calling for delivery. Your choices, your actions, and your five senses (as well as your common sense) will help you make good decisions about where, what and how you pick safe food.
Smart shopping at grocery stores and markets involve safety factors you need to be aware of; that’s why we’ve built whole pages for specific store areas . (We call these safety factors Red Flags. For more about them, click here .) Suppose you go into your local grocer’s. Once you’ve done your general shopping, you want to choose your favorite chicken and side salad at the deli, discuss the best meats to grill at the meat/seafood counter , and pick the best produce for your family’s lunches. You need to do your homework first. We recommend that you spend a few minutes on these pages and then come back here!
Now that you’ve returned, you’ll know that one of the things we’ve stressed is the importance of watching the temperatures of the foods you buy. If a grocery-store run is among your many errands of the afternoon, try to make it the last task so that your purchases don’t go unrefrigerated too long! If you have a long drive back home, it might be smart to keep a cooler in your car to store the meats, cheeses and dairy products. (Oh, you’ve forgotten why? Click here.)
Use your senses and your common sense when shopping for quality food. Food that smells bad probably is. Meat that doesn’t look healthy isn’t healthy. Touch the melon; if it’s too soft, it’s too ripe and you don’t want it. If your senses tell you the food item is probably OK, check the sell-by or use-by date. Food that is close to its expiration date is all right to purchase if you use it right away, but it can’t sit in your refrigerator very long. (How long is too long? Click here .) An expiration date is the food manufacturer’s way of saying, “Eat this food before this time if you want the best product possible”; it’s good to follow the experts’ advice.
Many stores offer a discount for items that are close to expiration or that have been sitting on the shelves too long. The price may sound right, but be smart. Most grocery stores guarantee freshness and quality only up to the expiration date; if you choose to purchase it at a discount but don’t consume the food until after the expiration, you may be stuck. Eating spoiled food can involve doctor bills and loss of work time that far outweigh the discount price. (If you really want to know more about how food spoils, Click here.)