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ShopSmart decodes new rules of food safety

Posted Friday, April 23, 2010

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How to Avoid Getting Sick from Contaminated Food

Yonkers, NY — With recalls of potentially deadly foods all over the news, it seems as though no matter what you buy at the grocery store, you could be putting your health ? or even your life ? on the line. But according to a new report in the May 2010 issue of ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, there are ways consumers can be proactive about reducing their risks of food borne illness. The “New Rules of Food Safety” feature shares steps consumers can take when shopping for, preparing and cooking food.

“Despite the spate of recent food recalls, consumers aren’t completely helpless when it comes to safely feeding their families more safely,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. “ShopSmart’s guide to food safety will supply our readers with the know-how to navigate grocery shopping with safety in mind.”

ShopSmart’s “New Rules of Food Safety” features important safety tips for every aisle of the grocery store, the dos and don’ts of putting away groceries, the optimal temperature for cooked foods, ways to keep kitchen tools safe and clean, proper prepping and cooking advice, the right way to handle leftovers and the food items to handle with extreme care. Below is a sampling of some of ShopSmart’s advice.

Supermarket Smarts

It’s not just what you buy but how you buy it. Here is the safety game plan to get shoppers 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.
What Food Product Dates Really Mean

"Sell" or "pull" date is used by grocery stores to decide how long to keep food products on the shelf. Products stored properly should still be safe three to seven days after the sell-by date.

"Best if used by" date is a manufacturer's date. Use the product by that date for top quality and flavor.

Expiration date should be checked while you're in the store so that you don't buy a product that has expired or is close to expiring. At home, discard items on your shelves if that date has passed, or you might risk getting sick, or worse.

Kitchen Critical

Get the right tools to avoid the most dangerous food-prep mistakes:

  1. Thermometers. Put an appliance thermometer in your fridge and freezer to make sure they’re running at the right temp (37° to 38° F and 0° F, respectively) and get a meat thermometer to ensure that food is cooked enough to kill disease-causing salmonella and E. coli and other potentially lethal bugs. ShopSmart tested 11 meat thermometers; the top instant-read model was the Taylor Weekend Warrior 806, $16. If you want one that will beep when, say, a roast reaches the right temp, the Polder THM-360, $30, is the most accurate leave-in model tested.
  2. Cutting Boards. Use different ones for produce, meat and poultry, and seafood to prevent cross-contamination. Solid-wood cutting boards are as safe to use as plastic ones. But toss any worn or cracked ones; bugs can hide out in the crannies.
  3. Ice packs. They can be tossed in a cooler or reusable bags to keep food cool during transport. Foods that need to be kept cold while you serve them should be served on ice. Those include foods that contain eggs, such as mayo.
  4. Hydrogen Peroxide and Vinegar. Keep cutting boards, knives and countertops sanitized by spraying them with vinegar, then with 3 percent hydrogen peroxide after you’ve washed them with hot, soapy water. Keep the liquids in separate spray bottles, and use them one at a time. Wipe your kitchen tools with a clean towel after each spritz.

Consumer Reports has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor appearing on this newspaper's web site.
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