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Food safety begins at the grocery store and it’s important to keep foods separated in the grocery cart to prevent cross-contamination.

Food safety: the dirty truth about shopping carts

Monday, October 25, 2021

Media Contact: Kirsten Hollansworth | Communications Graduate Student | 405-744-0442 | kirsten.hollansworth@okstate.edu

Walking into a grocery store, most shoppers are focused on their shopping lists to avoid forgetting essential household items. When selecting a shopping cart, most people center their attention on avoiding that undesirable squeaky wheel.

But a positive shopping experience can easily go bad if shoppers put food safety on the back burner. Food safety begins at the grocery store. By following these guidelines recommended by the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center, consumers can have a safe and enjoyable experience while shopping.

“Cross-contamination due to improper storage and handling of foods in shopping carts could result in foodborne illness,” said Ravi Jadeja, food safety specialist at FAPC. “Low levels of pathogens could grow to a dangerous level if refrigerated food products are temperature abused during shopping and transporting home by consumers.”

The first point of contact for most food is the shopping cart and it’s important to wipe down the handle of the shopping cart to remove germs.

Shopping List

  • Plan your list so that non-perishable items, such as pre-packaged foods and paper products go into the cart first.
  • By only purchasing items that are fully intact and in good condition, shoppers can prevent spills and cross-contamination in the shopping cart. Never buy cans that are bulging or dented, or packages which are torn or damaged.
  • Fresh meat, fish, poultry and hot deli items should be picked up last, just before checking out.
  • Avoid ready-to-eat foods such as cooked shrimp or deli meats that are displayed directly next to raw meats.

Fish, Meat and Poultry

  • Always keep fresh meat and poultry separate from other items in the grocery cart to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Packages which are loosely wrapped or dripping with juices should not be purchased.
  • Fresh poultry and meat need to be in separate plastic bags at check out.
  • Don’t let children handle packages of raw meat or poultry.
  • Avoid putting foods in the upper portion of the shopping cart where a child may typically sit to prevent drips and leaks that contaminate food stored below.

Eggs and Dairy Products

  • If foods are marked as keep refrigerated, they need to be refrigerated in the store and cold when purchasing.
  • Avoid cracked, dirty or ungraded eggs.

Produce and Bakery

  • Only purchase pre-cut produce if stored on ice or refrigerated.
  • Bakery items containing icing made of cream cheese or whipped cream should be refrigerated.

Pre-cooked Foods

  • Only buy ready-to-eat refrigerated foods if they are cold to the touch.
  • Observe the cleanliness of the deli counter.
  • Avoid delis that use the same equipment to process and slice meats and cheeses without cleaning between uses.

Don’t forget to wash your hands prior to sampling new foods. Using the store's hand sanitizer or bringing your own sanitizer, could prevent exposure to harmful bacteria.

FAPC, a part of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, helps to discover, develop and deliver technical and business information that will stimulate and support the growth of value-added food and agricultural products and processing in Oklahoma.

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