You go there every week to buy nourishing food for your family, so it may be a shock to learn that there are dangers lurking in your grocery store – and we're not talking about Double Stuf Oreos.
We're talking about the fruits and veggies, the meats, and those handy-in-a-hurry prepared meals, all of which can harbor dangerous bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. Last year, 76 million Americans got sick from contaminated food. Over 300,000 ended up in the hospital; 5 million didn't make it out.
Experts say food contamination, and the practices that lead to it – storing and packaging food improperly, failing health inspections – are on the rise. Here are the danger zones to watch out for and easy-to-follow tips for keeping you and your family safe.
The Meat Section
Dirty little secret: Gone is the time when you bought your meat from a butcher who specialized in all things carnivorous and knew how to safely handle meat. Nowadays, more and more supermarkets act like small meat processing plants without the licensing, training and oversight required of actual meat packing vendors. They may not ensure that meat and chicken is tightly sealed, isolated from cross contamination and stored at the right temperature, leaving them open to bacterial growth. Beyond that, stores are allowed to pump carbon monoxide into meat packaging, which though not harmful, gives the meat a fresh appearance no matter how long it's been sitting on the shelf.
Quick fix: Eat meat within 2-3 days of getting it home or freeze it right away. Know the difference between the sell-by and the use-by dates. Use-by dates are federally mandated, but sell-by dates are arbitrarily set by the store and are not a good indicator of how fresh food is.