The Deli Counter
Dirty little secret: You may not want to hear this, but those handy prepared foods – rotisserie chickens, pasta salads, fruit salads – are often made from foods that have expired and should be eaten immediately or thrown away. In addition, they are prepared the same way a restaurant would, but without the oversight, training and licensing of a restaurant. The last part of the recipe for contamination is temperature. Because cooked food is a playground for bacteria, it is vital that these items be kept at 135 degrees, but that temperature can dry food out, so stores sometimes keep cases cooler, inviting bacteria to grow and multiply.
Quick fix: Give your deli counter the once over. Ask how the food is stored and look for the thermometer in the display case. Cold food should be stored at 41 degrees or less and hot food above 135. Finally, ask when the food was prepared. If the answer is longer than 4 hours ago, keep on walking.
The Produce Section
Dirty little secret: When you grab an apple for lunch, your hands may be the 20th pair to touch it. That's right, veggies and fruits are picked, sorted, thrown on a truck, taken off a truck, sorted again, boxed and unboxed all before they reach the display case where they're fondled by other customers before they meet you. Experts say, all in all, 20 people will touch a tomato before you slice it up for your salad. And that's in addition to all the animal waste that can mingle with produce on the long journey from farm to table.
Quick fix: Carefully wash all fruits and vegetables before eating, even if you don't plan on eating the skin. When you peel or cut vegetables and fruits, the bacteria from the exterior can travel inside. Keep any prepped veggies, such as sliced tomatoes, at 41 degrees or cooler until you eat or cook them.