By now you’re probably a pro at navigating the supermarket – getting exactly what you need in record time, clipping coupons, and doing your best to buy only the healthiest food items for your family. But even the most seasoned shopper may be surprised to discover the secrets your supermarket is hiding. Here, Dr. Oz shares nine valuable secrets to keep your family safe and healthy while making your shopping trip a breeze.
Supermarket Secret 1: The Egg Carton “Cold Line”
There’s more to worry about when it comes to buying eggs than cracked shells.
You need to look beyond the carton to the freezer itself. That’s where you’ll find the “cold line,” also known as the “load limit.” The cold line is a colored line or colored dots in the coolers’ dairy section painted on by manufacturers. Retailers are not supposed to stack the eggs above the line so the eggs remain at a cool, safe temperature. If they’re stacked above the cold line, the eggs can sweat, facilitating the growth of bacteria.
Next time you’re in the egg section, keep an eye out for the cold line, and be sure the carton you choose is well below it.
Supermarket Secret 2: The Freezing Cycle
When you reach for bagels, muffins, and baguettes from your supermarket bakery, keep in mind that your “fresh loaf” might be up to a year old! Here’s the secret most supermarkets don’t want you to know: Breads are kept in a big freezer in back for months at a time to prevent aging, then thawed out and put on display. Known as “parbaking,” the breads are perfectly safe, but discerning taste buds may notice a difference in flavor!
Freezing and unfreezing meat poses more of a hazard than doing so with baked goods. Meat shipped to the supermarket is first frozen in advance, then thawed out and put on display to make it look fresh. Each time meat goes through these sorts of temperature variations, the greater the risk of bacterial exposure and growth. So, while you may be tempted to buy extra meat then freeze it, doing so puts you and your family at risk. The simple solution? Buy only enough meat at a time so you can cook it all within a day or two.
Supermarket Secret 3: Lighting
Just as your favorite Hollywood star looks better under certain lights, so does your food! Supermarkets actually spotlight foods with different lights to make them seem more appealing, using red lights near the meat section and green lights in the produce section. This practice is a violation of the food code, but it’s difficult to enforce because the health inspector must prove it was done intentionally. If you notice any of these lights in your grocery store, beware! Inspect your produce and meat under a white light before buying to ensure you’re getting the freshest, healthiest selections possible.
Supermarket Secret 4: The Use-By Date
We all assume the “use-by” date is set in stone; the reality is you may be looking at the same jar of peanut butter you saw months back – with a new date on it! Many foods come with a use-by date established by the manufacturer, which cannot be changed. But you may also notice a use-by date added on by the retailer on foods that they process and package. And guess what? Retailers are allowed to change that date as many times as they’d like until the product sells!
If this sounds fishy, keep in mind that the food industry is designed to move massive amounts of food in order to make a profit, so retailers will continue selling their products until they look green and moldy. In many cases, the only way to tell whether a use-by date was placed by the manufacturer or the supermarket itself is to ask your grocer. It may be an uncomfortable conversation, but your health is worth it.
Supermarket Secret 5: Sights, Smells and Sounds
Supermarkets are designed to make you walk out with way more items in your shopping bags than you intended. Next time you’re strolling the aisles, pay attention to the sensory sensations your supermarket uses to seduce you: The smell of brewing coffee and donuts, the colorful signage around the DVDs near the checkout – even the music is designed to make you reach for your wallet. During quiet business hours, supermarkets play slower music, hoping it will cause you to linger and buy more. On average, these supermarket tricks can cause you to spend $50 more per trip. Be sure to walk in with a list – and stick to it!
Supermarket Secret 6: Avoid Mondays
For many people, Mondays bring the stress of a new work or school week. It’s also the worst day to visit the supermarket. Usually, supermarket suppliers make deliveries once or twice during the week, dropping off fresh produce, meat, and fish during those trips. These deliveries don’t usually happen on the weekends, meaning the stuff you’re buying on Mondays has likely been sitting around for several days. The best day to shop is Wednesday, when shelves are fully stocked with fresh products.
Supermarket Secret 7: Stay Away From “Manager Specials”
Next time you see a sign promoting a “Manger’s Special,” it might be helpful to instead imagine it reading, “This food is old and we need to get rid of it.” These lower prices come from the fact that the products on sale have been on the shelf for quite some time. They should be avoided.
Supermarket Secret 8: Free Samples Mean Free Inches on Your Waistline
Free samples are a lose-lose situation for your wallet and your waistline. Not only do you end up spending more by buying products you didn’t mean to buy, but you can also end up packing on extra calories. If for example, you sampled some chicken fingers (270 cal per finger), spring rolls with dipping sauce (160 cal), and Swiss cheese on French bread (160 cal), you’d end up with a whopping extra 590 calories for the day … and an extra $40 or so out of pockets if you buy them!
Supermarket Secret 9: Keep Your Environmentally Friendly Bags Clean
Using reusable shopping bags is a great way to help save our planet, but you need to keep them clean to avoid risking your family’s well-being. Bags used over and over again risk contamination from disease-causing bacteria, thanks to the various dairy, meat, and produce they’re exposed to over the weeks. Keep your groceries safe and free from contamination by cleaning your bags after every 10 trips to the market. For a cloth bag, just throw it in the laundry like your clothes. Wipe plastic bags down using a bleach spray.
Reusable bags prevent millions of paper and plastic bags from piling up in landfills and our oceans. They can even get you discounts or extra reward points at certain supermarkets, so keep them clean and use them every time you visit your supermarket!