Skip to main content

The Other Holiday Shopping: Grocery Shopping

Posted by Amelia Kermis, MPH CHES, Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA in Health and Safety
Dec 01, 2014

During the holiday season, it seems that all we do is shop, shop, shop. While not paying attention when you purchase holiday gifts places your wallet at risk, not paying attention when you purchase groceries can place your health at risk.

If you don’t take certain safety steps while grocery shopping, you can risk food poisoning. Grocery shopping is where safe food handling should start, by following these recommendations you can make sure the food you bring home is safe.

1. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from other foods in your grocery cart. This will keep the meat juices that may contain bacteria away from other items in your shopping cart. By wrapping these raw items in an additional plastic bag, usually provided near where meat is displayed, you can further prevent drippings from contaminating other items.

2. Buy cold foods last. If cold grocery items are allowed to stay at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, they can start growing bacteria that cause food poisoning. Often when we’re holiday grocery shopping we’re purchasing unusual foods or items in bulk. The extra time it takes to find these items means we move through the store slower. More people in the store shopping also means checkout may take longer than usual.

These delays can quickly add up and your perishable items may be out of refrigeration too long. By purchasing your cold food items last, you don’t have to worry about the time it took you to track down the nutmeg.

3. Ask the cashier to place your raw meat, poultry and seafood items in a separate bag. This way you won’t have to worry about raw meat juices leaking on ready-to-eat items, like bread or pies.

4. Purchase a meat thermometer. If you do not already own a meat thermometer, make sure to pick up this cooking essential during next trip to the grocery store. A thermometer will help you ensure all your holiday dishes are fully cooked. The color or texture of food does not accurately indicate that it reached a high enough temperature to incapacitate bacteria.

Just as you have a procedure for storing your holiday gifts when you get home, you should have a system for storing your food.  It is important to immediately place your cold items in the refrigerator or freezer to avoid them getting warm enough for bacteria to grow.

When you place items in the fridge, you should be able to place your raw meat, poultry and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator where it will not drip on ready-to-eat items. To further avoid cross-contamination from raw juices, place your raw meat on a plate or similar container that will prevent dripping.

Category/Topic: Health and Safety