Food Safety at Your Supermarket


Thursday, October 18, 2018

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Besides trying to tick off all the items on that never-ending grocery list, we need to ensure that those items are in fact safe for consumption. While we all expect the food we purchase to be safe, this isn't always the case. Unintended contamination of raw and processed goods sold in our supermarkets can occur during processing, transportation, from sick or unhygienic employees, insufficient sanitation of building or equipment and inadequate pest control practices. Conversely, it may be as a result of the supermarket failing to comply with public health and food safety regulations. Additionally, food purchased may also be contaminated when improperly handled by you the consumer:

Precautionary measures can be employed by taking note of the following, to ensure you play your role in ensuring the safety of the food you and your family consume.

•Avoid supermarkets located near waste disposal sites or those which have a consistent pile-up of garbage in close vicinity. Floors, shelves, produce storage trays, refrigerators, screens and shopping carts must all be maintained and kept clean. Unsanitary buildings and equipment will give rise to pests such as flies, cockroaches, rodents, ants and birds — such as the two I saw hanging out on beams at a popular grocery store!

•While many food processing companies and supermarkets commit to supplying safe food, damage or contamination may take place during transportation and storage. You should therefore inspect packaging to ensure they are intact and free from cracks, tears, bulges, dents and rust, along with ensuring the packages are clean.

•Ensure that you load your cart with pre-packaged processed foods before you pick up perishable items such as fruits and vegetables along with frozen items such as meat, poultry and fish. Remember to separate raw from processed, you can do this by placing all meat, fish and poultry at the bottom of the cart to prevent cross-contamination. Avoid choosing packages which are torn and draining liquid and watch your attendant to make sure these are placed in separate bags.

•Take note of your attendants to ensure they are handling food in a sanitary manner, especially those preparing deli meats and ready-to-eat foods. Are they wearing jewellery while preparing your food, coughing, sneezing or speaking excessively while cutting those slices?

•It is recommended that you purchase eggs only if they are placed in the refrigerator display; also ensure you check your eggs for dirt or cracks before purchase.

•We all know that pre-packaged, ready-to-eat meals are convenient and save time after a day of errands; however, we need to avoid ready-to-eat foods which are displayed next to raw meats. Along with the fact that we're not always aware of how and where the meals were prepared you need to take note of how long and where the meals are stored, especially if they contain mayonnaise, cheese or a side of salad dressing. Additionally, ensure you enquire about preparation conditions if you have allergies, as these are not labelled the same your processed foods.

•On the matter of convenience, I would advise against buying pre-cut fruits — especially melons, unless you are fully aware of the practices used to prepare them. However, if you must, make sure they are refrigerated and properly packaged.

•Check fresh produce for spoilage before purchasing. How disappointed are you when you open that clamshell full of delectable strawberries, only to see those four stuck in the middle with grey mould?

•Now, about those free samples, who doesn't love free food? We should, however, take note of the following: are they covered, is there an attendant serving samples in a sanitary manner, are temperature-sensitive products kept on ice? If not, just continue checking off the items on your grocery list and avoid that open self-serve cheese on a toothpick.

•Check expiration or best-before date on all labels and avoid purchasing items close to expiration date. If you have no choice ensure you use by the stated date. With that said, check that buy-one-get-one-free label!

•If an item is marked 'keep refrigerated' and placed on a warm shelf, make that one less item you add to your cart.

This is in no way a complete list, but I'll leave you with this one. Take perishable and frozen foods home to the refrigerator as soon as you leave the supermarket. In other words, if you intend on doing some extra shopping on the day you visit the supermarket, make the supermarket your last stop.

Remember that food safety is everyone's responsibility! Next week we will take a look at food safety at your favourite restaurant.

Marshalee Valentine, BTech, MSc

Quality & Food Safety Management Systems Consultant

Vally Consulting

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