Safe Shopping: Clean Hands, Clean Food

Do you know where your shopping cart has been? Researchers found potentially harmful bacteria on 72 percent of shopping carts, with 50 percent of the carts containing E.coli bacteria, of which some strains are a dangerous source of food-borne illness.

The study was conducted by University of Arizona researchers, who tested shopping carts in five metropolitan areas across the country. The verdict: The average cart has more bacteria than a public restroom.

Shopping cart handles are surfaces that are frequently touched by a large volume of people, including those who may not have washed their hands after using a restroom, sneezing or coughing, explains Barbara Russell, R.N., director of Infection Prevention and Control Services for Baptist Hospital of Miami.

Many stores offer free hand wipes at the entrance. Use those disposable wipes to wash off cart handles and your own hands before shopping.

“Doing so could help protect you, your family and the food you bring into the home from harmful bacteria,” Ms. Russell says.

Here are other tips for safe food handling.

While Shopping:

Bag produce:  The interior of shopping carts come into contact with children’s shoes, diapers and other germy hotspots. Tossing unpackaged produce straight into a cart or basket can create a health risk, Ms. Russell says. Therefore, it’s best to use plastic or reusable produce bags for loose apples, onions, potatoes and other unpackaged produce. (Discourage young children from touching cart surfaces with their hands.)

Wash green bags: It’s eco-friendly to carry home groceries in reusable cloth or vinyl grocery bags. But make sure you regularly launder and cleanly store reusable shopping bags. Unclean reusable bags can host germs that could contaminate your food.

Use insulated bags: Does your shopping trip include other errands that will delay your arrival home? If that’s the case, store frozen foods, dairy products and other perishable items in insulated bags. Doing so can keep perishable foods from spoiling while you run other errands, Russell said, adding that it’s best to unpack and refrigerate your groceries as soon as possible.

At home:

Wash melons and other fruits: It’s popular to wash off apples, berries and grapes before eating, but all fruits — including cantaloupes, watermelons and citrus fruits — should be washed before you eat, peel or cut them. Here’s why: “Your knife (or fingers) can pick up salmonella or other bacteria from the outside of the fruit and drag those germs inside,” she says.  What’s more, the risk of food poisoning rises when cut and possibly contaminated fruit is displayed and unrefrigerated for long periods.

Handle raw meat with care: Cooks should wash hands after making hamburger patties or handling raw chicken and meat to avoid cross-contaminating other foods and utensils with common bacteria found in raw meat, Ms. Russell says.

Avoid defrosting turkey, chicken and other meats overnight on kitchen counters.

“Be careful when you defrost meat. Follow the defrosting directions that are on the package,” Ms. Russell says. “It’s better to defrost meat overnight in the refrigerator and take the meat out in the morning.”

Additionally, use one set of cutting boards, platters and utensils for raw meat and another set for cooked meats, salads and other foods. If you don’t have separate supplies, use soap and hot water to wash all vessels, surfaces and utensils used for raw meats before using those same items for other foods.

And her No. 1 piece of advice: Properly and frequently wash your hands at all times.

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