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Grocery shopping can be dangerous -- here are some FDA safety tips

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Be careful at the grocery store. That’s what the Food and Drug Administration is telling shoppers as they get set to go into food-buying overdrive for the holidays.

The federal agency says food-borne diseases cause about 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,200 deaths nationwide each year. The first line of defense starts when you are grocery shopping. You don’t want salmonella or E. coli sharing your holidays.

How do you avoid such food disasters? Keep reading . . .

Here are the FDA’s tips for a safe trip to the grocery store.

-- Is the store clean? Retailers that follow good food handling practices help assure that the food is safe. If the store smells, or is dirty and dingy, what does that say about its food storage?

-- Separate foods. Don’t pile your raw meat, poultry, and seafood on top of produce you are going to serve raw. Yes, it might be bad for the environment, but it’s better for your stomach to place meats in plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping on other foods.

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-- Look at what you are buying. Don’t purchase food in cans that are bulging or dented. Avoid jars that are cracked or have loose or bulging lids. That’s a sign that the food was under-processed and is contaminated. Dents in cans might indicate an opening in the seam which may allow contamination.

-- Look at frozen food packaging. Don’t buy damaged packages. Avoid food above the frost line in the freezer case. If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals, signs that the item is old or thawed and refrozen.

-- Buy frozen foods and perishables last. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs should be the last items placed in your shopping cart. This makes it easier to separate from other foods and reduces the time they are out of refrigeration.

-- Be a picky egg buyer. Open that carton to make sure that the eggs are clean and none are cracked. Buy only refrigerated eggs.

-- Watch time and temperature. Refrigerate perishable products as soon as possible. The FDA talks about a ‘2-hour rule’ -- meats and fish above 40 degrees present a dangerous breeding ground for harmful bacteria. When the weather is above 90 degrees, you should move even faster.

Here are some handy links to learn more about food handling and food-borne illness.

Information for consumers and health educators

Information on food-borne illness

-- Jerry Hirsch


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