The Common Grocery Shopping Mistake That Could Make You Sick

Grocery shopping has evolved over the years. Where once we mostly turned to the plastic disposable bags supermarkets had at checkout counters to carry what we purchased, now it's more common to use reusable bags. We've gotten used to washing them whenever they get dirty and re-using them frequently. 

Even though this shift is better for the environment, we might be unintentionally making some grocery shopping mistakes that are putting our health at risk. While it might be okay to put canned goods in with the vegetables in a reusable grocery bag, meat items can't be treated the same way. You are advised to use the plastic disposable bags at the meat counter to wrap your meat up before placing them in the cloth tote. This prevents cross-contamination caused by meat juices that might reach the other goods you've purchased. Also, always dispose of plastic disposable bags. They're not safe for reuse. Additionally, as recommended by the New York State Department of Health, it is wise to have a few different reusable bags with you when you go grocery shopping, just so you can separate meat and fish from vegetables and other goods. 

Practicing healthy grocery shopping tips such as these could prevent food poisoning, which is a real concern when it comes to cross-contamination, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, it's not just about what you do at the grocery store.

How you place everything in the shopping cart matters, too

Now that you've bagged your meat in a way that won't make you sick, pay attention to how and where you're placing the reusable bag with the meat in it. From shopping cart to conveyor belt, all of it matters. "Try to keep meat products away from other items in your basket or cart while shopping and waiting at the checkout line," shared registered sanitarian at NSF, Mindy Costello (via EatingWell), who added that giving the meat an extra layer of insulation with the plastic wrapping could keep it cooler for longer too. She also suggests shopping for meat as the last item on your grocery list, again to keep it cold till you get home and can refrigerate it. 

If you live more than 30 minutes away from home, you may benefit from taking a cooler with you on the grocery shopping visit, said certified dietician nutritionist and medical reviewer for Illuminate Labs, DJ Mazzoni (via Southern Living). "One of the biggest mistakes that people can make is failing to properly cool chicken during a commute home ... I would recommend using a cooler to store chicken for any commute over 30 minutes to minimize bacterial growth," explained Mazzoni.

How to store raw meat when you get home

Grocery shopping and commuting aside, you could be making some common mistakes when it comes to storing the items when you're back home too. 

While it's always a good idea to store the raw meat in the freezer section, where you place it also matters. Try to keep the raw meat away from other items if you want to avoid getting sick, shared director of the Clemson University Extension Food Systems and Safety Program Team, Kimberly Baker (via Southern Living). "This is a concern because the raw chicken, or juices from the chicken, can accidentally drip onto other foods and transfer pathogens to them," explained Baker. 

Other tips to safely store raw chicken in the refrigerator include checking the refrigerator temperature and making sure it's 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, not overfilling your freezer, and placing the meat in containers to avoid cross-contamination, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture

If containers aren't your thing, you can simply transfer the meat from the disposable plastic bag to butcher paper before throwing it in the freezer. "Butcher paper is great for the refrigerator, as it's intended to store meat in for several days ... Drop the tightly wrapped paper package into a Ziploc bag to minimize the exposure to air and moisture," head butcher of Primal Supply Meats, Heather Marold Thomason told Real Simple