Even though the U.S. is a world leader in food safety, almost one-sixth of the population will experience some sort of foodborne illness every year according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Even more troubling is that more than 100,000 of that group will require hospitalization and over 3,000 will die. Food safety experts have picked 5 items that they won’t buy at the supermarket and you may want to take their advice as well.
- Pre-cut Fruit - Darin Detweiler, LP.D. is a food safety icon and says that even though buying pre-cut fruit is convenient “convenience should not be a priority over protecting ourselves and our families.” Supermarket workers who prepare the fruit are not always hygienic and this “is where we find contamination issues, cross-contamination, and increased time when food is no longer safe and pathogens grow before we even buy them.”
- Ready-To-Eat Cooked Foods – the grab-and-go section with cooked foods should be avoided, according to Detweiler. These foods are often stored in the “danger zone” of temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit where “bacteria can grow rapidly and make you sick especially if it has been out for more than a couple of hours. Supermarket ready-to-eat foods can raise allergen concerns and increase the risk of “cross-contamination with dirty hands.”
- Bagged Lettuce – Detweiler has observed grocery stores bagging their own brand of leafy greens mix with “no idea of how many heads of lettuce are in the bag or where they came from.” He recommends buying an entire head of lettuce and washing it yourself due to recent outbreaks of coli and listeria related to these products. He stresses that convenience should never trump food safety.
- Most Deli Counter Items - Jagdish Kuhbchandani is a professor of public health at New Mexico State University who specializes in food safety and he is “not a fan of purchasing chicken or ground beef at the meat counter.” He adds that employees preparing these foods could be sick and may not be careful about temperature control in the deli case and “problems are widespread and fairly common.” Darin Detweiler adds that you should buy packages that are labeled with a company name, dates, and lot codes and prepare deli foods at home.
- Cantaloupe – According to Detweiler, a 2011 national outbreak of listeria related to cantaloupe that killed at least 33 people and sickened 147 others “was one of the country’s most deadly outbreaks of foodborne illness.” Cantaloupe “has an exterior that cannot be cleaned adequately to kill pathogens” and “the pH inside is at a level that supports the rapid growth of pathogens.” He advises consumers to avoid cantaloupe served in restaurants and he “would not save any leftovers as more time equals more pathogen growth.”