Keeping foods safe to eat starts with packing them correctly at the grocery store. Here, Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D., a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, offers smart packing tips to help you protect perishable foods and avoid cross-contamination.
- Group foods by temperature. If possible, pack foods of the same temperature together to avoid spoilage or contamination. Place frozen foods in one bag, refrigerated foods in another, and room temperature foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in another.
- Don’t count on cold weather outside. Temperatures inside your vehicle are likely warmer, especially if you've had the heater running. For long drives, keep a cooler with ice packs inside your car to keep foods cold until you get home.
- Separate meats from produce. Never pack meat, poultry and seafood with fruits and vegetables, because meat pathogens can easily transfer to produce. In the refrigerator, avoid placing goods from the meat department next to or above produce.
- Separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods. Keep foods that require cooking, such as meats and fresh pastas, in separate bags from ready-to-eat foods (e.g., drinks, produce, cheese, nuts, rotisserie chicken, sushi, deli goods and bakery items.)
- Keep your eggs in “one basket.” Eggs can crack and leak during transport, so place them in a separate bag from other foods.
- Stow meats, eggs, produce and dairy first. At home, get perishable items such as meats, milk, yogurt, butter, eggs, cheese, fruits and vegetables into the refrigerator as soon as possible. Bacteria can reach dangerous levels in two hours at room temperature—and that includes the time spent in your shopping cart and the drive home.
- Clean reusable bags often. Even environmentally-friendly bags can collect germs. Remember to wipe them out or throw them into the washing machine on a regular basis to keep them clean.
- Check for holes. Certain types of thermal bags can keep foods hot or cold for up to two hours. Just make sure these bags have no holes or tears that compromise the insulation.
- Wrap meats before you pack them. Pathogens from meat, poultry and seafood can transfer to your reusable shopping bag. Pre-wrap these items into plastic bags and tie those bags closed.
- Layer, don’t mix. If you’re packing everything into a single shopping bag, place meats on the bottom (wrapped in tied plastic bags). Place fruits, vegetables and other items that won’t be cooked, such as fresh bagels and Italian bread, on the top. Next time, bring extra shopping bags!
When you keep food safety in mind, you and your family will waste less and enjoy more germ-free meals.
Institute of Food Technologists