With outside temperatures at record highs this summer, it is important to take extra precautions when transporting and storing groceries. Keeping fresh food items unprotected in the house or in the car is not only wasteful but can be outright dangerous. Bacteria can multiply rapidly when perishable food is exposed to heat, even for a short period of time. Here are some recommendations how to avoid spoilage and contamination when it’s hard to keep things cool.
Warm Temperatures Can Make It Harder
To Keep Your Food Supply Safe
• Plan your trip to the supermarket. If you have a number of errands to run, make the grocery store your last stop. If you have to leave your bags in the car for some time, try to go early or late in the day when temperatures are less severe.
• All perishable foods should be refrigerated within two hours at the most. If you can’t get home within this time frame, keep a cooler in your vehicle with enough ice or gel ice packs to last you for the duration of the drive.
• If you take perishable foods (e.g. lunch meats) to work, school, sport events or picnic, be sure to protect them at all times from warming up. Again, a cooler or putting a gel pack in your lunch box or backpack can be helpful.
• As soon as you get home, unload and refrigerate your groceries immediately. Don’t get caught up in a thousand other things that might seem more urgent. Never let raw meats, poultry, seafood, eggs or dairy products sit outside the refrigerator for longer than necessary.
• Don’t defrost frozen items at room temperature. Defrosting is best done in the fridge, in cold water or the microwave by using the ‘defrost’ setting. If you marinate meats or seafood, keep them in the refrigerator and covered for the duration of the process.
• Always wash your hands with water and soap before and after handling food. Don’t risk cross-contamination by touching different kinds of foods (e.g. raw meats, poultry or seafood) without washing in between. The same goes for cutting boards, dishes, utensils, counter tops, etc. These rules apply throughout the year but are even more important during the summer when spoilage can progress faster.
• Empty your kitchen garbage container often. Food leftovers and discarded parts degrade quickly in warm temperatures. Besides unpleasant smells you may also want to avoid attracting fruit flies and other critters. Be careful with reusable bags and liners. Reusing the same bag time and again can cause bacteria to grow on the surface of your garbage container and possibly spread to other parts of your kitchen. Wash your container or tote with soap and disinfectant at least once a week.
• Regular disinfecting is also important for the inside of your refrigerator, you pantry shelves and your microwave. The kitchen sink should be thoroughly rinsed and wiped clean after each use.
• Don’t keep your kitchen towels around for too long. Dishcloths are notorious breeding grounds for bacteria if they don’t get washed often enough. Using disposable paper tissue may be more expensive and is regarded by some as wasteful, but in terms of hygiene, they are the better choice.
Your best efforts to keep yourself and your family safe from food poisoning due to spoilage or improper handling may only get you so far. Antibacterial soaps kill most germs but are not always effective against fungi and viruses. So, you can never be 100 percent sure. On the other hand, you should also not become paranoid over all possible food-related health threats. In the end, you must be able to trust your immune system to do its job. Unless your natural defenses are severely compromised, your body will survive in less than sterile surroundings just fine.