Start at the Store: 7 Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illness

Safeguarding your home against foodborne illnesses begins not at home, but at the supermarket, grocery store, or any other place where you buy food that you plan to store and serve.

Combating foodborne illnesses is a top priority at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That's because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne ailments cause about 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,200 deaths nationwide each year.

You as a consumer can play a key role in preventing these illnesses. While shopping for food, you should:

1. Check for cleanliness.

Buying from a retailer who follows proper food handling practices helps assure that the food is safe. Ask yourself: What is the general impression of this facility? Does it look and smell clean?

2. Keep certain foods separated.

Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart. Place these foods in plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping on other foods. It is also best to separate these foods from other foods at checkout and in your grocery bags.

3. Inspect cans and jars.

Don't buy food in cans that are bulging or dented. Also, don't buy food in jars that are cracked or have loose or bulging lids.

Since foods sold in cans or jars are processed to be sterile, they can "keep" for a long time if the can or jar is intact. A bulging can or jar lid may mean the food was under-processed and is contaminated. A dent in a can, especially if the dent affects a seam, may cause an opening in the seam which may allow contamination, as would a crack in a jar. A loose lid on a jar means the vacuum has been lost and the product may be contaminated. Don't buy a food product whose seal seems tampered with or damaged.