Don’t Be a Turkey About Food Safety

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If you regularly read North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center’s news column, you know we usually talk turkey this time of year. I was going switch gears and share information on a completely different topic, but the multiple turkey calls I’ve already gotten had me swiftly down shifting. While I’m sticking with the turkey topic, this article will be two-part and will start this week with consumer food safety.

Before my career at N.C. Cooperative Extension, I honestly gave little thought to the importance of food safety at home, much less the grocery store (please don’t think bad of me, I didn’t know any better). I now know better, and trust me, food safety starts for the consumer at the grocery store. Foodborne illnesses are more likely to occur in the home when cross-contamination due to improper storage and handling of foods happens at the grocery store. Bacteria can grow to a dangerous level if refrigerated foods are temperature abused during shopping and transporting home.

With all the holiday feasts fast approaching, we’ll be making more grocery runs – let’s make sure we keep our family, friends, and food safe this holiday season with these safe-shopping tips:

  • Plan your list so non-perishable items (pre-packaged foods and paper products) go into the cart first.
  • Fresh meat, fish, poultry, and hot deli items should be picked up last, just before checking out.
  • Packages which are loosely wrapped or dripping with juices should not be purchased.
  • Never buy cans that are bulging or dented, or packages which are torn or damaged.
  • Avoid ready-to-eat foods such as cooked shrimp or deli meats that are displayed directly next to raw meats.
  • Always keep fresh meat and poultry separate from other items in the grocery cart to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Avoid putting foods in the upper portion of the shopping cart where a child may typically sit to prevent drips and leaks that contaminate food stored below.
  • Fresh poultry and meat need to be in separate plastic bags at check out.
  • If foods are marked as “keep refrigerated,” they need to be refrigerated in the store and cold when purchasing.
  • Only purchase pre-cut produce if stored on ice or refrigerated.
  • Only buy ready-to-eat refrigerated foods if they are cold to the touch.
  • Observe the cleanliness of the deli counter.
  • If possible, keep a few insulated bags in your vehicle to transport cold foods.

These guidelines also apply when shopping at a farmers market. Speaking of farmers markets, I would be remiss not to mention The Very Local Holiday Festival that will be taking place on December 4, 2021, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Robeson County Farmers Marker (corner of 8th and Elm Streets). Local farmers and crafters will be there with lots of fresh produce and handmade items. Of course, Mack Johnson, Extension Horticultural Agent, and I will be there with tasty samples. We hope to see you there!

Stay tuned next week to learn how to safely select, store, thaw, and cook turkey. For more information please contact Jessie Jones, Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 910-671-3276, by email at jessie_jones@ncsu.edu, or visit our website.