Fact Sheet: Food Safety at the Grocery Store

Seniors have years of experience and a strong background in the areas of food shopping and consumption. However, the way food is produced, distributed, prepared, and even eaten has changed dramatically in recent years. This has created a number of crucial food safety issues that could lead to serious illness, even death. Taking a few simple precautions can prevent these foodborne illnesses.

Consider these facts:

What is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning is often referred to as a foodborne illness. The main causes are bacteria and viruses. Some of the more common names are: Salmonella, E. coli, and Hepatitis A. When food becomes contaminated with bacteria or viruses that cause foodborne illness, a person can become ill by eating the food.

Each year in the United States, 5,000 people die from food poisoning. Older adults have a greater risk of death from eating tainted foods than younger adults. Other serious complications include arthritis, blood poisoning, liver disease, meningitis, kidney failure, strokes and seizures.

Foodborne illness can occur within 24 hours of eating contaminated food, or even days or weeks later. Common symptoms of foodborne illness include: diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and fever. The most common symptom is diarrhea. Most cases of foodborne illness never get diagnosed because symptoms are mistaken for the flu. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 76 million people each year get sick by eating contaminated food.

Foodborne illness can be prevented.

Some food is contaminated before we purchase it. Food can also become contaminated when we transport, store, prepare, or serve it. These are food safety areas that we as consumers control. It is important to use food safety techniques during every stage that we have contact with food.

Prevention starts with your trip to the grocery store.

Plan Your Trip

Shopping Safety

Avoid the Food Safety Temperature “Danger Zone”

Meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, milk, and eggs are potentially hazardous because they are moist, rich in nutrients, and low in acid. This is exactly the right combination that sets the stage for bacteria to grow. All these foods need for dangerous bacteria to grow rapidly now is, warmth.

“Warmth” in the context of food safety is any temperature above 40° F and below 140° F . This is the food safety temperature “danger zone.” Leaving perishable foods in the temperature danger zone too long allows bacteria and viruses to multiply enough to cause illness.

At the grocery store, the storage refrigerators should keep foods cooler than 40° F.

USDA Meat and Poultry Hot Line 1-800-535-4555

Avoid Cross-Contamination

Food Product Dating

Product dating is not required by federal regulations (except for infant formula). Therefore, there is not a standard dating system. However, common product dating used by manufacturers can provide basic information about foods.

Common food product dating codes: