Posted by: thescoundrel | August 3, 2008

Sunday Morning Supermarket Rant – Food Contamination

Improper food handling, storage and inadequately trained food-handlers/cooks cause many food born illnesses. Often food born illnesses are simply passed off as the flu since they have very similar symptoms. Most food born illnesses are usually a night or two of projectile vomiting and ten-second dashes to the toilet merriment. And though a majority of food caused illnesses are simple and non life threatening in nature that is not always the situation. Even the less dangerous infections can create a hazard for the young children, older individuals plus the sick and infirmed. In my 29+ years on this planet I have been witness to two cases of food contamination that had serious effects on individuals and in one of those cases it was a contributing factor associated with a persons eventual death. So it is not without cause that I try to be cautious when handling food products. Which brings me to today’s rant.

I think grocery stores spend zero time in Sanitary Food Handling with their front-side of the business. By front-side I mean cashiers, packers and their supervisors. When I see leaking meat packages, spoiled fruit and vegetables mixed in with the fresh produce, flies buzzing inside bakery goods packages (yes – I have seen this), moldy items on display, torn packaging and badly dented cans — I then question how much time has actually been spent training the food handlers of their perishable goods. It is atrocious how often I spot these types of situations inside grocery stores and supermarkets. And most are simply careless food handling and a lack of quality control supervision and inspection. Raw meat handling is a special pet peeve of mine. That is where many bacterial contaminations are easily transferred to other foods. Because of this I am probably a cashiers worst nightmare at the checkout line. I try to pick up my meat and frozen goods last. So I spend a great deal of my time shopping, rearranging my food inside the shopping cart to be able to keep my raw meats separated from the rest of my groceries. No touching! If my cart is too full I will sometimes carry the meat products separately. When I get to the cashier I will always separate my products as I lay them on the conveyer belt. I usually have a dry goods item to separate my raw meat products from good like snacks, fresh produce etc. (especially things that are not normally cooked). That makes it easier to keep products that could get contaminated from winding up in the same grocery sacks. Yet no matter if you remind them, no matter if you watch them like a hawk the minute you get distracted checking out your ticket totals they manage to put two foods together that do not belong in the same bag. You do not even dare to flirt with the red headed yogurt queen in line behind you for fear of finding your raw chicken packed in the same bag as your sack of fudge brownies. Grrrr! It is getting to the point I am almost ready to tell them to send the bagging clerk away and let me do it myself!



  1. You should try Costco or Food For Less—they generally let you pack your own bags. Of course a lot of people complain about doing it themselves, which I think is the main reason behind why there are baggers at most supermarkets.

    Honestly, I can say that I do get very irritated a lot of the time with the people who are handling the food at checkout and the people who are bagging all of it. It only takes a few extra seconds to put things that BELONG together into the same bag, rather than tossing raw beef in with the fruit.

    But in the end I don’t complain openly. I’m just greatful there is a supermarket where I can get what I want. And when I get home, I just make certain to clean everything. I wash the vegetables and the fruit thoroughly, even if I’m planning on using it only for cooking. That way if someone goes into the fridge and starts munching on some raw vegetables, there’s very little chance of them getting sick, because they’re already clean even before I go to use them.

    Half the time, I think the other problem is a lack of knowledge about contamination. People don’t cook their food properly, or they will go and stick the spatula on the counter after they had been using it on raw pork…. They forget to clean up underneath it, then next thing you know they’ve got an apple on the table and are slicing it up without a plate under it…. It’s just simple, basic stuff that people seem to forget, or never learned about.

    Then again, I am on the verge of needing therapy for my cleanliness issues. But hey, I never get sick from my own food—only other people’s. That says something.

  2. You hit the nail on the head with this one.
    What bugs me is when I get home and my bread is about two inches tall. Then if they stand the frozen pizza on end, all the toppings go to one side. Since I try not to eat anything green, I don’t have the problem with vegatables.

  3. Lucien I can get pretty fussy when it comes to food handling. But for some reason corporations, often take a lackadaisical attitude when dealing with the situation. All it takes is one case of food born illnesses to get traced back to their improper handling and they could wind up bankrupt. Every person that works in a grocery store should be required to take a course in Food and Beverage Sanitation. I have taken one and it is an eye opener. Truly it will make you much more cautious about how others handle the food you eat as well as how you handle the food you consume. I really hate it when they toss raw meat in the sack with snack items. Some items can be easily be cleaned if they get moisture from raw meat on the package. Others like crackers, cereal, snacks etc. are served straight from the package and often packaged in materials that can actually absorb moisture and the bacteria contained within it. It just makes me shake my head in disbelief when you watch careless grocery baggers.

    Yeah, Cruiser, don’t you just hate it when some kid tosses something heavy into a bag containing bread or eggs? It is a huge quality control issue. Holy Cow those are some of the most easily damaged items. They do not even have to be on the bottom, just in the same sack since the drive home will cause things inside a grocery sack to move around. Yikes! I was at HyVee a while back and bought a Boston creme cake to serve for dessert. The bagger had been busy flirting with the cashier the whole time I was checking out. While I was busy settling with the cashier he finished packing. When I got home and unpacked he had packed the cake upside down in the sack. Grrr. I did not have time to go back and exchange it, so I wound up fixing the frosting myself! 😦

  4. I’ve never really had a bad experience at Silvis HyVee, but after reading your post, maybe I’m just not paying enough attention. 😀

    What I do with meat is put the packages in those plastic-bags-on-a-roll, which keeps leaks from the rest of the food items. HYVee also provides hand sanitizer sheets, which is also helpful.

    Also, since I live about 20 minutes away from HyVee, I always pack a cooler. That means I have to go through all the bags the minute I get to my vehicle to make sure they haven’t packed meat (or ice cream) with canned goods, etc., so that preempts some problems—but the young baggers are the worst!

    I agree with lucien—-I think you should pack your own bags. Back in the day when Examiner Jr. would go with me to the grocery store, he’d always pack the groceries—for some reason it really offended him that they would pack the cold foods with the room-temperature foods. I never had any indication that this offended the workers at HyVee in the least—they were probably relieved to be able to get out of some work.

    PS: What or who is “the red headed yogurt queen”? Obviously I know what “red headed”, “yogurt” and “queen” mean, but I don’t know what those words mean in combination. 😀

  5. I am not singling out HyVee. HyVee just happens to be close to my home and the grocery store I frequent the most. I shop at many of the Quad City stores and all fall short when it comes to Sanitation and Safety, especially when it comes to handling meat. Somethings just trip my trigger. Another event at HyVee that really rubbed me the wrong way happened in their canned good section. Last winter I was shopping their Del Monte Canned fruit. I was picking up 6-10 cans of their Raspberry flavored peaches every other week. I would use a couple of cans then give the rest to my dad. Well the handlers of the product had dented several of the cans when stocking. I can put up with a small dent but I refuse to buy badly dented canned goods as the seals can get damaged. Every time for almost four months I saw the same four cans of dented fruit pulled to the front and the new ones stacked in behind. For some reason the stockers could not get it through their heads that no one wanted cans dented so bad you could chock a Mack Truck tire in the crushed section. I do not know what other shoppers did but every time I was shopping I would move the dented cans to another space and pick out the cans I would accept and leave the others wherever I had stacked them. Clueless.

    As to the Red headed yogurt queen, she was just some little hotty in a bare midriff top and short shorts with a shopping cart full of yogurt stuck in the same line as I was. I figure that I was probably impressing her with my anal retentiveness over grocery packing similar to the same manner I was previously impressing the gal witness to my repelling the insect invasion.

  6. Now that many of you have seen the problems with handling and bagging our food, has anyone addressed the cleanliness of the carts we use to shop with? While many grocers are now making available wipes for the handles, let’s dicuss the seating area and the front of the shopping cart…These areas carry the greatest amount of germs and bacteria. Keep in mind that children sit in these seats and there are those times when a diaper is just not enough. What happens to that cart? Typically it gets placed with the rest of them in the cart corral, then along comes a shopper that places her purse, or fresh veggies, or other items that get crushed, bread, eggs, etc. We take these items home and where do they go…our counters. What are supermarkets doing to insure we aren’t ex[osed to these grems and bacteria? Not as much as they are capable of. Also have you ever seen beneath the shelves in the refrigerated cases??? Oh my goodness!

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