In Part 1, we discussed how lettuce and other leafy greens can become contaminated, and some measures that industry uses to combat the problem. We learned that because we eat lettuce in a raw form, we greatly depend on how the lettuce was handled by other persons before we purchase it at the food store. However, there is a lot that we can do at home and in restaurants to make sure it is as safe as possible.
Okay, let’s suppose we want to make a Caesar salad for dinner, topped with pieces of cooked chicken. What can we do to ensure that we make the safest meal possible?
Shopping – we need to buy romaine lettuce and chicken breasts.
Our role in food safety starts at the food store. We should first shop for the lettuce, and finally the chicken breasts. “Why in this order,” you ask? Well, if we first picked up the package of raw chicken, our hands could be contaminated with chicken juices that have pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter. And so then when we pick out the romaine lettuce, our hands could transfer the pathogens to the lettuce. Instead, by selecting the chicken (or other raw meats) at the end of shopping, we limit the possibility of contaminating other foods that will be eaten raw (I suggest bringing along some handwipes or sanitizer to decontaminate your hands while shopping).
Another food safety precaution is not to place lettuce (that’s not in a bag) in direct contact with the shopping cart. Why? Do food stores clean and sanitize shopping carts after each use? NO. Could a baby with a full diaper have been sitting in the top section of the cart where you placed the lettuce? YES.
When checking out, don’t place the lettuce directly on the conveyor belt. Why? Could the customers in front of you have placed their packages of raw chicken and meats on the conveyor belt? PROBABLY. Do food stores sanitize the conveyor after each customer? NO.
Finally, be sure the chicken is placed in a separate bag when you check out. And when transporting groceries home, don’t place the lettuce below bags that contain raw poultry or meat.
In Part 3, we will discuss what we can do at home to keep lettuce as safe as possible.
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