Staying Safe . . . A Virtual Trip to the Supermarket
Well, here we are at last in the parking lot of Giant Stuff Mart. It’s a big place, with three entrances in all. One is in the back of the store, and two more up front. That’s where we are. The entrance on the left is to the non-food side. That’s where clothing, hardware, garden supplies, and so-forth are sold. I’m staying away from there, if for no other reason than the huge mark-ups, especially on clothing.
Yes, more money is made on the grocery side, but only because of large sales volume. Margins are pretty slim on food. Often times, food items are sold very near, at, or even below cost—just to get people to come into the store, perhaps for the very first time. GSM knows that customers will often come into the store to purchase a few cans of tuna, for instance, at fifty-cents a can on sale (which is probably around cost) and leave with a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of non-food items as well—marked up by hundreds of percentage points.
I buy over there myself sometimes. It is after all, very convenient—shopping under one roof. But for the most part, I stay away. Other stores, generally smaller specialized shops, will have better prices—and sometimes much higher quality as well.
We’re going in on the right side—the food side. First we’ll grab a shopping cart, and as mentioned in an earlier chapter, we’re going to be sure to stop by the sanitizing wipes station to give the handles a good going over. I’m also going to wipe off my hands with another wipe at the same time. Can’t do any harm, even if it isn’t cold and flu season. Not much more depressing than catching a cold in the summer—and for some strange reason, out-of-season colds seem to be a lot more long-lasting and harder to get rid of.
Just inside the door to our right is the deli, and just beyond that is the bakery. It’s a good location strategy, with the sweet smells of both departments more or less guaranteed to reel-in the customers. They’re put right by the door for a good reason—called profits.
The deli is a real mixed bag. Some of the stuff there is simply amazing, and totally safe. Some of the other things? Well, possibly amazingly risky. Here’s what we are going to buy today. Most anything that arrived at the store pre-packaged by the food-processing facility where it was made, sealed there, and dated there. Watch those dates. Sometimes they are pretty hard to see—but always worth searching for. Some good examples of these items; potato and macaroni salads, along with Cole-slaw, three-bean salads, dips, and so forth.
Another good bet in the deli are items that arrived raw and then were cooked on-site, such as the rotisserie Chickens. These critters are cooked right there behind the counter, and right in front of you. Most of them are labeled with the time that they were cooked, and then they were placed on a hot-table for sale. Best thing too, is the fact that because they taste so incredibly good, the turn-over tends to be very fast—no small consideration with in-store cooked products.
I’m staying away from the items that came into the store in bulk containers, and then were handled by deli employees, sometimes repeatedly, as they were put out and kept on display. Sometimes the same items stay in the case for days on end—really no way to tell by looking.
These are not recommended in my book—just too much potential for disaster and heartbreak here. I remember a nearly tragic “corn-dog” incident from a few years back at GSM. The deli department manager decided to try to unload some of the corn-dogs that were way long past their prime. Remember, to keep her job, she needs to reduce and eliminate “shrink,” that bane of company profits. So, her first step was to reduce the price of the dogs down to the lowest level. Unfortunately, reducing the price didn’t make the product any fresher, newer, or in any way safer.
Well, she actually did finally unload the dogs, but lost her management job anyway—due to the fact that the spoiled corn-dogs sickened several customers along with not a few employees. So where did GSM send the manager? If you’re guessing to the non-food side of the store, you would be wrong. She was shuffled off to another one of GSM’s locations, this time as a simple deli counter person. She eventually got a management job back, this time as a department manager of meat and seafood, right back in the very same store she had been banished from in the first place.
And—she continued on in her new job, with her same old “worst” practices from before—a disaster just looking for another place to happen. She was lucky no one had died in the corn-dog incident—it could have been a whole lot worse.
Stay away from these kinds of deli products—please.
On to the bakery.
Not much to be wary of here. Most everything sold in the bakery is going to be safe and healthy—being baked, the potential pathogens are dead. Biggest danger here is stale—and who wants that? Watch those dates, again, more out of a concern for product quality, rather than safety.
Produce department. It has the potential to make some people really sick—or worse. Some of the danger you can control, and some you simply can’t. Here’s my best advice on buying fresh fruits and vegetables.
The look and feel of the produce on the shelves is just about the only way you have to gauge the freshness, and quality of the product. Everybody does it—picking up produce items and giving them a good going over; poking, prodding, squeezing, tapping, and even smelling—just to try to get a clue as to whether what they want to buy is a good deal—or a possibly disastrously bad one.
All kinds of hands have been on the produce.
So whatever you buy—wash it thoroughly when you get it home. At the very least a cold water rinse, and sometimes soap and water as well. Buy a colander, and use it. Those “pre-washed” salad mixes in the bags? Don’t believe it for a second. Rinse them thoroughly in that colander under cold running water at home.
You’re not going to eat the rind or skin of that melon or cucumber you say? True, but I’m willing to bet that you are going to cut into that rind with a knife to clean them. And when you do, you will possibly be carrying E. coli or other harmful bacteria from the outside of the product, right directly into the inside of the product—and henceforth, right into your own intestinal tract.
I don’t recommend cut fruit. You know the ones. Usually in fruit trays. And more times than not, I’m afraid—not first quality. As stated earlier, often times these are simply strawberries, pineapple, melon, and other fruit that has had mold cut off them. I suggest you buy top quality fruit and cut it up yourself.
Cheaper—and a whole lot safer.
Watch the countries of origin in produce, same as you do in meat and seafood. Sad to say, but still and always, your best bet seems to be the United States and Canada wherever possible. That means buying a lot of items in season in the northern hemisphere, and forgoing them when it isn’t. Regulations, and enforcement of those regulations are simply better in the northern countries, and that is just a plain and simple fact of life—with emphasis on the word life.
Right across from Produce is meat and seafood. Generally speaking, the meat self-service case is larger by far than that of seafood, and for good reason. Next to produce, the meat department is the biggest money-maker over on the food side of the store. And, if you remember from the introduction—red meat is the number one carrier of food poisoning. The reasons are many, and Richard, the meat-cutter with a major sinus problem, is only one of them.
The beef, poultry, pork, lamb and other animal products all come from large commercial farms, and frankly speaking, hygienic conditions there aren’t all that great. Each and every one is unfortunately a mishmash of potentially harmful pathogens, each more or less unique to whatever species of critter is being raised there. E. coli is one of the very worst, and the fact of the matter is—it’s everywhere these days. It’s on those farms, just as it also is in the very fields where that nice and harmless looking produce is grown.
When the flesh from these difference animals gets to the grocery store and are processed by sometimes very uncaring individuals, the danger from cross-contamination can be very deadly indeed. Chicken should be kept completely separate from beef, and pork, and so forth, due to the difference is safe cooking methods, temperatures and times
Sadly, sometimes it just doesn’t happen.
I remember the time I took a whole chicken back to the meat-cutter on duty. He was also the meat department manager, and he knew better than to do what he did. But he was also overworked, and over-rushed by management, and chronically short-handed as well. The customer wanted the chicken chopped up into small pieces. Not an unusual request. It should have been done on a separate cutting board to avoid cross-contamination.
Taking the chicken from me with a pained expression on his face, the meat-cutter simply pushed the red meat he was cutting aside, placed the chicken on the board exactly where the red meat had been, and chopped it into pieces. Then he pushed the remaining chicken scrapes off the table and into a waste basket and returned to cutting beef again, in exactly the very same place.
If that chicken had E. coli anywhere on it, it was going home with the same customer that would later buy the beef. And in most cases, beef isn’t cooked to a high enough temperature, or for long enough to kill that particular pathogen. Someone was going to be for a long evening in the bathroom—or perhaps something much, much worse.
Buy from one of the many stores where you can actually see the meat-cutter at work—not hidden away in a back room.
Buy red-meat and pork that is still red, not brown—no matter what the discount might be. Trust me—it’s not worth it. Buy chicken that is flesh colored, not yellow—for the same reason. Please, don’t buy discounted products at all. You simply can’t know how old they really are, or what they may have been exposed to.
It’s the same over at seafood. Buy fresh fish at your own risk, but at least make sure it looks fresh, not brown or darkening, drying out, or curling up at the edges. Those previously frozen whole Sockeye Salmon? Extreme caution here folks. I have seen some thawed, and placed on an ice-table and left there to rot, for days on end. In many cases, these were Salmon that had been dead and frozen for as much as fifteen or sixteen months. Once it’s removed from the package, there is really no way to tell just how old, or what condition it might be in.
I’d stay away from the un-refrigerated ice-table just on general principals if I were you. It’s a potential disaster in the making, just looking for a day and time to happen. If you feel you must buy one of these fish, at least look for shiny scales and skin, bright eyes, if the head is still on the fish. And please make sure there is no darkening around the gills or collar of the fish.
Hint: If you see small flecks of blood on the inside of whole fresh fish, that’s a good sign.
If you don’t—it isn’t.
Again, please do not buy packaged seafood of any kind that is made in the store. Or worse yet, packaged seafood that has been discounted. It might be good—but there is just no way to tell—and it’s a belly-ache in the making . . . or worse.
The best and safest deals in seafood? Probably pre-packaged and frozen, right in the original package that it came in from the processing facility. Take that home, thaw it yourself, and be safe.
The rest of the store is pretty good to go, and pretty safe as well. Bread, canned goods, bagged goods, bottled goods and so forth are the safest items in the store. In nutrition, buy pre-packaged (by the manufacturer) and avoid like the plague, those bulk items that a customer can in any way get their hands, or other objects into.
If they can, trust me—they will.
We’re got a lot of good stuff in our cart now. Let’s check out, stop at the exit to sanitize our hands again (remembering all those items we picked up to look over) and take it all to our car.
Off to home now. Time to make dinner. A safe, nutritious, and delicious one that both you and your family can enjoy.
There—we’ve survived out trip to the supermarket.
Conclusion . . .
It is my most sincere hope that this little book has been of some use to you. That in my own small way, I have done something to make you and your family just a little bit smarter and a little bit safer in regard to the potential dangers we all face in a place as innocent, innocuous, and friendly looking as the local supermarket.
For just a little while, I wanted you to see the sometimes gross and ugly under-belly of the grocery store the way a typical low-level employee of such an establishment sees it, and not as an outsider does.
I wanted to momentarily remove the “happy-face”.
Happy faces are nice sometimes—and sometimes they can cost you your life.
Stay safe out there, my friends—and live long and prosper.
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Thank you very much, and thank you for reading.
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Thanks so much for reading DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET. I’ll be back next week to begin again the serialization of THE RECKONING
See you then . . . Goodnight All.
Dumb Joke of the Day: