Isn’t it nice to have everything available whether in supermarkets, outdoors or even inside the comforts of our home? Some things that are already ready-made, ready to eat, ready to use, etc. In short, convenient things.
Convenient such as convenience stores? I can attest that I’m not the only person who likes to purchase food in the supermarket and perhaps convenience stores. Why? On a personal note, some things – i.e, ingredients for a certain dish, or stuff you need in cooking can be found in the supermarkets.
Another reason why I like to purchase and shop food in supermarkets is because of the comfortability and certainty that it’s safe. But after in-depth interviews with experts, I realized that your food shopping spree might not be as safe as you expected.
To help you understand food safety in supermarkets, I interviewed lifestyle bloggers, mommy bloggers, food bloggers, parents, cooks, food safety experts, environmental experts, and supermarket industry insiders. Get inspired by their insights to shop for food safely and sustainably.
Why is food shopping at supermarkets and grocery stores popular?
The place to buy everything you need for food
Vincent Bradley, CEO & Co-Founder of Proper Wild, a powerful plant-based energy shot that cares about your health, has this to say in terms of the still-emerging popularity of shopping of food in supermarkets and grocery stores;
“Food shopping at supermarkets and grocery stores remains popular because it is the ultimate customized experience. For many, it is a time of bliss to disconnect from the outside world, visualize delicious meals, and handpick the perfect products and proteins. An intimate moment with their inner chefs, making sure the products look appealing, that they aren’t expired, without holes, tears, or openings.
As long as we continue abiding by post-COVID supermarket etiquette (staying six feet away from others, wiping down carts and baskets after each use), there is no reason people shouldn’t continue enjoying walking into their favorite food stores.”
Humans enjoy the luxury of disconnecting from the outside world. Given that supermarkets are surrounded by air conditioning units and aisles mounted with shelves of various products – such things you see inside supermarkets are like distinctions of what is on the outside world and what you can see in the realms of supermarkets.
Michelle Adenle, Founder of My Morning Mocha, noted that people’s addiction to shopping in supermarkets and grocery stores is mainly due to convenience. “A ‘one-stop-shop for many people,” she said. A variety of both food and non-food products can be found and indeed, saves a lot of time in terms of scanning every aisle to check the products and whatnot. “Supermarkets have the advantage of offering lower-priced products in comparison to small independent local shops.”
May Flanagan, Founder of Global Green Family, also says that shopping in supermarkets is accessible. “These establishments often offer a large variety of products which you can buy and pay for in one place, unlike other smaller stores which don’t have everything.” Sometimes, when you buy on wet markets or local independent shops, there is no guarantee of a wide variety of food products.
Another notable point regarding its popularity was emphasized by David Medansky of The Health Maestro. Food products found in supermarkets are scientifically engineered. Medansky states, “The food products sold in supermarkets and grocery stores are popular because they are scientifically engineered to optimize our cravings for sugar, salt, fat, and texture.
This is called “Bliss Point” – a term coined by Howard Moskowitz who worked in the food industry for over 30 years. He is responsible for creating different flavors of Prego Spaghetti Sauce, Dr. Pepper, Campbell’s Soups, and others.
In the 1990s, the average supermarket had about 15,000 products. Today, there are more than 50,000 products. Now I don’t know about you, however, I haven’t heard of that many new vegetables, fruits, berries, or nuts being discovered during this time. What that means is there are more manufactured (not produced by nature) and highly processed food products being offered.”
Shopping is less stressful
“They are also commonly located in convenient locations, near residential areas to allow for close proximity,” says Caleb Backe, Health & Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics.
Mo Mulla, Founder of Parental Questions, also highlighted that there is less stress and hassle in terms of buying food in supermarkets. For those who drive, parking’s usually free. This is a less expensive way of buying your food than paying for public transportation or going all over the place oneself to get each item.
Plus, there usually aren’t many hungry people waiting by the register demanding more patience with grumpy faces. So people would still prefer buying in supermarkets rather than local markets.
What risks are there in shopping at supermarkets?
On the other side of the tunnel, despite the wide variety of food products, consumers do not have any idea where these products were manufactured. This uncertainty gives way to a lot of risks. Despite what the labels attached to the packaging say, your food might not be safe.
The first thing that would come to mind regarding the risks that we can obtain from products in the supermarket would be the unsafe ingredients. According to Caleb Backe, the following things are the main risks that one must consider upon purchasing food products from the supermarket:
- Chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, and other fertilizers used to farm the produce
- Food packaging and labeling improperly
- Temperature control and adequately caring for the food before it is bought
- Unsafe handling practices at any point in the supply chain process
- Unsafe ingredients of processed foods and methods
Sanitary Issues of Supermarkets
May Flanagan warns about virus contamination. She says, “In the time of the coronavirus pandemic, the main health risk of shopping at supermarkets would be being infected with the COVID-19 virus
by touching certain surfaces that may not be 100% clean (e.g. shopping cart handles, etc.).”
Mo Mulla also warns about sanitary issues of supermarkets. “There are many risks. Supermarkets deal with all sorts of foods, some of which may have been out past their expiration date or are just flat-out sketchy. The water in the restroom is often left without being flushed, so it’s full of bacteria for you to step in, and pests like rodents also live in them because they often go unchecked.”
Sanitation can indeed affect the quality and the cleanliness of the products. Most especially that they are foods, it is essential to keep them in an environment where it is clean that can help in prolonging the freshness and quality of the food products.
Take, for example, meat and dressed chicken being sold in supermarkets are usually stored inside freezers to keep them from spoiling. Hence, these freezes must be kept clean at all times. There are tendencies where the blood coming out from the meat may contaminate the meat itself if it’s not clean.
David Medansky cautions about deceitful marketing. He said, “The risk of shopping in supermarkets is that the package marketing can be deceptive and people do not read the Nutritional Fact Panels. If they do read them, they often don’t understand what they are reading. Especially since many people do not read the ingredients because the print is too small.”
The danger in not reading the ingredients on the labels or even not being familiar with what we should avoid buying, can risk our health. Strategies of these food companies often replace a known ingredient that is not good for everyone with another ingredient that not everyone is familiar with, but has the same effect on the health.
Hence, whether you are an avid fan of supermarkets or local markets, it is still important to be meticulous with your purchases, especially when it comes to food products.
Another thing about supermarket food products, some still tend to sell products that are already past the expiration date. Was it because they forgot to check or simply, they just don’t care as long as their products are sold? We’ll never know. But what we do know, is that there is a tendency of risks.
What are food scandals that happened due to food and ingredients bought at supermarkets?
Food scandals are no longer a new thing. This always happens usually in restaurants (e.g. serving food with roaches in it or some other pests, flies everywhere, dirty plates, etc.). It has been a common thing. Unfortunately, still occurs up to this very day.
2 Sisters Food Group’s Changing Slaughter Date
An example of a food scandal that affected, not just the products, but the jobs of the workers, is the food scandal in the United Kingdom shared by May Flanagan. She said, “Four years ago, 2 Sisters Food Group, the biggest chicken meat supplier to major grocery stores in the UK, was caught changing the slaughter date of their poultry. Many customers panicked because they thought they had bought chicken meat that was already expired or like way past its use-by date. The food scandal was very messy and led to many job losses, surveillance from the UK Financial Services Authority (FSA), and even an inquiry from the parliament.”
Another food scandal story was shared by David Medansky. Olean, formerly known as Olestra, is used to reduce fat in products. Initially, Olestra was a drug. However, Proctor and Gamble determined it
would be more profitable to be used as a food additive. Olean is banned in the EU, Canada, and China. Just because it is legal does not mean it is safe to consume.
Yikes! Unless with a medical prescription, perhaps it would be alright to be added to your food. But if not? It definitely should not be allowed.
Whole Foods’ Wasteful Oranges
Caleb Backe also shares another food scandal, this about overly wasteful products. In recent years, WholeFoods tried selling pre-peeled oranges in plastic containers for almost $6. Angry consumers took to Twitter to complain about the wastefulness and price of this product. Wholefoods later responded to a viral tweet apologizing for the act.
These instances, although inevitable, should still be prevented by the supermarket industry. This does not only risks the people’s health but as well as their budget, for those food products that are unreasonably pricey.
What environmental impacts does the supermarket industry have?
Overpacked in Plastic
Both Caleb Backe and Jack Miles can attest that supermarkets are one of the largest distributors of single-use plastics all over the world. Imagine having thousands of supermarkets anywhere in the world?
According to Jacke Miles, Owner of Sarasota Mold Pros, “The grocery industry is one of the largest contributors to single-use plastic waste in the world, and consumers have begun to take note. In the US, plastic bag bans are becoming more common, and the outcry caused when oranges were packaged in plastic became a trending news story.” Basically, these are all found on the packaging of the products and grocery bags used. Most grocery packaging is single-use plastics.
Even though many grocery retailers have developed sustainability plans, they rarely go beyond eliminating obvious plastic waste producers. Many of these waste management strategies overlook single-use plastics, which harm the environment even more than multi-use plastics.”
Lindsey McCoy, the co-founder, and CEO of Plaine Products laments the mainstream disposal culture. She says, “Disposable packaging is part of that convenience factor. So often, when shopping, we get messages about ease and convenience. However, the convenience of single-use packaging, particularly plastics, is greatly contributing to the plastic pollution crises, filling our landfills and oceans with plastics. To us, the widespread use of disposable packaging is the biggest danger of supermarkets. If we continue our use of plastics at this same rate, by the year 2050, there could be
more plastics in the ocean than fish.”
May Flanagan stresses the carbon emissions thru vehicles from stock delivery vehicles that travel back and forth from supermarkets to suppliers. The reason comes from the logistics of supermarkets. They do not just operate until they ran out of what they sell. They always restock products, especially those that are famous to the people, to keep customers coming.
Fortunately, ever since the world transitioned slowly into sustainable development, campaigns, many supermarkets responded accordingly. They started to reduce their contribution to plastic wastes by changing their grocery bags into paper bags or eco bags that customers can purchase instead of placing items inside a big cellophane bag.
Going sustainable is a mindset that not only supermarkets should have, but the majority as well. Simply carrying your own reusable grocery bag can already help with plastic wastes to further grow.
How can you check for food safety while shopping?
Read the product labels meticulously
David Medansky says, “Read the list of ingredients on Nutritional Fact Labels.” This can help you identify the kinds of ingredients they have included in the food product. With that, you can assess whether the given ingredients are safe to consume. “If you are not able to pronounce the word it is probably a chemical or artificial ingredient not found in nature. if it is not found in nature it is most likely unhealthy to consume.
The problem today is people are consuming these foods. And, although there is no immediate noticeable effect, the problem compounds over ten, twenty, thirty years, so that many years later, a health issue arises. Today, 80% of people over the age of 55 are either Type 2 diabetic or pre-diabetic. If a person is pre-diabetic, they are likely to become a diabetic within 7 years.”
It’s always better to be meticulous when it comes to food shopping for you to figure out what kind of food you are serving to your family. Read and check the labels first. It is a first step in identifying whether the food product is safe or not.
Check the packaging
May Flanagan recommends:
While shopping, one can check for food safety by checking the packaging. See if the lids or packaging are sealed tightly and that there are no leaks.
Plus, always check the best before or use-by date to avoid buying items that may have already gone bad because sometimes store attendants do these things.
If you or you live with someone who has food allergies or certain health conditions that may cause them to be sensitive to certain ingredients, it would also help if you would check the contents or ingredients or items you’re buying.
Check and buy items strategically
Here are Caleb Backe’s tips to shop smart and smart:
- Check for cleanliness and only buy food from reputable grocery stores
- Check dairy and milk products before purchasing
- Choose cold containers and check the expiration date
- Also buying dairy products towards the end of your shopping trip will ensure that they stay colder for longer.
How do you stay safe at the supermarket?
Follow the advice below given by our food experts to keep yourself safe whenever you shop in supermarkets:
May Flanagan also says, “You can stay safe at the supermarket by practicing minimum health protocols such as wearing masks, frequent handwashing or disinfection, and always practicing social distancing when buying goods.”
Prop tip from Caleb Backe: “Bring your own hand sanitizer or use the one provided at the front of the grocery store.”
Avoid processed foods
David Medansky recommends: “To stay safe in a supermarket or grocery store, purchase mostly fruits, vegetables, berries, and fresh produce. Avoid manufactured or highly processed foods. Avoid purchasing fruit juices, soda, diet soda, and fruit-flavored beverages because they are loaded with sugar or chemicals.”
What are sustainable alternatives to the supermarket?
We all know the answer to this – shop local.
First, buy from farmers’ markets. Why? Although small in business and limited with stocks, they offer food products such as meat that are fresh from the farm. Fishes from local fish vendors automatically sell their fishes because they are fresh from the ocean – newly caught.
May Flanagan also suggests that you can purchase from a small business that offers farm-to-table goods, or subscribing to an organic produce subscription box (veggies and fruits mostly) that
are sourced from ethical or sustainable farms.
Chris Starks of Enrich the Kitchen shares to us this tip:
“Local food markets are a great place to get close to the sources and makers of your food. Participating in local farmers’ markets or CSAs is a great way to shop while supporting local farmers and finding out about how their food is produced. By shopping in your community, you can bring home fresh ingredients where you know exactly where your food is coming from.
You can improve your health and support sustainable food sources by coordinating cooking nights with friends, host a BYO dinner party using locally sourced ingredients, invite friends to learn how to make your favorite recipes. Try making dishes using ingredients from local markets and micro-breweries for a great learning experience and a memorable meal.”
Caleb Backe also says, “Buying locally is a great alternative to shopping in large supermarkets.
Buying locally is not only better for the environment but it’s also healthier. The entire transportation system involved in delivering groceries is very taxing on the environment as it contributes to massive
Eating local produce allows for the food to ripen fully instead of being artificially ripened with chemicals. Fully ripe foods contain the most amount of nutrients, thus making them healthier for the consumer.”
Wherever you choose to shop for food, David Medansky urges the practice of caution. As a
In short, let us also support local farmers who sell food products that are organic and fresh from the farm. You did not only save yourself from health risks, but you were also able to help local farmers with their small businesses. Hence, invite your friends into local shopping and changes can definitely be seen.
Wherever you choose to shop, always practice caution and sustainability. Check things before you buy. Check the label (for processed foods). Examine the condition of the store. And most importantly, bring your own reusable containers and bags so you don’t receive your purchases in plastic bags.