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September 3, 2018

How to Keep Your Groceries Safe in the Car

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that almost 1 in 10 people in the world fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420,000 die every year.

While food poisoning is more prevalent during summer months, the Department of Health (DOH) says it can still happen during the cooler months. With the country experiencing average temperatures averaging 33-38 degrees Celsius year-round, a car becomes the perfect breeding ground for nasty microorganisms.

Professional cooks are aware of the so-called food “danger zone”—the temperature range when bacteria growth can double in mere seconds. Happening between 4 to 60 degrees Celsius, cooks handle ingredients properly and cook them above this temperature to ensure that they’re safe to eat.

However, since bacteria typically doesn’t change the taste, smell, or look of good, it’s actually hard to determine when food is dangerous to eat. For the sake of your and your family’s health, it’s important to keep food safe.

Of course, with people commonly doing their grocery during the day (before heading home) or ordering drive-thru and takeout, these can be a ticking time bomb for bacteria growth. So how can you protect yourselves, your family, and your food safe?

If you have errands, do these first, not afterward while your groceries are in the car. It’s best to take the perishables straight home from the grocery. According to the Mayo Clinic, don’t let them sit more than one hour at temperatures above 32 degrees Celsius (which is, given Manila’s traffic, pretty much all the time).

Park in the shade. Staying out direct sunlight can help keep your car from turning into an oven.

Make sure you shop strategically. Make perishables (meats, dairy, frozen/chilled items, fresh fruits and vegetables) the last items you put in your cart.

Pack smart. This means putting things together like frozen with frozen. Note that while refrigerated items should also be bagged together, meats and fish should be bagged separately from other foods to avoid cross-contamination. Don’t pack the bags too tightly too, or else air won’t be able to circulate around.

Avoid the trunk. When you get back to your car, don’t put the groceries in the trunk, which tends to be the hottest part of a car. Instead, put groceries in the air-conditioned cabin. And while you may think it’s better to put them on the floor, out of the sun, they’ll stay cooler if air circulates around them

If the commute home is longer than an hour, it’s a great idea to invest in a cooler or insulated bag. These can make your perishables last longer. Oh, but make sure that the cooler doesn’t sit in the car too long too—or else it’ll turn into a mini-oven.

Treat leftovers like groceries. Just because food’s already been cooked doesn’t make it less susceptible to bacterial growth. In fact, more people get sick eating contaminated restaurant leftovers than they do raw produce. Cooked food should be consumed within two hours. If you have no plans to eat everything in one go, portion the food first and put what you plan to eat another day straight into the refrigerator or freezer immediately.

Oh, and when in doubt about a food’s safety or condition, throw it out.

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