There are plenty of things that make running errands in warm weather really nice. Like, not feeling as if your face is going to freeze off while you hustle from your car to the store. And not having to worry about snow, ice, or sleet turning all the roads and parking lots into a complete mess.
One thing that's not so nice? Hot temperatures mean all that food you just bought at the supermarket is basically a ticking time bomb for harmful bacteria growth.
Before you start rolling your eyes and muttering something about the food safety police, consider this: You'd obviously never store groceries in a metal box that's sitting out in the summer sun, right? But when you pack your bags in the car, that's exactly what you're doing. On hot, summer days, the temperature inside your car can soar to as high as 70 degrees. Not exactly ideal for stuff like meat, fish, chicken or dairy.
Of course, that number will start to drop once you open your windows or crank up the air conditioning. But the inside of your car still be more than warm enough for nasty bugs that could potentially make you sick to start flourishing on your food.
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How long do you have?
Exactly how long do you have before that pack of chicken cutlets or bottle of milk starts to go south? The answer depends on where you live and what the weather is like, says Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of the nonprofit public health organisation STOP Foodborne Illness. Still, the specifics are almost beside the point. "Heat is a good medium for bacteria growth, so you want to minimise it as much as you can. The less time you have between shopping and going home, the better," she says.
That means no stopping off at the bank or wandering into IKEA after you're done at the shops. "If you need to make other stops, do those before you go to the grocery store," Schlunegger says.
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It also means being smart about shopping for and packing up your groceries. In the store, get into the habit of sweeping through the meat and dairy aisles last, to ensure that those items spend the least amount of time in your cart. Once you reach the checkout counter, pack the cold items in a cooler bag with an ice pack. If you have a long ride home, it might even be worth storing your stuff in an esky to keep it extra chilled, says Schlunegger.
Location, location, location
Once you reach the car, put your bags inside the passenger area, Schlunegger recommends. Even if you don't use the AC, it'll still be infinitely cooler than your furnace of a car boot. Then head straight home and get everything into the refrigerator or freezer ASAP.
Sure, this might feel a little hypervigilant. But it sure beats getting food poisoning.
15 Dec 2021