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Georgia Consumer: Cautious shopping can avoid food poisoning
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Every year thousands of consumers suffer from a dose of food poisoning. Many of those cases are caught in the home.

Food poisoning is usually caused by bacteria called pathogens. These can either be present on foods, or can be passed from you to the food. You cannot tell if food is safe by looking at it, smelling it or tasting it. Bacteria are so small that 10 million (more than enough to give the average person food poisoning) would fit on a pin-head.

There are things you can do to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. And a good place to start is at the beginning, when you buy food.

Food retailers, like supermarkets, maintain rigid food safety standards to ensure that you always receive the best. But once you buy food, it is then your responsibility to take the same care of it.

Shopping is the first stage where you can take this responsibility. Not only can you look for certain signs to ensure you receive a safe product, but there are things you can do yourself. Here’s how:

All food retailers and food producers have a responsibility to provide you with safe food. But, even then there are things you should look for.

Damaged packaging: Check the products carefully to check for any signs of the following: Dented cans; leaking cartons, cans, bottles or containers; torn or ripped packaging; swollen chilled foods packages and cans; cracked eggs; broken or imperfect seals; dairy products and other chilled or frozen foods left out of refrigerators; products with molds, discoloration or infestation; products in loose vacuum packs.

Never buy such products. They may be contaminated with dangerous levels of bacteria. Report such findings to the store manager.

If you return home and the find some evidence of tampering or package damage, return the product to the store or call the manufacturer.

Always check the date mark on foods, especially foods with a short shelf life such as dairy products. If in doubt, don’t buy it.

If a product is labeled "keep refrigerated"’ or "Keep chilled" and it is not in chilled storage, don’t buy it. Always choose refrigerated and frozen foods towards the end of your shopping trip such as meat, dairy products, deli products, and ice cream. Frozen foods should be rock hard and chilled foods cold to the touch.

Save hot chickens and other hot, cooked foods for later in the trip, too. Keep them separated from frozen and chilled products.

Ask the packer or retailer to pack raw meats in a separate bag from other products, this prevents juices from cross-contaminating other products.

And lastly, always go straight home. When you arrive home, immediately pack chilled and frozen products into your fridge or freezer

If you have questions or problems with services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture you may write the Office of Public Affairs, 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Room 226, Atlanta, GA 30334 or call 800-282-5852. This column appears Sundays.