Cross-contamination at checkout

Katie and I were craving hamburgers this weekend and Doug decided to indulge us. At the supermarket on Saturday he picked up some ground beef along with our normal cart full of produce and other proteins. As usual, I tried to separate the items in the cart so that the fresh produce was not touching the beef, pork, or salmon filets, even though all the meat was wrapped.

Checkout on Saturdays is always busy, and with a baby, a shopper’s plus card, a payment method, eco-friendly shopping bags, and chatter with the cashiers and baggers, there are plenty of distractions. On this particular day, the new store manager was bagging our items and complementing Doug on his culinary ability: “I can see you must be a good cook because those items require skill.” I chimed in with full-hearted agreement. Doug’s an awesome cook.

In the meantime, as the hamburger was being passed over the scale and scanner, juice poured out all over the place. I watched the cashier and was about to say something, but she pulled out a sanitary wipe and cleaned her hands. She then proceeded to pass every one of our produce items over the scale and through the hamburger juice. I felt like I should say something but wanted Doug to be the bad ass. And as I stood there stunned, not wanting the store manager to fire the woman, she completed our transaction and was on to the next person.

As soon as we exited the store, I declared we would have to wash every piece of produce in the bags. It didn’t even occur to me until later that the following person’s items were also going to pass over that potentially E.coli-laden scale. And maybe the same thing had already happened five times before we arrived. Maybe we were already at risk before our hamburger leaked all over.

It’s important to wash fresh fruits and vegetables to remove external contamination, because you never know where it’s been. Once your produce is exposed, it can contaminate other items in your bag or at home. Even if you are a careful consumer, it’s difficult to know just where that tomato has been.

(P.S. Doug cooked the burgers to a perfect 160F and they were delicious.)