The center aisles at a grocery store may offer countless nutritional nightmares, but they generally don’t pose food-safety risks. The irony is inescapable: some of the most highly processed, nutritionally worthless foods in the grocery store can also be among the safest in terms of risk from contamination with pathogenic microbes.
Many of the canned, boxed, and frozen foods lining these shelves can, over time, cause significant health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. But because they are so highly processed and often sterilized, any bacteria that may have contaminated them are typically long gone. So the bigger concerns are nutritional value, allergens, and chemical contaminants.
Of all the aspects of a healthy diet, perhaps the toughest one to achieve is keeping sodium down. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that younger adults consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Middle-aged and older people, African Americans, and anyone with high blood pressure should aim for no more than 1,500 mg per day. But the average American consumes roughly 4,000 mg of sodium a day—men more, women less. That extra sodium may be the most dangerous thing in our diet, unnecessarily killing tens of thousands of people every year due to heart attacks and strokes.
Roughly 80 percent of the sodium we consume— most of it from salt—comes from prepared foods. So as you navigate the center aisles, read labels carefully and choose lower-sodium brands. Eat fresh, unprocessed foods when you can, since most natural foods, especially fruits and vegetables, are low in sodium. (A whole pound of broccoli has just 150 mg.) And many are rich in potassium, which helps lower blood pressure.
In addition to watching out for sodium, here are some packaged food tips to remember next time you are at the grocery store:
(1) Food allergies can be deadly. If you have an allergy, look for “Contains [nut or other allergen]” or “May contain [nut or other allergen]” on the ingredient label.
(2) Look carefully at frozen meals: some look fully cooked (or “ready-to-eat”) but are really only partially cooked.
(3) Avoid artificial food dyes and certain food additives.
(4) Don’t buy dented cans.
(5) Limit canned tuna if you are a woman of childbearing age, are pregnant, or are cooking for children.
Other relevant links:
- Follow these food safety tips to keep your family healthy. See: Food Safety Tips for Packing and Unpacking Your Food
- How to clean and reorganize your refrigerator. See: Read These Important Food Safety Tips for Cleaning Your Refrigerator
- Which foods are most likely to be contaminated? See: Learn More about these Dangerous Pathogens that Pose Major Food Safety Risks