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Do you have a plan? UW-Extension offers health and food safety tips for the store



COVID-19 impacted nearly every aspect of the food system from production purchases, putting safety top of mind for many consumers.

UW-Extension La Crosse County staff tried to help navigate the sea of consumer questions with resources that start with the initial trip to the store. Nutrition Coordinator Karie Johnson said it is important to have just one member of the family go out for shopping, but added the food itself is not shown to be a contamination of COVID-19.

“It’s more the droplets that you could be inhaling from people that are doing their shopping,” Johnson said. “You’re going to want to utilize social distancing, sanitize the cart you might be touching or wearing gloves.”

Johnson added handwashing is key before and after going to the store, especially as individuals unpack groceries.

She recommended having a strategy before even going to the store, taking inventory, sticking to a list and making a meal plan.

“Your fresh produce life expectancy can vary greatly,” Johnson said. “Make sure you plan to use your most perishable items first. Think of things that last longer like squash, cabbage, or some of your root vegetables. Those items you can put towards the end of your meal plan when you’re getting ready to make another grocery store trip.”

It can be hard to remember the inventory of the fridge. One tip was to put the most perishable items in a clear container at eye level, or make “eat me first” labels as a cue for the family.

“Frozen and canned vegetables are also a good choice and a great thing to have on hand for meals as you get closer to that next grocery trip,” Johnson said.

Headlines show meat processors across the nation closing because of COVID-19 outbreaks. While industry leaders say there is not a meat shortage, customers may have limited options and higher prices in the store. As customers consider stocking up, Johnson shared insights for how to properly freeze meats.

“I suggest tightly wrapping in saran wrap followed with either a freezer paper or aluminum foil and then putting it inside a freezer storage bag just to help that food last the longest it can,” Johnson said.

Most items in a freezer can last up to a year, but Johnson said people should still keep tabs on the products. She suggested layering the meats based on a plan of use so there is a rotation that matches the family’s meal plan.

A common misconception for frozen meats is that freezer burn makes food unsafe, but Johnson reassured the freezer burn simply impacts the quality of the meats.

“These tips we are giving right now are part of lifelong learning, so definitely something that can be used once we are over this crisis hurdle,” Johnson said.

In addition to extension resources online, a FoodKeeper App from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service that can help monitor how long groceries can keep in the home.

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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