Are Food Samples Safe To Eat?

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Walk into just about any grocery store, specialty market or warehouse club, and it’s nearly impossible to avoid the food samples. Retailers give consumers an up-close and tasty peek into items on sale or the newest food product or flavor. And while this is a great tactic to get you to buy something that isn’t on your grocery list – and gives you an opportunity to try something new — it might not be the safest bet when it comes to food preparation, bacteria growth and the spread of germs.

As a consumer, it’s important to be well informed when it comes to food samples. Shelby Banks, a dietetic intern at Henry Ford Health System, provides a few tips to consider before indulging in your next food tasting.

How is the food prepared?
Food preparation is the first opportunity a food sample can come into contact with microorganisms and become contaminated. When observing a sample being prepped by an attendant (cutting, slicing, mixing, etc.), the food handler should have gloves on both hands, which can prevent the spread of germs and decrease cross contamination.

“Another thing to take note of is the condition of the surface being used to prepare the samples,” Banks says. “The space should be clean and free of debris (boxes, dirty plates, and flatware).”

How is the food cooked?
If the sample is being cooked in front of you, make sure the utensils used to handle the raw meats are separate from the utensils used for the finished product. Those cooking the food should also wear gloves, and change them after dealing with different types of food – especially when the food is raw or uncooked.

How is the food stored?
If the sample given is hot, it should be kept on a hot plate or under a heating lamp until it is consumed. Cold samples should be kept on ice or in a fridge. Room temperature foods like chips or popcorn do not need to adhere to these storage standards, but that doesn’t mean they are without risk: Prolonged air exposure can also promote the growth of bacteria on foods that are meant to be stored at room temperature.

How is the food served?
From self-serve to being given samples by the attendant, there are still contamination issues to consider. Multiple hands grabbing samples can lead to the spread of germs, while dirty gloves (sensing a theme here?) can also disperse unwanted bacteria.

“Pick samples that are further to the back of the sampling plate if you are unsure of how long it sat there,” Banks says. “The older ones are often pushed to the front and the newer ones are replaced in the back of the plate.”

The bottom line? Be cautious.

“If the sample being offered doesn’t meet the standards of food safety, then it may be safer to just pass on the opportunity,” Banks says. “A small sample isn’t worth a trip to the doctor because you got sick.”


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Categories: EatWell