Food safety and shopping
As a consumer, you have a right to buy properly stored food from the shop and supermarket. You should check that food is properly packaged before you buy it and check that it has a clear use-by or best before date.
When grocery shopping, avoid:
- Chilled food that is left out of the fridge or frozen food left out of the freezer
- Cracked eggs
- Leaking cartons or containers
- Swollen food packages (especially dairy, meat and poultry products)
- Broken or imperfect safety seals
- Raw foods and cooked foods that are not kept separated
- Servers handling raw meat and cooked food without washing their hands, or using the same utensil
- Products with mould, discolouration or infestation
Self-service salad bars
Self-service salads should be in a chilled unit to keep them fresh. Each salad should have its own utensil, such as a spoon or tongs.
Never touch the food with your hands and do not sneeze or cough near the food. If you see anyone mishandling the food, report it to a member of staff.
You should also follow the supermarket's instructions carefully. For example, some food may need to be eaten within a certain time.
'Best before' and use-by dates
Always check your food’s best before and use-by dates before buying and eating it.
The best before date (sometimes written as ‘BBE’) tells you when the quality of the food will start to get worse, for example, the colour or texture might change. It may still be safe to eat. The best before date only applies if you have stored the food according to the instructions on the packaging.
Food that has passed its use-by date is not safe to eat and should be thrown out.
Read more about storing food safely and food safety in the home.
Packing your food shopping
In your trolley or basket
When you are food shopping, always choose non-refrigerated items first.
Choose refrigerated and frozen products towards the end of your shopping trip. This means they will stay cool for longer. Keep chilled and frozen food separated from hot food in your trolley or basket.
Avoid overloading your trolley as you may damage packaging.
At the checkout
When packing your food into shopping bags, you should keep:
- Frozen foods together
- Refrigerated foods together
- Hot foods separated from cold foods
- Delicate foods, such as bread and eggs, at the top of the bag
- Heavy items at the bottom of the bag
You will not be subject to the Plastic Bag Environmental Levy if you use a smaller plastic bag to store meat, fish and poultry products, regardless of whether they are packaged or unpackaged. In addition, you will not be subject to the levy if you use plastic bags to store non-packaged food.
The car journey home
Never leave your groceries in a warm car as germs multiply in warm temperatures.
If you are travelling a long distance, place your chilled and frozen products into a cool bag or box for the journey home.
Storing food at home
When you get home, immediately pack chilled and frozen products into the fridge or freezer. Check the condition of frozen products and do not re-freeze them if they have thawed. You should make sure your fridge temperature is below 4°C.
Read more about how to store food safely in the fridge and freezer.