Many of us just want to get into and out of the supermarket quickly. But in our rush, "some of us handle the food we buy in a way that poses safety risks, like spoilage and cross-contamination, that can result in illness," says James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety and research at Consumer Reports. To avoid spreading harmful germs, "you need to practice the fundamentals of food handling, just as when you're cooking at home," says Shelley Feist, executive director of the Partnership for Food Safety Education. To stay truly safe, you may need to risk looking slightly germophobic in public, but it's well worth it.

Food Shopping Safety Tips

Clean your shopping cart. Wipe down the child seat, as well as the cart handle, with a disinfecting wipe. A study from the journal Food Protection Trends found E. coli on 50 percent of shopping cart handles. If your store doesn't provide hand sanitizer and wipes, take your own.

Use hand sanitizer. It's a must after handling raw and packaged poultry at the meat counter if soap and water aren't available.

More on Grocery Stores & Supermarkets

Take care of your reusable bags. They may be great for the environment, but if you don't keep them clean, they could be hazardous to your health. Store bags in the cleanest area of the car and launder or wipe them down with hot, soapy water at least once per month. "Meat, poultry, and even produce can leave behind bacteria that can linger in the bag and contaminate other food," says Marianne Gravely, M.S., a food safety specialist with the Department of Agriculture's Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education.

Check your eggs. Open the carton and make sure none are cracked. "If one cracks on the way home, just make sure to cook it within 24 hours," Gravely says.

Bag meat of any kind separately. Juices from meat and poultry can drip onto other food, spreading bacteria, Feist says. "At home, keep it in that same bag in the refrigerator until ready to use."

Organize your cart. A Journal of Food Protection study observed shoppers putting poultry in their cart's main basket, with other foods around it, 84 percent of the time. "Keep meat and produce separated," Gravely says. "And keep cold and frozen foods together in your cart and grocery bag, so they help keep each other cooler longer."

Shop the perimeter last. The store is arranged for you to pick up produce, meat, and dairy before shopping the main aisles, but it's safer to put products requiring refrigeration into your cart last. "That way they'll spend the least time possible out of the cold," Gravely says.

Get food home quickly. Make grocery shopping your last errand before heading home. Perishable food should not be out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour in hot weather. Buy some extra time by keeping a cooler in your car for stowing perishables.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the July 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.