Food Safety: Shopping Tips for Families

Last Updated May 26, 2011 11:03 PM EDT

When it comes to my children, I'm happy to pay a bit more for food if it means I can keep the kinder healthy. I used to think it was enough to buy organic meat and produce to avoid antibiotics, hormones and pesticides. Now, thanks to ShopSmart Magazine, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, I've added some new concerns to my list.

Here's what you should consider the next time you walk the grocery store aisles:

I'm an unapologetic carnivore and I love hamburgers right off the grill. While I've always known it's better to grind my own meat to avoid things like E. coli, there's now another thing I have to worry about. "Many supermarkets sell ground beef and steaks packaged with gas that keeps them looking fresh and red for a month or more, even if the meat has spoiled," according to ShopSmart.

Shopping Tip: Never count on color to help you determine if meat is fresh. Look at sell-by dates and avoid anything with surface slime or a bad odor. You can also ask your grocery store if it uses carbon monoxide. A&P, Kroger, Publix, Stop & Shop, Wegmans and Whole Foods say they don't, according to ShopSmart. If your market does, ask the butcher for a fresh cut.

I'm an equally big fan of chicken. What I didn't realize is that many birds are now fed cow meat and bones. Not only is this disgusting, it could also be dangerous.

When plant-eating animals like chicken eat other animals, they are consuming the toxic chemicals that accumulate in the fat, including dioxins and PCBs, which could raise those levels in the meat products, according to ShopSmart.

Shopping Tip: Pay more for certified organic chicken. Labels that claim "no additives", "no antibiotics", "no hormones" and "no steroids" don't really address this issue and are less reliable since they can't be verified.

Here's another concern mothers need to think about. That milk you're serving your kids could come from a cloned cow. Now I don't know if that's dangerous, but boy is it disgusting.

Shopping Tip: Buy organic milk and you won't need to worry about this issue.
I could tell you that I only serve my children fresh squeezed juice. But that would be a lie. I simply don't have the time for that. Just like most parents, I too buy juice boxes. But now I'm going to choose my beverages a bit differently.

According to ShopSmart, parents should avoid serving food and drinks with artificial dyes. Other countries (including the U.K.) have banned them. The U.S. hasn't. The concern? Multiple studies have found that artificial dyes may cause hyperactivity in some children. The FDA did not find the evidence compelling enough to ban all artificial colors. But as far as I'm concerned, there's no danger in trying to avoid it.

Shopping Tips: Look for clear juices and natural sodas (especially ones without a caramel color).

What measures do you take to feed your children healthy foods?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
85% Beef image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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