LINCOLN, Neb. — The most common food safety rules involve food preparation and storage, but bacteria can start growing as soon as you take your groceries to your car.

Improperly bagging and transporting food after grocery shopping can cause bacteria and contamination of your food. Following just a few tips can help prevent contamination, said Julie Albrecht, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension food specialist.

"To make sure that the food you bring home is as safe and delicious as it was at the store, it's important to know the best way to pack and transport your groceries," the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources specialist said.

Different food types should be separated into different bags. Transport foods to be cooked in one bag and those not to be cooked in another. Bag eggs separately from foods you will eat raw in case they crack. Put foods of similar temperatures in the same bags, such as frozen foods, refrigerated foods and room temperature foods. More importantly, do not pack meat and dairy in the same bag as produce and other raw foods.

"Meat pathogens can easily transfer to and contaminate produce," Albrecht said.

The bag that holds the food matters too. A reusable, thermal bag can keep groceries hot or cold until they can be stored properly. When using these bags, however, it is still important to use a separate bag for meats to avoid the spread of pathogens. Wrap meats in a plastic bag at the bottom if only using one reusable bag, and clean reusable bags regularly.

"Wipe them out, or even throw them in the washing machine on a regular basis to keep them germ free," Albrecht said.