FORT LEE, Va. – Food safety is a group hug, when you consider everyone who has a role in protecting consumers from foodborne illnesses.

For the Defense Commissary Agency, that process begins where the food originates and continues all the way to the store shelf. However, during September, National Food Safety Education Month, DeCA is reminding its patrons that they also play a significant role to “Be Food Safe” at home.

“From the store to their kitchen table, our patrons should ‘Be Food Safe’ against potential harmful bacteria,” said Army Col. Michael A. Buley, DeCA’s director of public health and safety.

Every day a network of military and civilian food safety specialists are engaged in a multitiered inspection process designed to safeguard commissary products from any potential security and sanitation problems. That entire process can be undone if commissary patrons don’t pay attention to the basic principles of “Be Food Safe,” said Richard Stith, DeCA’s lead consumer safety officer.

“Food safety isn’t just about cooking temperatures,” Stith said. “It’s the entire process from ‘Farm to Fork,’ which includes how you as a consumer treat your food once purchased until it’s served at the table.

“If you have several stops to make while you’re out shopping – like the exchange, the gas station and the medical clinic – do that before you hit the commissary to decrease the risks of temperature abusing your food, which increases the probability of dangerous microbial growth that can turn into a foodborne illness,” he added. “Once you purchase your perishable items, remember to keep cold items cold and hot foods hot.”

The “Be Food Safe” message of clean, separate, cook and chill are the foundation of a patron’s food safety defense at home, Stith said. The Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Food Safety Inspection Service recommend the following safe handling techniques:

Clean

  • Wash hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat, poultry or seafood.
  • Wash utensils, cutting boards, dishes and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to prepare the next item.
  • Food contact surfaces may be sanitized with a freshly made solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water.

Separate

  • Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart and in your refrigerator.
  • If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood.

Cook

  • Cook poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer.

Chill

  • Chill food promptly and properly. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours (or one hour if temperatures are above 90°F).

“Prevention of foodborne illnesses never stops,” Buley said. “It’s a collective effort from start to finish. Our patrons have a crucial role in safeguarding their health once they leave the commissary and take their groceries home.”

For more food safety information, visit http://www.commissaries.com and choose “News & Info” then “Food Safety” from the dropdown menu. You can also choose “Links” then “Health/Food Safety” to see a list of websites on the latest health and safety reports and information from other agencies.

To find the latest food safety alerts and product recalls affecting military commissaries, visit http://www.commissaries.com and click on the “Food & Product Recalls” box on the front page.

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