Be food safe: clean, separate, cook, chill
Awareness can help keep foodborne illnesses at bay
What you don't know might send you to the hospital or worse when it comes to food safety, Defense Commissary Agency officials say.
"Everyone has a role in being alert to food safety threats," said Chris Wicker, DeCA's public health advisor from the agency's Public Health and Safety Directorate. "For commissaries, our vigilance extends from the farm to the supplier to the store shelf. Once they leave the commissary, our patrons also have a responsibility to protect themselves from foodborne illnesses."
In observance of Food Safety Education Month in September, DeCA joins the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Food Safety Inspection Service, the Department of Health and Human Services and other organizations in spreading the word on the dangers of improperly handling food items.
Disregarding food safety at home can be hazardous to your health, according to the CDC, which noted more than 100,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne illnesses each year.
"We continually emphasize 'Be Food Safe' guidelines because they're simple but effective tools for handling perishable products," Wicker said. "One simple detail like proper hand washing can make all the difference in protecting the people at your dinner table."
The "Be Food Safe" message, developed by CDC and the USDA, is simple: clean, separate, cook and chill. They are the basis for the following safe handling techniques:
- 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 can be sanitized with a freshly made solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water.
- 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 poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 F as measured with a food thermometer.
- 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).
Wicker said commissary patrons should always bring a cooler during a long trip to help prevent spoilage by maintaining proper temperatures of foods on the trip home.
"It's also important to prevent cross contamination by keeping different perishable foods separated, whether your groceries are in the shopping cart or in the car," he said.
A few more tips for handling food safely at home can be found at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Eat Right site:
- Use hand sanitizer to wipe hands and the handle of the shopping cart.
- Clean hands before sampling food. Either bring moist towelettes or carry a bottle of hand sanitizer to use before you taste.
- If you use reusable grocery bags, wash them often.
- Check food packages for holes, tears or openings. Frozen foods should be solid with no signs of thawing.
- Check for a loose lid on jars whose seals seem tampered with or damaged. Report a defective cap to the store manager.
- Avoid buying cans that are deeply dented, bulging, rusting or have a dent on either the top or side seam.
- Use plastic bags to separate raw meat, poultry and seafood before placing them in your cart to avoid contaminating ready-to-eat foods like bread or produce.
- When shopping, select perishable foods last before checkout and group them together.
- Take groceries home immediately and store them right away. If on an extended trip, bring a cooler with chill packs for perishable foods. Perishable foods must be refrigerated within two hours and only one hour if it is over 90 F outside.
- Keep perishable foods out of the hot trunk in summer and place in the air-conditioned car instead.
For more food safety information, visit DeCA's Food Safety page. You can select "links" among the list of links at the bottom of the home page to see a list of websites on the latest health and food safety reports and information from other agencies.
To find the latest food safety alerts and product recalls affecting military commissaries, visit the News Room and select "Food Recalls" then "Apply" to see the list.
The following websites have more information on food safety awareness: