Food safety at the grill is everyone’s responsibility

 By Kevin L. Robinson,
DeCA public affairs specialist

As warmer temperatures push more commissary patrons from the kitchen stove to the backyard grill, the Defense Commissary Agency wants to remind them to “Be Food Safe.”

Disregarding the tenets of Be Food Safe can turn the family gathering into a trip to the emergency room, said the director of DeCA’s Public Health and Safety Directorate, Col. Michael A. Buley.

“Our mission is to be vigilant against foodborne illnesses from the farm to the commissary warehouse to the store shelf to our patrons’ shopping carts,” Buley said. “However, we also ask our patrons to do their part by practicing ‘Be Food Safe’ whenever they handle food.”

Be Food Safe was created through the collaboration of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention to help prevent foodborne illnesses caused by consumers mishandling food at home.

Salmonella, E. coli and listeria can all be unwanted guests at the barbecue if people don’t pay heed to proper food handling, said Chris Wicker, DeCA’s public health advisor.

“The juices from raw meats can contain bacteria that could transfer to other foods,” he said. “Cooked foods should be placed onto plates and containers that are clean, so there is no risk of cross contamination.

“Time and temperature are also key factors for grilling and protecting your loved ones from foodborne illness,” Wicker added. “Always ensure proper temperatures are reached for all cooked meats and that no food is left out longer than two hours. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.”

Before any cookout, Wicker said grill masters should consider the following basic food safety tips:

  • Be clean. Before cooking or eating – and definitely after using the bathroom – wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Don’t forget the grill; it should also be cleaned before preparation begins.
  • Separate the food. Keep raw food apart from cooked food. The juices from raw meats can contain bacteria that could transfer to other foods. That means use separate plates or containers for raw meat, poultry or seafood when moving food to the grill and different containers entirely for the cooked products unless the carriers have been washed thoroughly in soap and water. Also, keep cooking utensils and cooking surfaces clean from potential cross contamination.
  • Marinate in refrigerator. Any food that is marinating should be covered and kept in a refrigerator until ready to cook. Also, don’t reuse marinade containing raw meat.
  • Cook it completely. This means you cannot take shortcuts on the amount of time it takes to thoroughly cook meat. Use a food thermometer to ensure meat is ready to eat. For example, ground beef and pork should be cooked at 160 F, chicken at 165 F and steaks and roast at 145 F. For shrimp, lobster and crab, cook until pearly and opaque. You can use your microwave, oven or stove to precook the food immediately before placing it on the grill.
  • Chill and freeze – immediately. Food should never be off the grill or out of the cooler for more than two hours. And, when the outside temperature is hotter than 90 F, food can only be left out for an hour.
  • Hot, hot, hot. Keep hot food wrapped, insulated in a container and at or above 140 F. Eat hot take-out food within two hours of purchase. When reheating food on the grill, make sure it reaches 165 F.
  • Keep it cold. If it’s meant to be cold, it needs to stay that way at or below 40 F. Chicken salad, potato salads, bagged and green salads, and certain desserts must be protected from warm temperatures by placing them on ice in coolers. Remember to drain the water from melted ice in those coolers and replace ice as necessary.

The DeCA website’s food safety page,, is a good source for more information about proper food handling techniques.

For the latest food safety alerts and product recalls affecting military commissaries, visit and click on the “Food Recalls” box near the bottom of the front page. For general food safety information, visit the website, choose the “News & Info” tab near the top of the front page and select “Food Safety” from the drop-down box.