By Kevin L. Robinson
DeCA Public Affairs Specialist
When it comes to food safety, a few simple precautions at home could prevent a trip to the emergency room, Defense Commissary Agency officials say.
“Commissary patrons have just as important a role to play in protecting themselves from foodborne illnesses as our food safety inspectors,” said Chris Wicker, a public health advisor at DeCA headquarters. “Simple actions can go far at home, whether it’s keeping your hands and food preparation surfaces clean or not leaving food out unrefrigerated after the meal is over.”
In observance of Food Safety Month, DeCA is reminding its patrons to use the “Be Food Safe” guidelines when they handle their groceries from the store to their kitchen table.
The consequences of ignoring food safety at home can be potentially fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne illnesses each year.
“You cannot take a day off when it comes to food safety,” Wicker said. “We formally track proper food handling techniques from the farm to the supplier and on to the store. But once they leave the store, consumers must be vigilant, too.”
The “Be Food Safe” message is simple: clean, separate, cook and chill. The Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Food Safety Inspection Service recommend 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 cross contamination along with failure to maintain proper temperatures of foods are leading causes of food borne illness – even on the trip home from the commissary.
“It’s always important to keep different perishable foods separate and that means paying attention to where they are in the car,” he said. “It also means bringing along a cooler if you’re transporting groceries that could spoil during a long trip.”
A few more tips for handling food safely can be found at www.homefoodsafety.org:
- 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 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.
For more food handling techniques, go to http://www.homefoodsafety.org/food-poisoning/food-safety-start-at-the-store.