FORT LEE, Va. — Although the COVID-19 pandemic has upped our public safety awareness, consumers cannot afford to lose track of the precautions recommended to help protect against foodborne illnesses.
“Of course, we want our customers to be vigilant in guarding against the spread of COVID-19. However, we also need to remain aware of those foodborne illnesses such as E. coli and salmonella that can also be potentially harmful, even deadly,” said Army Lt. Col. Angela Parham, director of DeCA’s Public Health and Safety. “So, it’s important that we continue paying attention to the basics of foodborne illness prevention.”
Every year, foodborne illnesses strike an estimated 48 million Americans, resulting in 3,000 deaths and nearly 130,000 hospitalizations, according to the CDC. That’s why military veterinarians and store food safety specialists inspect food sources, deliveries and products on the commissary shelves.
However, that’s only half the fight, Parham said. Commissary customers have a responsibility to protect their families and themselves from foodborne illnesses and it starts the moment they exit the store.
Bacteria and viruses remain the leading causes of food poisoning, according to FoodSafety.gov. Thanks to awareness campaigns from the CDC and USDA, such as “Be Food Safe,” commissary customers have the guidelines they need to help lower the risk of foodborne illnesses when they leave the store.
The “Be Food Safe” message is 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 or foods that are eaten raw, like salads, on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood.
• Cook meats to a safe minimum internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer – 145°F for pork, 155°F for beef, and 165°F for poultry products and all ground or cubed meats.
• 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).
Parham reminds commissary shoppers to bring a cooler or insulated bag, to help maintain proper food temperatures during a long trip home from the store.
“The trip home can end up being a source of foodborne illness if you’re not careful,” Parham said. “Also, don’t forget to wash your hands before, during and after handling food – that will help prevent a lot of problems.”
A few more tips for handling food safely can be found at www.homefoodsafety.org:
The DeCA website is a good resource for food safety. To find the latest food safety alerts and product recalls affecting military commissaries, visit the News Room on commissaries.com and select the box that says “Food Recall.”
For more on food safety awareness, go to the CDC website. Information on food handling techniques is also available at Eatright.org.