As part of a continuing program to raise the public’s awareness of food safety, representatives from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (Irma), the Illinois Food Retailers Association (IFRA), the Illinois Press Association (IPA), the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) today appealed to consumers to take special safe food handling precautions, especially during the summer months. Perishable foods such as meat, poultry, seafood and egg-containing foods should be handled carefully to prevent the risk of illness. According to food safety officials, warm weather can provide an inviting environment for bacteria and other pathogens. When bacteria contaminate food, they can multiply rapidly if held inappropriately and cause foodborne illness.

“Foodborne illness peaks during warmer months, so Illinois retailers and public health officials want to remind consumers about safe handling procedures before the picnic and grill seasons are in full swing,” said David Vite, IRMA president. Vite said that Illinois food retailers continue to work hard in cooperation with public health officials to ensure public safety, and to develop effective food safety measures at public establishments and in the home.

“It is estimated that as many as 250,000 cases of foodborne illness may occur each year in Illinois, many of those stemming from food preparation and handling practices in the home,” said Dr. John R. Lumpkin, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “Through the ‘Fight BAC!’ effort, we are joining with other partners to inform the public that at all times, but especially during the summer months, they need to take precautions to prevent contamination of the food they eat.”

“Many instances of foodborne illness can be avoided simply by increasing public awareness of safe food handling practices in the home,” stated Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Sheila Lyne, R.S.M. “We support consumer education campaigns such as the ‘Fight BAC!’ program and look forward to working with food retailers to further educate people about food safety.”

As part of the food-safety program, participating grocers throughout the state will display important summer food-handling tips throughout the remainder of May and into June. Locally, Jewel-Osco will distribute the food handling tips in all its food stores this week.

“At Jewel-Osco, we believe it’s not only important that we provide the food products our customers need, but also provide them with information that will help them live better lives,” said Pete Van Helden, president of Jewel-Osco. “We hope our customers pick up these safe food-handling tips when they are in our store, and use them as they enjoy the summertime activities.”

Additionally, the Illinois Press Association is asking its members to provide space to educate consumers on the Seven Steps for Safe Food in the Summertime.

“Newspapers have an important role to play in educating as well as informing. This is a fantastic opportunity for newspapers across Illinois to educate their customers by participating in this effort to raise consumer awareness of safe food handling,” stated David L. Bennett, executive director of the Illinois Press Association.

Known as the Seven Super Steps for Safe Food in the Summertime, the Fight BAC! Program suggests seven food-handling tips for warm weather:

1. Wash, Wash, Wash Your Hands before and after handling food. Also keep work surfaces clean.

2. When marinating for long periods of time, keep food refrigerated and don’t use raw meat/poultry marinade on cooked food.

3. Preheat the coals on your grill for 20-30 minutes, or until the coals are lightly coated with ash BUT always cook food thoroughly regardless of grill temperature.

4. Use a meat thermometer. Meat such as hamburgers, steaks and roasts should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and poultry parts to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Cook meats, fish and poultry for their recommended time and serve immediately. Cooking time will vary with the size of the meat and the temperature of the grill. Therefore, use a meat thermometer. If you must wait to serve the meat, hold it above 140 degrees Fahrenheit

6. Do not put cooked food items back on the same plate that previously held raw food.

7. When keeping foods chilled, a full cooler will maintain its cold temperature longer than one that is partially filled. So pack extra ice or freezer packs. Chill and refrigerate all perishable food until ready to cook or serve.

“Illinois food retailers have always been active in educating their employees and the public about food safety because they believe it is their responsibility. Reaching consumers with the message, however, has been more challenging,” said Brian Jordan, president of IFRA. “Today’s proclamations underscore how important it is for consumers to follow proper food-handling procedures in the home.”

Officials today stressed improper food handling in the home as an important cause of foodborne illness, which is why these educational efforts are directed at consumers. According to recent statistics, foodborne illnesses cause as many as 5,000 deaths and 76 million illnesses each year.

During its one-hundred year history, Jewel-Osco has been noted for its philanthropic spirit. Every year, the company supports a wide variety of charitable organizations with a focus on education, health & nutrition and hunger relief. In addition, Jewel-Osco associates continue to contribute generously to support the United Way and the communities they serve. In all, over $4 million is contributed each year toward these efforts. It’s all part of Jewel-Osco’s ongoing commitment to the community through charitable contributions and various community outreach programs.

Jewel-Osco is a Midwest retailer operating both combination food and drug stores and freestanding drug stores. Of the retailer’s 275 locations, 191 are combination Jewel-Osco stores and 84 are freestanding Osco Drug stores. Jewel-Osco is the Midwest region of Albertson’s, Inc., which is headquartered in Boise, Idaho. Albertson’s is one of the largest food-drug chains in the United States and currently operates over 2,500 stores in 37 states.