NEW JERSEY RETAILERS PROMOTING FIGHT BAC! CAMPAIGN

TRENTON, N.J. -- New Jersey food retailers announced they are prepared to take the Fight BAC! campaign unveiled late last year by the Partnership for Food Safety Education to the consumer level. The program will touch on virtually every store department, from produce to other perishables.The statewide effort is being spearheaded by the New Jersey Food Council based here, in cooperation with the New

TRENTON, N.J. -- New Jersey food retailers announced they are prepared to take the Fight BAC! campaign unveiled late last year by the Partnership for Food Safety Education to the consumer level. The program will touch on virtually every store department, from produce to other perishables.

The statewide effort is being spearheaded by the New Jersey Food Council based here, in cooperation with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. The public education and awareness campaign adopts the four-point program that emphasizes four key principles for safely preparing food: wash hands and surfaces often; separate to prevent cross contamination; cook foods to proper temperatures; and promptly chill unused or leftover food.

This relatively new role of retailers as educators is a development that is being looked upon as an opportunity for the supermarket industry to forge closer bonds with their customers, according to Linda Doherty, spokesperson for NJFC.

"This is finally something that the consumer can do when they get home, that they have control [of] when it comes to feeding their family," she said. "If we can share that information at the supermarket, at the point of sale, with the consumer, it's an extended benefit of shopping in New Jersey supermarkets."

The program is deliberately simple and stresses the most basic steps that should be taken to protect the integrity of food, including produce. Industry and health experts agree that if the steps are followed consistently, the vast majority of food-borne illnesses caused by bacteria will experience a significant decrease.

When the Fight BAC! initiative was announced, West Caldwell, N.J.-based Kings Supermarkets held seminars at one of the chain's in-store cooking studios, where state and local health officers, local educators and others received an overview of the campaign. The seminars were hosted by Kings' in-house food safety expert, with input from representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

Prior to Fight BAC!, Kings made its food safety expert available for personal appearances before groups and organizations through its speaker's bureau, according to Cheryl Good, manager of community relations and community affairs.

"I think that this initiative, Fight BAC!, has really helped others [retailers] that were not doing, perhaps, as many of the things that we're doing to become more [active]," she said. "I think that when we do this as an industry, we have a real impact."

Another benefit, noted Andrew Carrano, vice president of marketing and corporate affairs for A&P, Montvale, N.J., is a new bond of trust between the consumer and their supermarket.

"[These programs] build their confidence, that they can turn to us to find out how best to handle food," he said. "We know how best to handle food to ensure their safety."

A&P is still formulating the details of its strategy to educate customers about Fight BAC!, according to Carrano. The chain's initiative is being coordinated by Peter Rojack, corporate director of environmental health, who also worked with the coalition developing the national campaign.

Fight BAC! was announced in October 1997 by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, the public-private partnership comprised of industry, government and consumer groups. The spokesperson delivering the "Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill" message is BAC, a character created specifically by the partnership for the campaign. Coalition officials said BAC's role would be to perform the same role in food safety education that Smokey Bear has done in preventing forest fires.

The character will begin playing a key role this fall, when Fight BAC! is introduced to school students around the country. Good of Kings said that the chain is currently testing a prototype program on summer camp participants in preparation for the coming school year in September.