(May 2, 11:48 a.m.) Produce suppliers are encouraged to participate in a comprehensive food safety program that focuses on how consumers handle the food they bring home.

The Be Food Safe program is part of the Washington, D.C.-based Partnership for Food Safety Education. The effort has the involvement of supermarkets, industry associations, professional food science societies, consumer groups and governmental agencies.

The program uses colorful, modular icons and graphics to be implemented through retailers’ in-store and external customer communications programs that focus on the effort’s clean, separate, cook and chill message.

So far, 37 retailers have joined the program.

The Food Marketing Institute, Washington, D.C., has worked closely with the partnership and helps deliver the important consumer food safety message, said Tim Hammonds, president.

“The idea being the industry — its suppliers, growers, producers and retailers — has worked very hard on being sure we maintain food safety until the product is sold,” Hammonds said. “But it can all be undone when the consumer walks out of the store and perhaps leaves the package in the trunk of car too long, or doesn’t wash their hands or doesn’t use thermometer to cook the food to the right temperature. This is a way to reach out and say we’re all in this together, from the farm literally to the table.”

Bryan Silbermann, president of the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., is chairman of the partnership’s board of directors. He said the PMA plans to conduct a major outreach to its membership by the end of June to make them aware of the program.

“Especially with so much of our product being used in prepared foods or foods being combined with other food groups, we need to make sure people understand at the consumer level how to properly handle food,” Silbermann said. “Having an educated consumer is just as important as having a consumer that buys your product.”

The PMA has been a critical part of the effort for more than a decade and made possible some of the program’s initial development, said Shelley Feist, the partnership’s executive director. She said she expects to see strong produce industry engagement.

“We are seeking suppliers interested in aligning with this program that we are looking for to be on a semilarge scale,” Feist said. “This is a tested program that all the consumers in our research said would love to see in the retail environment.”

The program doesn’t offer formal training to the retailers, Feist said.

Feist said retailers can use visual reminders in their stores. She said the partnership plans to work with supermarkets and help them contact local media and their customers.

At the Be Food Safe’s Web site, www.befoodsafe.org, consumers can download and print their own brochure.

The participating retailers represent some 6,000 individual supermarkets.

Participating retailers include:

  • Acme Markets Inc., Malvern, Pa.;

  • Albertsons Inc., Boise, Idaho;

  • Giant Food Stores, Carlisle, Pa.;

  • Meijer Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.;

  • Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y.;

  • Publix Super Markets Inc., Lakeland, Fla.;

  • Safeway Inc., Pleasanton, Calif.;

  • Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif.; and

  • Wegmans Food Markets Inc., Rochester, N.Y.