(May 7) CHICAGO — A coalition of food industry and government agencies are calling for hand-to-hand combat in grocery stores across the U.S.

Instead of alarm, however, the campaign should receive approval among consumers, considering the enemy: bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

With origins as a consumer campaign three years ago, the new in-store associate Fight BAC! program uses catchy and repetitive slogans and labeling to remind grocery store employees about their role in reducing food safety risk factors in four different areas: time and temperature, personal hygiene, cross contamination and equipment sanitation.

“We all need to be vigilant and do our utmost to prevent food-borne illness,” said Ukrop Supermarkets chairman Jim Ukrop, who also leads the Food Marketing Institute’s food safety committee. Ukrop, who helped kick off the new Fight Bac! in-store program at the FMI Show on May 6 in Chicago, called supermarkets a line of defense in preventing foodborne illnesses.

Stores that subscribe to the program will receive almost two dozen self-adhesive signs in English or Spanish, followed by more materials every six months for two years. The signs are for display in employee restrooms, fresh-cut produce and meat preparation areas and supermarket delis. They ask store employees to “Fight Bac,” “Stop Bac in its Tracks” and to engage in “Hand-to-Hand Combat” by washing hands, food preparation utensils, equipment and surfaces.

Mei Mei Newsome, vice president of Porter Novelli, the Washington, D.C., public relations firm that tailored the Fight Bac! program for in-store use, said casual phrasing and slogans were used on purpose.

“We want to catch the associates off guard,” Newsome said. “We want them to say, ‘Wow!’ These messages will do that.”

Stephen McCauley, senior vice president for Porter Novelli, said the program is designed similar to a consumer advertising campaign and should get the attention of store employees.

“We know that we want to change their behavior, and the first step is getting them aware of the program,” McCauley said.

Fight Bac! was introduced as a consumer campaign three years ago by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, which includes FMI, the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and others.