“Wash your paws, Georgia!” This directive jumps out in bold orange writing at the top of a poster designed by the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension program.
None other than a friendly graphic bulldog then demonstrates proper hand washing protocol, all part of a UGA Extension campaign to reduce the spread of infectious diseases and foodborne illnesses at Georgia schools.
This initiative extends beyond print and into the classroom, where Family and Consumer Extension and 4-H agents visit to teach children about washing hands before meals and after going to the bathroom, as well as proper handwashing procedures.
The hand washing project is just one of many run by UGA Extension that help to reduce the risk of foodborne illness in local communities.
In another, UGA Extension researchers, along with those at Virginia Tech. and Clemson University, are investigating how to improve safety procedures on small and medium-sized farms. The aim is to ensure that local farms are ready to meet the growing demand for their food, especially to help those smaller growers who may not have the resources to become GAP-certified (Good Agricultural Practices), but who can still benefit from educational programs to ensure the safety of their products.
Researchers have already begun to survey farmers about their current production practices to assess where changes could to be made in order to enhance food safety. Dr. Judy Harrison, professor at UGA and an Extension Foods Specialist, defines the project’s goal: “We are looking for ways we can help farmers make sure that the products they are producing and selling are as safe as they can be.”
Eventually, researchers will produce a collection of materials on sanitary farming practices that Extension agents can take to their local farmers to help them become and remain marketable producers of safe food.
While Georgia’s Extension program does its best to effect positive change in surrounding communities, however, monetary constraints are doing their best to limit these effects. Due to recent budget cuts, UGA’s Cooperative Extension has lost 23 percent of its state funding over the past two years, and has lost 88 county extension agent positions. As Harrison explains, a reduction in the number of Extension agents ultimately means that consumers have less access to the help they need regarding food safety and nutrition, as well as many other areas that affect quality of life.
The recent cut in funding may hamper UGA Extension’s ability to promote food safety and other important issues, but it will not stop Extension’s research and outreach. In fact, the program has already reorganized to respond to its loss of agents, and continues to receive grants from outside organizations. It also has a number of helpful online resources, which can be found by visiting UGA Extension’s website at http://www.caes.uga.edu/extension/.
In true Bulldog spirit, UGA’s Cooperative Extension vows to continue to carry out the work for which it was designated at its 1914 founding .
For more information on the Wash Your Paws, Georgia initiative, visit http://www.fcs.uga.edu/outreach_archive.html and scroll down to “Wash Your Paws, Georgia!”
This article is part of an ongoing series on University Cooperative Extension Services and their efforts to promote food safety. To access the rest of the series, please click here.