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Training Teachers Helps Students Learn Food Safety

One way to teach kids about food safety and nutrition is to teach their teachers. That’s the idea behind a training program the Food and Drug Administration has been running for the past 15 years.

“Science and Our Food Supply” is a week-long program held in the summer that brings together teachers from all over the country who teach biology, chemistry, food science and health.

Its aim is to improve food safety and nutrition education in schools using a curriculum co-developed by FDA and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), which looks at the science behind issues such as foodborne illnesses.

The participants learn about the journey of food from farm to table, basic microbiology techniques, FDA’s role in regulating products, new research on food safety, nutrition and nutrition labeling, and food allergies.

This year, 32 teachers from 22 states participated and then returned to their own schools to teach the curriculum to students and hold day-long sessions to train their fellow teachers.

One teacher was Emma Dawe of Marriotts Ridge High School in Marriottsville, MD, whose classes include Food & Nutrition and Culinary Sciences.

“This information is incredibly important and relevant,” Dawe says. Education gets students ready for college and a career, and “this program takes it one step further by also helping to create informed consumers.”

One thing that surprised her about what she learned from FDA was how many foodborne illnesses are contracted every year despite advancements in science and technology.

She added that the program also opened her eyes to how many potential careers there are in the foodservice industry.

“Many people assume that a student who enrolls in Food & Nutrition wants to be a chef or go to culinary school, but this industry is so much larger than that,” she says. “It includes engineers who design new machines to scan for bacteria, microbiologists who track the spread of foodborne illnesses, and agricultural scientists who determine whether soil contains traces of Salmonella.”

Dawe says there are two experiments from the curriculum that she thinks students will really enjoy. For “Bacteria Everywhere,” students swab items that they think contain a large number of bacteria and then let their samples grow in a petri dish.

“Students are amazed where they do and do not find bacteria,” she says. “For example, they may think there would be a lot of bacteria on a light switch, but there might be more on the sink handle.”

For the other experiment, hamburger patties are cooked to different temperatures and then swabbed to see how much bacteria they contain. Teachers can tell their students that, if food isn’t handled, cooked or stored properly, it can make you sick, but the information is more valuable when they get to see firsthand how much bacteria is on undercooked food, Dawe says.

When “they see the process and get to play with science, it’s enjoyable and their learning comes full circle,” she says.

This year’s teachers are estimated to reach 3,200 new students and 640 additional teachers. To date, 652 teachers (from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and some U.S. Territories) have completed the weeklong training.

© Food Safety News