In case you didn’t know: September is National Food Safety Education Month. Food Safety News recently had a chance to talk with Shelley Feist, the executive director of the Partnership for Food Safety Education, a long-time food safety education pioneer, about her organization’s role in promoting food safety this month.
What is the Partnership for Food Safety Education?
The Partnership for Food Safety Education brings together industry associations, consumer and public health groups and various government agencies–including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control–to educate the public about safe food handling and preparation.
Many of the major players in the food world are a part of the Partnership including the Consumer Federation of America, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Chicken Council, and the United Fresh Produce Association.
Feist explains that the partnership was created in reaction to the “very upsetting” Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak in 1993, which sickened hundreds and killed four children.
Even though the Jack in the Box outbreak highlighted problems in the supply chain and with improper food handling in the food service industry, the Partnership quickly made consumer food safety awareness a priority.
What does the Partnership for Food Safety Education do?
The Partnership for Food Safety Education promotes its mission by offering free, downloadable resources to consumers and educators, so that they can disseminate food safety information that is both consumer-friendly and science-based.
The Partnership creates focus group-tested, catchy, easy-to-use materials in a broad range of formats. They have brochures, activity sheets, and e-cards and they offer some materials in Spanish.
All of the downloadable resources convey important food safety information so intermediaries like teachers, public health officials, dietitians and food safety instructors can propagate simple yet important mantras like “clean, separate, cook and chill” and encourage cooking meat to the proper temperature.
The Partnership and National Food Safety Education Month
September is a big month for the Partnership. They see more traffic to their website, a sharp increase in educational material downloads, and a jump in media attention to food safety education.
In some ways, celebrating National Food Safety Education Month is simply a way for the Partnership to remind consumers and educators about the materials available on the Partnership for Food Safety Education website.
“We’re always looking for new ways to get the message out,” according to Feist, who notes the success of the Partnership’s recently-launched Home Food Safety Mythbusters campaign to promote Food Safety Education Month.
It seems to be working, stories about local celebrations of Food Safety month are popping up from Iowa to Florida to New Jersey, and Google Alerts has been abuzz with blog posts and articles discussing food safety issues all month.
“Mythbusters has been pretty popular,” says Feist, who explains that there is a big information gap when it comes to food safety.
“People want to do what reduces their risk, but there is a lot of misinformation. I view our job as making sure things are science-based, easy to understand, and easy to access,” adds Feist.
“What we find is that people are very cognizant of bacteria in food, but they aren’t always using the best practices. Many people think you can tell whether food is safe by looking at it, and you can’t,” says Feist. “We really push the use of thermometers.”
While Feist gets fired up about promoting common sense food safety practices, she understands that there are some who view the Partnership as simply transferring the burden to the consumer.
She disagrees. “Even if industry does everything they can–and sometimes they don’t–these are naturally-occurring pathogens. People need to know there is a kill step.”
Though the Partnership for Food Safety Education has led an effort to improve food safety education for several years, this September the increased attention to food safety issues is especially relevant as major food safety legislation makes its way through Congress. The House passed its version of food safety reform at the end of July, and a similar bill is expected to move in the Senate this fall.
The bill gives the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates 80 percent of the food supply, more authority to recall food, greater funding to carry out its mission, and it requires food facilities have food safety plans for their facilities.
Food Safety Education Month also conveniently coincides with back to school month for most children. According to Feist, there is a spike in downloads and a boost in sales from their online store–for items like the Fight Bac[teria] mouse pad–from parents and teachers who are gearing up for a new school year.
Overall, September has been a big month for food safety. Food Safety News launched, the United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Public Policy Conference and the Consumer Federation of America’s National Food Policy Conference focused on food safety reform in Washington, DC, and the Administration re-launched an updated version of www.foodsafety.gov.