Is food safe if left out overnight? Which is safer — a wooden cutting board or a plastic one? Should chicken be washed before it is cooked?


Those are some of the questions most frequently directed to Ask Karen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)  virtual food-safety adviser.

Now Karen is available in mobile format, following Thursday’s launch of a Web-based smartphone application. Using Mobile Ask Karen, just like using Ask Karen from a desktop or laptop computer, consumers can search for nearly 1,500 answers by topic or by product.

With an iOS (iPhone and iPad) or Android device, it’s also possible to chat live with a food safety expert on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. EST, and the web-based app provides the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline number (1-888-MPHotline) in order to speak to someone directly.

Mobile Ask Karen can “answer your food safety questions at the grocery store, in your kitchen, or at your barbecue grill,” writes Diane Van, manager of the hotline on the Keep Food Safe Blog.  “Hopefully, by sending Karen out to picnics, farmers markets, and backyard cookouts via people’s smart phones, she’ll be able to reduce the number of foodborne illnesses that usually increase in the summer months.”

To start using Mobile Ask Karen, go to on your phone’s browser or go to to get the QR code to scan into your iOS or Android-powered device.