One out of six Americans will get sick this year from foodborne illnesses, says a new television commercial.

And 3,000 will die, according to a radio spot.

Many in the food-safety community know these facts, but lots of people do not.

Who is spreading this news?


None other than the Food Safe Families campaign, a project of the Ad Council and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The campaign, which began last year, received complete coverage June 29 in a Food Safety News story by Gretchen Goetz.

Federal food safety agencies have long used public service announcements, but most have been childish and, for sure, not anything that would give the food industry any stomach aches. In the past, those PSAs avoided the simple truth that food poisoning is about illness and death. 

An example of those can be found on FSIS’s area of YouTube. Called “The Cooking Challenge,” it had a team of girls lose to a team of boys in properly preparing some kind of frozen food.  “We failed,” say the girls, who did not read the food industry’s instructions on the package. Thankfully, there were no spankings.

The Food Safe Family spots are much smarter and more direct. They don’t just say that something “icky” might happen.  They say people are going to get sick and die, so listen up about avoiding cross contamination or keeping kitchen surfaces clean.

Why is this new campaign so much better?

Some might think the Food Safe Families campaign is more honest because the private nonprofit Ad Council gets private sector talent involved and – presto – a better product emerges.   

That may be true, but this is probably not the first time the Ad Council has been brought in to do a food safety campaign. My bet is that somewhere in here is someone with some political backbone. This an effort that deserves to be rewarded, and I am going to tell you how to do it.

It as simple as this. If you like these PSAs, why not help us get more of them aired?

Public service announcements run in time slots donated by commercial TV and radio stations. Generally speaking, station managers or the minions they’ve assigned to PSAs give preference to local organizations. But after that – and this is the secret – most stations run national PSAs that are either trendy or that they’ve been asked to run by their listening audience.

If all of you who care about getting this kind of a food safety message out would just send your commercial stations an email telling them where they can find these spots and encouraging them to give them some time slots, the PSAs will get airtime. (The station can go to “Get Ads” for the spots in the chosen format. They are free to the radio and tv stations.) Just be nice when you ask!

Helping get them some airtime is a great way to thank those who showed some spine by equating foodborne illness with sickness and death. Outside your community’s Children’s Hospital, you’d be surprised at how many people do not know that 128,000 people will be hospitalized and 3,000 people will die in 2012 from what they eat.