The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is celebrating the first anniversary of Mobile Ask Karen (, a mobile app that “allows consumers to ask food safety questions at any time of day, instantly from their smartphones.”

ask_karen_sq-175.jpgUSDA created the mobile version of ‘Ask Karen,’ its existing virtual food safety representative, last May. Ask Karen offers food safety tips and answers consumers questions about food handling, preparation, and hand washing.   

“Making food safety information easily accessible to consumers when they most need it is an important tool in preventing foodborne illness. Mobile Ask Karen puts answers to food safety questions literally in consumers’ hands and helps them apply good food safety habits at home,” said USDA Under Secretary Dr. Elisabeth Hagen in a statement last week. “As people become more familiar with the content in Mobile Ask Karen, we believe it will help prevent foodborne illness caused by improper food handling.”

USDA said that in the past year traffic to Ask Karen has increased 15 fold, noting that more people now visit Ask Karen through mobile devices alone than visited the site through a web browser in the previous year.

AskKaren_MobileApp-220.jpgSome of the most frequently asked questions on the app include, “Can E. coli be associated with poultry?” and “At what temperatures do bacteria grow the fastest?”

The agency said 99 percent of consumers who use the app report that it answered their food safety questions. 

Both Mobile Ask Karen, which is optimized for iOS and Android devices, and the desktop-based Ask Karen are available 24 hours a day at or

Consumers can also email, chat with a live representative, or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline directly from the app. To use these features on the app, simply choose “Contact Us” from the menu. The live chat option and the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), are available in English and Spanish from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.