In addressing attendees of the 2014 Consumer Food Safety Education Conference in Arlington, VA, last week, Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the Food and Drug Administration, and Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Brian Ronholm praised the work of the Partnership for Food Safety Education and other food safety educators. “I say all the time that progress on food safety has to be a community-based enterprise,” Taylor said. “I applaud enormously the work that you do and I think this conference is fabulous because it brings that community together … to share best practices, to share what works, to build and strengthen that network that is so crucial to success on this topic.”

In addition to the work of regulators such as FDA and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), plus industry, an important aspect of the battle against foodborne illness is ensuring consumers have the information they need to protect their families at home, Ronholm said. “As evidenced during this conference, collaboration really is important to the success of our common goal of reducing foodborne illness,” he said. “Everyone here, especially the educators, are important mouthpieces for [food safety] messages and can help us refine these messages to make them more effective.” Ronholm also introduced two public service announcements that the Food Safe Families Campaign debuted last week. The ads focus on the need to separate raw meat from vegetables and to cook meat to the right temperature.

“The goal for these ads is to take an alternative, thought-provoking, and hopefully entertaining approach to remind consumers that foodborne pathogens that they can’t see can be harmful,” he said. Ronholm also told the audience that Food Safe Families had partnered with Walmart to have the PSAs shown at check-out screens during the holiday season. “In addition to being a major retailer, Walmart is the nation’s largest seller of groceries, so this provides a key outlet for reaching millions of consumers,” he said, adding that the goal is to frame the messages in a way so that consumers “enjoy it, embrace it, and then apply it at home.” USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has also been working to establish a partnership with the National Restaurant Association to get food safety messages out to chefs and consumers in order to avoid illnesses linked to undercooked meat at restaurants. Ronholm concluded his remarks by asking the community not to forget why food safety education is such an important public health issue. He told the story of Joshua Kaye, an 8-year-old boy from Braintree, MA, who loved baseball, pottery, raising money to help stranded dolphins, and Minecraft. Kaye died last summer after an E. coli 0157:H7 infection turned into hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which led to kidney failure. When meeting with Ronholm after their son’s passing, Kaye’s parents told him they had had no idea that such a severe illness could happen because of something as simple as a burger. “That’s what we face in educating consumers and that demonstrates the work we have to do,” Ronholm said. “Foodborne illness is preventable and education is a key component to prevention.”