Remarks prepared for delivery
by Jerold Mande, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, for
the 2010 FSIS-NSF Food Safety Education Conference, March 24, 2010, Atlanta, GA.
Good morning and thank you for joining us at this year's Food
Safety Education Conference. On behalf of Secretary Tom Vilsack
and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the President's
Food Safety Working Group, welcome to this important meeting.
This gathering of national leaders from government, education,
public health, industry, and consumer groups is one of the largest
and most influential meetings devoted to educating the public
about food safety. We're proud to host it, along with our partner
With the participation of more than 700 of you, the fact that
we are not just sold out but overbooked, and the wide-ranging,
exciting sessions we have planned, it's tempting to declare
the conference a success already.
But success for us isn't just about numbers or interest. It's
about results — in this case, reducing the risk and burden
of foodborne illness in America. Foodborne illness is largely
preventable and food preparer education and outreach provides
a significant solution.
At USDA we often talk about the path food takes from "farm
to table." Many important efforts in government and industry
are taking place to combat foodborne illness in the early and
middle parts of that path. But this meeting focuses uniquely
on the critical and often overlooked final step before the food
reaches the table — the role of the people who prepare
the food themselves — whether that's in a commercial establishment
or in the home.
I want to be clear. At FSIS we are focused every day on preventing
contaminated food from ever leaving the establishments we regulate,
and we have more work to do to make our food safe. But we must
also recognize that most contamination occurs after food products
leave federally regulated establishments. Even if FSIS and FDA
succeed in reducing illnesses from our establishments to zero,
there will still be millions of foodborne illnesses and hundreds
of deaths each year unless we succeed in changing the behavior
of food preparers.
Unless food preparers know how to safely handle, cook, serve,
store food, and avoid cross contamination, their ability to
protect the public and their families from microbiological food
safety risks is limited. Our diligent efforts to reduce pathogens
in processing facilities and transport will be less effective
unless consumers and food preparation employees understand such
food safety basics as how to use a food thermometer properly,
how to prepare meats and vegetables safely, and how to keep
food preparation surfaces clean.
When I was at FDA,
I led the design of the Nutrition Facts label that now appears
on virtually all packaged foods. That changed the way consumers
With food safety, we need to change the way people think about
food after they shop.
To do this, over the next three days, we'll explore a variety
of approaches, and how different groups can use them.
We must understand where food preparers are falling short in
food safety knowledge and motivation. How we can turn apathy
Where we find gaps we need to ask ourselves — how can
we better reach that audience?
You've heard the buzz about Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
People are using these social media tools both to network and
to get information. Social media and new communications technologies
give us new ways to provide health educators and many others
tools they can use to increase food safety awareness —
and vigilance — among the public. It's easy to trivialize
social media. But for food safety education, it is potentially
revolutionary. Here are some examples of how we might use it:
First, we might use social media to introduce food safety messages
into existing conversations. For example, Facebook and similar
sites provide food safety educators platforms where people voluntarily
associate. They are 21st century water coolers where information
is shared and received.
Second, we can reach out to groups actively seeking food safety
information. For example, people who have signed up for our
Tweets have chosen to receive our information — meaning
we have a direct line to people who have expressed concern about
food safety and are motivated to learn more about it. People
who find those messages useful share them with each other, multiplying
FSIS now has over 25,000 Twitter followers — people who
have made the positive statement that they want to receive food
safety content as a part of their daily information "diet."
We need to aggressively grow that number to create an effective
ability to spread the food safety message throughout the public.
Third, social media is immediate and personal — without
any mediation, we can send a message that directly reaches a
mom in Nebraska, a restaurant manager in Oregon, and a teacher
in Mississippi. No other medium allows us to do this.
Finally, we can use social media to rapidly reach Americans
affected by outbreaks and other food safety threats. For example,
we can send out information the moment a recall is announced
or when a coming storm creates a risk of power outage. It clearly
beats simply positing something on our Web site and hoping someone
We also need to reach multipliers like medical practitioners
and health educators because they already interact directly
with people most at risk.
The best outcome from this conference will be for you to go
home with the tools to leverage your efforts by using communication
strategies that amplify your message and get it to many more
Americans and thus be influential multipliers yourselves.
The future of public health is in our hands. Let's seize this
opportunity to network, share information, and find solutions
that improve food safety education and public health, and ultimately
reduce the number of foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations,
Take what you'll gain here — apply it, teach it, or convey
it to your colleagues and others — and you'll have realized
an important goal of this event.