|Food Safety and Inspection
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
Consumer Education and InformationVolume 3, No. 2 1998
He's a slimy, big-toothed character, and he's starting to make his appearance around town, drool and all. He's BAC!And the Fight BAC! campaign is hitting the streets with the Four Simple Steps to Food Safety.
The Partnership for Food Safety Education distributed more than 30,000 Community Action Kits and 1,500 Supermarket Kits in March. In early May a nationwide teleconference sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reached out to extension agents and other educators with the latest information on the campaign.
According to Dagmar Farr of the Food Marketing Institute, word is already coming in about innovative ways their member supermarkets are using the materials.
According to Farr the Fight BAC! campaign is "really a remarkable example of different groups coming together and finding common ground. For the first time since we've been educating consumers, we have a consensus on messages. As a result, we're building on each other's efforts instead of going it alone," she said.
The campaign, which was launched last fall, is working this year to build awareness through the Action Kits, the website and an animated public service announcement which has been distributed nationally.
"As we move into the second year of the campaign," said Farr, "we'll be analyzing the effectiveness of this first year and looking for ways to improve the educational portion of the campaign. More than likely, we'll do a program for children in schools."
Both Action Kits include reproducible fact sheets, suggestions for community or store activities, sample newsletter articles and fact sheets and scripts for radio public service announcements. The Action Kits can be downloaded from the website (http://www.fightbac.org).
Industry groups have provided more than $500,000 in funding to date while other cooperators, such as federal agencies, are providing printing and distribution support.
Non-profit health, education and civic groups can use the materials free of charge. Organizations interested in using the Fight BAC! cartoon character in promotion or sales of products must pay a fee.
Food safety experts recognize that thorough cooking is one of the critical control points in preventing foodborne illness. The most accurate measure of thorough cooking is a cooking thermometer. The question is: "How do you persuade consumers to use a cooking thermometer whenever they cook?"
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) sought answers to that question through the use of consumer focus groups.
A report on the results of the focus group sessions indicates behavior change is possible and that some groups of people are more receptive than others to the idea of using a meat thermometer.
FSIS conducted the focus group sessions in November 1997. A total of six focus group sessions were held; three in Baltimore, Md., and three in Richmond, Va. The sessions explored barriers to thermometer use, managing the cooking process, choosing a thermometer, and modifying behavior. The focus groups were comprised of parents of young children, senior citizens, and 20-to 30-year-olds with no children.
While participants in both the young adult and senior citizen groups stated they would be very unlikely to change any behaviors, parents of young children indicated they would change to "ensure the safety of their children."
In addition, the report notes that "experience has shown that individuals may be more likely to change than they explicitly state."
The report suggests there are a number of ways to accomplish this goal:
Participants in all groups agreed that they felt safe about the food they served in their own kitchens without using a meat thermometer. Most said they judged doneness based on previous experience cooking the same food, or by how the food looked after it was cooked.
At the same time, many participants stated they would be more likely to use a thermometer if they were convinced it would enhance the flavor and quality of the meal they served.
The report also noted that people were most likely to use thermometers preparing holiday meals. In addition, people felt that large cuts of meats such as roasts or turkeys would benefit most from using a meat thermometer.
But many people were uncertain how to use a thermometer in smaller cuts of meat such as boneless chicken breasts or hamburgers typically served with ordinary meals. Susan Conley, director of the FSIS food safety education and communications staff, found the report encouraging.
"People can be convinced to use a meat thermometer," she said. "The focus groups told us that people are willing to use thermometers in large cuts of meat as a 'quality' issue. They feel they will have a better tasting product.
"We need to show consumers that you can also improve the quality--and safety--of small pieces of meat. Your pork chop or your hamburger doesn't have to taste like a hockey puck in order to be safe. Using a meat thermometer with everyday meals can help you do that."
The groups also felt it would be helpful to have information that stresses that using meat thermometers is easy. In addition, they suggested that recipes include the internal temperature for the cooked food, rather than the current practice of recommending cooking time and temperature.
In general, consumer knowledge of thermometer types, features and options was limited. Participants in all groups overwhelmingly favored the standard meat thermometer with the large dial and temperature information printed on the thermometer face.
Thermometers and turkeys were going fast last Thanksgiving in Boulder, Co. As part of a holiday food safety promotion, the Safeway grocery store chain teamed up with the local health department to pass out free thermometers along with fliers on safe food handling.
The campaign gave away close to 630 thermometers--donated by Safeway and the health department--and provided safe food handling information to more than 1,500 consumers.
The program was developed by Boulder County Environmental Health Coordinator Sharon Krull. Realizing that consumers always ask questions about how to prepare turkeys, Krull decided to take advantage of their interest to educate them about safe food handling and thermometer use.
Working with Safeway, she arranged a portable educational booth, which moved to six different stores over a 6-day period.
But Krull's not finished. She's planning a follow-up effort with Safeway before the 4th of July. They'll be showing consumers how to use meat thermometers when grilling hamburgers.
For more information, call 303/441-1197.
|The Hotline, part of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, provides accurate, up-to-date information to callers on safe food handling and the prevention of foodborne illness. Home economists, registered dietitians and food technologists staff this public health service.|
Supporting the Fight BAC! campaign, the USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline is using the Four Simple Steps to Food Safety as the topics for their quarterly mailings to the media.
This summer's mailing stresses SEPARATE: Don't Cross-Contaminate.
The media package includes an activity sheet for kids, a general feature article, and an info-graphic.
Key tips for this Food Safety Step include:
For copies of these materials visit our website at http://www.usda.gov/fsis.
Summer is just starting and September's Food Safety Month campaign seems a world away. But not for the planners of things. They know it's never too soon to plan.
This year the federal government will be joining the National Restaurant Association (NRA) in bringing attention to food safety issues through Food Safety Month.
Supporting the Fight BAC! campaign, the message for this year's Food Safety Month will be CLEAN, one of the Four Simple Steps to Food Safety.
The NRA is preparing a packet of materials to help educate restaurants about the importance of CLEAN. Federal agencies will focus on explaining the CLEAN message to consumers, consumer educators and school children.
Information materials are being mailed out to NRA members and distributed at their annual convention in May. For information on the NRA materials call 800/765-2122.
For consumer information for Food Safety Month, check out the next issue of this newsletter as well as the new federal website for food safety information (http://www.foodsafety.gov). It will be updated later this summer with more news about the consumer education campaign.
A variety of food safety experts addressed this question as panelists at the 21st National Food Policy Conference sponsored by Public Voice, March 23-24, 1998, in Washington, D. C.
The panel featured experts from federal agencies, a consumer group, a state health department and an industry group.
While the panelists agreed the question was difficult to answer because of the lack of reliable scientific data, each had an interesting perspective to add:
Dr. Fred Angulo, Project Officer, FoodNet, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "I can't say for certain food is less safe" Dr. Angulo said, " I can say there are more cases reported."
Dr. Angulo noted that the characteristics of foodborne disease have changed: there are new pathogens, new modes of transmission, a global food supply, changing consumer preferences and food choices, and new issues related to antibiotic resistance.
The question, Dr. Angulo said, is how to respond to these changes. Learning from experiences with typhoid, he noted that improvements in sanitation and hygiene helped reduce disease. Similarly, he said, "we need to prevent pathogens from getting into the food supply" and new programs aimed at reducing animal feces in the food supply are an important part of the solution.
Thomas Billy, Administrator, Food Safety and Inspection Service: "Is our food supply less safe than a generation ago? This is a very difficult question to answer. In terms of chemical residues, I can say without a doubt that food is safer. We've made great progress in terms of bringing chemical residue levels down to record lows.
"In terms of pathogens, however, the answer is a bit more complicated, largely because of many of the changes that have occurred since a generation ago," Billy said.
Societal changes have complicated the situation, he explained. More meals are eaten outside the home, grocery stores are selling meals ready to eat, global trade is growing and so is the proportion of individuals who face increased risks for foodborne illness.
The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system is a new process designed to address these changes. In addition, FSIS recently set the first performance standards for pathogen reduction and expects to set more. Also, Billy said, "we have better programs in place to investigate and respond to outbreaks of foodborne illness. We are more vigilant to emerging pathogens."
Overall, Billy said, "we have established the partnerships necessary to implement a farm-to-table food safety strategy."
Limited data make it difficult to judge if food is less safe, Billy pointed out. "But I believe the food supply is safer in terms of our basic knowledge about food safety, our achievements in implementing process control systems in food production, and our ability to detect problems and respond to outbreaks of foodborne illness."
Joseph Levitt, Director, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration: "The question is interesting and provocative," said Levitt, "but I'm not sure it's the right question." A better question, he said, would be "Is our food as safe as we can make it--and are we poised to act as we need to?"
Referring to President Clinton's Food Safety Initiative, Levitt noted that this effort is focusing on the entire food chain.
As part of the Initiative, FDA is moving forward with HACCP for seafood as well as inspections of seafood plants.
In addition, he noted, FDA is focusing on good agricultural practices for fruits and vegetables and will be looking for public comment on issues dealing with sanitation, water and the use of manure.
"We also have the public education Fight BAC! campaign. We're going to be going to the schools with this message. We're going to make COOK, CLEAN, CHILL, and SEPARATE staples of American society," he promised.
Key concepts, said Levitt, are prevention, education and verification. "But we also need early detection and containment," he added.
"It's not going to come easily. A lot of work and a lot of energy is going into this.... Is the problem real? We think it is. Are we doing something? Yes.
"Most of all, it is a rare moment in time when the President of the United States says 'Go out there and improve the safety of the food supply. ' That's an incredibly strong message. It's like all the planets are lining up... and we have to take advantage of it."
Dr. Craig Hedberg, Supervisor, Foodborne Disease Unit, Minnesota Department of Health: Drawing on data from the FoodNet surveillance system, Dr. Hedberg noted there are an estimated 1.4 foodborne illnesses per person every year. Compared with previous studies, which were limited in scope, this could indicate a 40-percent increase in incidences.
In looking for causes, Dr. Hedberg pointed to chicken as well as fruits and vegetables. With the rise of chicken consumption, Dr. Hedberg noted, "we've seen a rise in Campylobacter, the most common cause of diarrheal illness."
And while it is "heart healthy" to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, Dr. Hedberg said, "we've seen a marked increase" in outbreaks associated with these foods in Minnesota.
Carol Tucker Foreman, Coordinator, Safe Food Coalition: "Our food supply is not safe enough" said Foreman. While the government was slow to recognize the situation, she said, "the good news is we've begun to address the problem."
Foreman pointed to "three vital steps."
First, she said, "we need more research on preventing illness and tracking and destroying known and emerging pathogens.
"We don't have the basic information necessary. Risk assessment will help. And then we need a whole range of new technologies to prevent and control pathogens," she said. Some of the technologies include "real-time tests for pathogens, even those that could be used by consumers at home," she said, as well as temperature abuse tabs on packages of meat, poultry and eggs.
Second, Foreman said, "we need to stay the course" on inspection changes that focus on preventing problems rather than finding them after the fact. The changes underway, she said, alter the basic concept of what it means to have a safe food supply. "Hundreds of reporters are champing at the bit to report it doesn't work.... But what I want to tell them is, we've already crossed the road. We can't go back," she said.
Finally, she said, we need to shore up food safety at both ends of the production chain--farms and consumers. At the farm level, she said, we need to stop contamination at the earliest possible point. Foreman also pointed out the need to be able to track food back to farm sources.
In terms of consumers, she added, "let's all understand here. No one is ever going to take as much care of us as we take care of ourselves. Self-defense is essential."
Foreman added that she was impressed with the new Fight BAC! campaign sponsored by the Partnership for Food Safety Education.
"It's a well-researched effort, a catchy cartoon character and four well-researched messages. The next challenge is to see the icon show up everywhere. Now it is primarily distributed by industry and government. That's not enough. We need to make sure the character and four messages become as ubiquitous as the Nike swosh and McDonald's arches....
"We are bombarded every day with thousands of messages. This is a message that people can use to save their lives," she said.
Dane Bernard, Vice President, Food Safety, National Food Processors Association: Is food less safe? Bernard asked. How you answer that question, he said, depends on your own experiences. He answered by providing the audience with a look over his shoulder to life on his family's farm as a boy in southern Indiana.
Milk was drawn fresh from the cow out in the barn--a working barn complete with dirt, cow manure and a lot of other "four-legged things" that accompany animals and grain storage.
Meat was often provided through the "butcher's circle." Farmers from the surrounding community would pool their resources and go from farm to farm to slaughter cattle for their own use.
While many today would question the safety of unpasteurized milk and home-slaughtered cattle, Bernard and his family followed many food safety basics, like thorough cooking. The point, he said, is that the data don't allow us to make valid comparisons. The important thing to remember, he added, is that "there will never be a system in place that will obviate the need for consumers to handle food safely."
"Is the media our ally? You bet," said Susan Conley, director of the FSIS food safety education and communications staff.
As part of a workshop on the media held during the National Food Policy Conference, Conley assessed the role of the media in the food safety arena.
"Food safety is a complicated story and media coverage has helped to shape the public debate," she said.
As an example, she pointed to a story on Salmonella and chicken in the late 1980's aired by "60 Minutes."
People point to the 1993 outbreak of E. coli O157: H7 as the "moment of change in the food safety dialogue," she said. "But I submit that the change started earlier, with the '60 Minutes' story. It was an amazing turning point. Prior to that, the primary public food safety concern was chemical residues. This story began to create awareness and turn the debate to foodborne pathogens.
"It was a hard time, the agency was under a lot of criticism. But in the long run, this show and subsequent media stories on pathogens helped create the environment we are in today and the changes we are making.
"The media has had a huge role, as have consumer groups and activists. But the conduit has been the media," she pointed out.
Because of the media's impact on consumers, Conley stressed that it is critical for the media to include advice about what consumers can do to protect themselves when they cover stories about food safety issues.
"A lot of reporters feel they have already provided this information, but they need to cover it again and again to reinforce the basics," she said.
Our world is different today. That's the message from Nobel laureate Dr. Joshua Lederberg, keynote speaker at the 1997 National Conference on Emerging Foodborne Pathogens.
According to Dr. Lederberg, we are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. While we have the advantage of new technologies we are also more vulnerable due to a number of factors including crowding, social stratification and even world travel. "Affluent and mobile people are ready, willing, and able to carry afflictions all over the world within 24 hours' notice," he said.
"This condensation, stratification and mobility is unique, defining us as a very different species from what we were 100 years ago," he said.
As a result, Dr. Lederberg called for a global public health approach to the threats posed by microbial foodborne illness.
Dr. Lederberg was one of many national and international experts whose presentations are included in a Special Issue of the journal of Emerging Infectious Disease (Vol. 3, No. 4 Oct. -Dec. 1997). The issue summarizes the conference and takes a comprehensive look at foodborne pathogens.
The conference was held in Alexandria, Va., March 24-26, 1997. It was attended by more than 400 scientists in basic and applied research, epidemiology and public health.
One of the purposes of the conference was to target ways to identify and respond to emerging and reemerging foodborne disease threats.
As a result, this information-rich Special Issue covers subjects of interest to the scientific community as well as public health educators.
Topics covered in the journal, produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), include:
Conference organizers hope that the publication of conference presentations and discussions in this journal will "stimulate initiatives to improve the safety of food and draw much needed attention to foodborne microbial hazards."
Emerging Infectious Diseases is published four times a year by the National Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC. The journal is available at no charge and is distributed both electronically and in hard copy.
Access the journal at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/eid.htm or write:
1600 Clifton Rd.
Atlanta, GA 30333
The following excerpt provides a look back to the era before World War II--and a generation that lived with different food safety risks, practices and remedies.
E. M. Foster, Professor Emeritus
Food Research Institute
University of Wisconsin
"When I was growing up on my parents' farm in East Texas, we never thought about food poisoning or unsafe food. The only foods we bought were sugar, salt, flour and oatmeal; everything else we produced and preserved on the farm.
"My mother spent all summer canning fruits and vegetables for winter. We had no refrigeration; we cured our own meat and drank raw milk. But I never heard of botulism, staph poisoning, or salmonellosis or perfringens poisoning until I studied bacteriology in college.
"Only then did I wonder how we survived with no refrigeration in a hot climate. Finally, the answer came to me. We just did not give the bacteria time enough to develop so they could hurt us.
"Leftovers from breakfast--hot biscuits, eggs, ham, bacon or sausage, oatmeal, coffee or milk--went right out to the chickens. Lunch leftovers-- biscuits, cornbread, vegetables, or fried chicken--were saved for a cold supper 4 or 5 hours later. Any food left went to the pigs. The bacteria had only a maximum of 3 or 4 hours to grow, and that usually is not enough. I survived and went on to study food microbiology, which included what was known then about food poisoning."
The National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI) provides training for food service people running USDA's child nutrition programs.
Some of their publications are also available to others in food service. Two of their great training tools now available:
This program is a terrific deal while supplies last. For only $10 (plus shipping) you get a computer-based interactive training program developed for school food service people--along with a complete notebook of supporting materials.
An animated computer program literally walks you through the process of safely handling food in schools, letting the user perform all the tasks necessary to prepare the school meal and check their food safety knowledge as they do it.
The program has been distributed to schools in the National School Lunch Program. Now, about 1,000 extras are available to others who might be interested. The publication number is FCS-295.
Developed for child care programs, these training materials provide child care workers with a broad range of information including food safety and sanitation, nutrition and basic food preparation techniques for young children.
There are 10 video lessons and materials for 48 training sessions. One of the videos and four of the lessons focus specifically on food safety and sanitation in child care.
The publication number is EX 26-97. The cost is $45, plus shipping.
For more information on both programs, call 1/800-321-3054.
A Scientific Status Summary on Irradiation of Food appeared in the January issue of Food Technology, Vol. 52, No. 1, published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).
The Summary notes that "The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval of irradiation for red meats in December 1997 ended a long chapter in the tumultuous history of an important food safety and preservation technology. Federal acceptance validates what food scientists have long known: that appropriate absorbed doses of radiation effectively kill disease-causing bacteria and delay food spoilage."
The article was written by Dennis G. Olson, director of the Utilization Center for Agricultural Products at Iowa State University. It focuses on the effects of irradiation, the impact of irradiation on "muscle foods," and detection of irradiated foods.
Olson notes that "new challenges awaiting resolution include safely and successfully implementing irradiation of the meat and poultry processing industries; maintaining the quality of raw, irradiated meats; developing packaging suitable for irradiation; developing methods to detect irradiated foods; and educating the public about the wholesomeness of foods made safer by irradiation."
For more information, contact IFT at 312/782-8424 (www.ift.org).
The new federal website for food safety information. Check it out.
A nationwide consumer awareness program on food irradiation was launched in April by the Grocery Manufacturers of America, Food Marketing Institute and the American Farm Bureau Federation. The program is due to run for a year. For more information, call 202/452-8444.
A recent issue of the FDA Consumer magazine provided some useful information on food safety including:
The article appeared in the November-December 1997 issue. FDA Consumer comes out quarterly and is free. For more information check their web site (http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/list.html). Or call the FDA's Food Information and Seafood Hotline at 1/800-FDA-4010.
Whether serving food at a church supper or cooking out under the stars, food preparers need to know how to serve food safely. Why is this important?
Traditional foodborne illness outbreaks often follow a church supper, family picnic, wedding reception, or other social event, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Two training programs from Wyoming Extension focus on two common social settings: fund-raising dinners and camping.
Food Safety for Fund-raisers is a video and guide that shows how to use a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points process to identify the points where food safety problems could occur.
Safe Food for Outfitters is also a video and guide. It targets organizers of camping excursions. The video includes advice on how to keep foods chilled--and away from bears! It also has sanitation tips and techniques for filtering out waterborne parasites like giardia.
Both training programs are available for $20 each. Call 307/766-4145. Or write:
University of Wyoming
P. O. Box 3354
Laramie, WY 82071-3354
The Educational Foundation of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) has announced a new food safety training program based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system.
The program, titled A Practical Approach to HACCP, provides restaurant operators with the tools to design, implement and maintain a HACCP system in their restaurants.
The program includes four videos covering:
The videos run from 12 to 20 minutes and cost $89 each. There are also two course books, one for participants and one for the instructor. Each runs $45. Finally, the program includes six HACCP posters, $10 each.
For more information, contact the Education Foundation at 800/765-2122.
An Ounce of Prevention Keeps the Germs Away is the title of a new flyer jointly produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in partnership with the maker of LYSOL® brand products.
An Ounce of Prevention is designed to teach the general public, especially families with children ages 1 to 12, simple and inexpensive ways to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. These steps are:
For a free brochure, call 1/800-995-9765.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA's TARGET Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice and TDD).
To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W Whitten, Building, 14th and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice or TDD). USDA is an equal employment opportunity provider and employer.
The Food Safety Educator is produced by the Food Safety Education and Communications Staff of the Food Saftey and Inspection Service, USDA.
For Further Information Contact:
FSIS Food Safety Education Staff
Dianne Durant, Writer/Editor
Phone: (301) 504-9605
Fax: (304) 504-0203
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