|Food Safety and Inspection
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
Consumer Education and Information
Vol. 8, No. 2, 2003
Coming your way! The USDA Food Safety Mobile. Launched by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa A. Murano in March 2003, the Food Safety Mobile is part of USDA’s new, high-visibility food safety education initiative.
The USDA Food Safety Mobile is now on a nationwide tour to educate consumers about the importance of safe food handling. The 35-foot vehicle—and its eye-popping food safety messages—are heading for communities across the country.
Destined to turn heads as it treks down the highways, the Mobile is covered with graphics and features the notorious BAC!—the foodborne bacteria that can make people sick.
As the graphics show, BAC! is beaten back by Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.
The USDA Food Safety Mobile is traveling throughout the continental United States, appearing at state and county fairs, schools, libraries, grocery stores, community events, parades, festivals, cooperative extension offices, and special events sponsored by USDA.
At the vehicle’s launch, Agriculture Secretary Veneman said, “The tour and the Mobile will help educate millions of people about the risks associated with mishandling food and how they can reduce their risks of foodborne illness.”
Under Secretary Murano emphasized that “foodborne illness is preventable. We want to empower consumers through education, and the USDA Food Safety Mobile will provide us with face-to-face access to millions of consumers.”
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is moving aggressively against foodborne pathogens at every step along the farm-to-table continuum, she said.
This dynamic, new food safety education initiative is just one example of the agency’s commitment to public health, Murano explained.•
The USDA Food Safety Mobile is only one part of the package of resources available for educators.
Here’s what we do:
Once educators schedule the Mobile for a visit, FSIS will send a “local educator’s” kit including:
But that’s not all. When the Mobile comes, it’s fully equipped to help make the event a success. That means it will have:
Here’s what local educators do:
For stops on the core schedule, FSIS will take the lead, but rely on local educators.
“We know local people are the heart of food safety education. So we have been calling on them when we are scheduled to stop in their towns. We look to them for their good advice and partnership,” according to Susan Conley, director of food safety education for FSIS.
Stops off the core schedule depend entirely on local educators. They take the lead on promoting, executing, and staffing local events.
“Local educators are doing these kinds of events all of the time. The USDA Food Safety Mobile will just make their job a lot easier—and a lot more fun! Just imagine the Mobile pulling up to your town fair. It’s a certified head-turning magnet for kids,” Conley said.•
The USDA Food Safety Mobile is 35 feet long, 8.5 feet wide, 11 feet tall, and weighs about 23,000 pounds.On site, a 20-foot by 40-foot area would be a good size to accommodate displays and demonstrations.
Using a site that can be seen from the road would maximize the Mobile’s potential to attract people with its graphics. At night, a well-lit area is useful as the Mobile has limited external lighting.•
To request a visit, check to see when the Mobile will be in your region by going to: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/foodsafetymobile
Check the touring schedule on the Web site and send suggestions for upcoming visits this year and or upcoming years.
E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (301) 504-9605.•
While the USDA Food Safety Mobile is heading everywhere from the Indianapolis 500 to Cheyenne Frontier Days, no town is too small to schedule a visit.
“We’re encouraging local educators to contact us. We have a set core schedule, but anything is possible for events along the way,” according to Conley.
Educators can check the tour schedule of the USDA Food Safety Mobile by going to: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/foodsafetymobile
The Mobile is a “rolling billboard for food safety messages and a great backdrop to your educational programs,” Conley said.•
There are no simple answers to the problem posed by foodborne illness, said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa A. Murano, speaking before the First World Congress on Food Irradiation in May 2003.
Quoting American critic and essayist H. L. Mencken, Murano said “‘For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat, and wrong.’
“I believe his words ring true as we debate how to break the cycle of foodborne illness,” she continued. “There is no one solution, and there are no simple answers.
“We also know that we are aiming for the proverbial ‘moving target.’ That is the nature of public health. As knowledge improves, new problems are identified, and new methods to reduce hazards are available, our strategies must change as well.”
|Irradiation Web Links for Educators
From the USDA/FDA Foodborne Illness Education Information Center—
“I believe that irradiation offers us an important tool in our fight against foodborne illness. But it is just that—another tool, not the only tool available,” she said.
Irradiation is one strategy, Murano said, that fits into a broader strategy based on:
The decision to approve decontamination methods is based on whether the technology is safe and effective, she said.
“Irradiation meets both of these criteria. Irradiation has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for meat and poultry, as well as for a variety of other foods. Irradiation has been endorsed and supported by many highly respected public health organizations....In fact, it is one of the most thoroughly researched processes in existence,” she said.
The 2002 Farm Bill, Murano continued, contained provisions related to new food pasteurization processes, such as irradiation. The Farm Bill mandated that foods that are made safer by approved technologies be made available through the National School Lunch Program. One of those approved technologies is irradiation.
The Farm Bill also charged the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) with the responsibility for educating the public about procedures—such as irradiation—to reduce pathogen levels in meat and poultry, Murano explained.
FSIS is exploring partnerships with universities around the country to educate the educators about irradiation, she said, as well as developing a new brochure that will be tested with focus groups.
“We know from calls to our Meat and Poultry Hotline that consumers have questions. These questions range from whether hamburgers can be served ‘rare’ if irradiated ground beef is used, to what type of labeling is required for irradiated products,” Murano said.
These questions are to be expected, she said. “Even though irradiation is not a new technology it is certainly more widespread now. We must respect the consumers’ right to choose what he or she wants to purchase, and that is why the labeling requirement is so important.
“At the same time it’s clear that we must educate the public so they can make informed decisions.”
There are two points, Murano said, that are “imperative that we make in our education programs.”
To read the speech, go to: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/oa/speeches/2003/em_irrad.htm
To access proceedings from the First World Congress on Irradiation, go to: http://www.foodsafe.msu.edu •
Did You Know...
According to the irradiation industry, it is now supplying irradiated ground beef to more than 7,000 stores nationwide and 2,000 restaurants, including a major food chain.
Food safety experts need to look beyond current assumptions concerning the farm-to-table continuum, according to USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa A. Murano.
In a speech titled “Breaking the Cycle of Foodborne Illness” delivered in February 2003, Murano said, “I would like to expand on the meaning of the phrase ‘farm-to-table,’ and illustrate how it applies to the goal of improving food safety....”
“For a variety of reasons, some of them having to do with jurisdictional authorities, FSIS [Food Safety and Inspection Service] is focused on the processing phase of the meat and poultry chain.” As a result, she said, other areas—such as animal production, transportation, product distribution, and storage—are underserved.
As Murano explained, “our efforts are akin to a partially opened umbrella that certainly is not providing as much public protection as possible. Well, we need to open the umbrella to cover the entire food chain,” she said.
Bridging gaps may include focusing on animal production.
“Granted, FSIS does not have jurisdiction over ranches or feedlots. However, we have the expertise necessary to develop guidelines for critical steps in the process. I think it is time that we considered such a step, and we need the help of producers to develop such guidelines,” she added.
In addition, Murano called for all interested parties to come together to develop a central, state-of-the art source for the development of risk assessment.
“It is getting increasingly difficult to manage a threat when we are unsure of its pervasiveness. Risk assessment provides this vital element,” she said.
Another element in reducing pathogens, she said, needs to be the application of validated decontamination methods throughout the farmto-table continuum.
“Once these technologies prove successful, then they need to be approved in a fast-track manner so they can be implemented to protect consumers as soon as possible,” she said.
“We have a historic opportunity to not only do what is right, but to do what is needed,” Murano concluded.
To read the entire speech, go to: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/oa/speeches/2003/em_coex.htm •
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) funds food safety education projects for animal and egg producers through state cooperative agreements.
The agreements encourage education regarding food safety measures that can be taken on the farm and cover a variety of topics, including the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, microbial pathogens, drug residues, biosecurity, and quality assurance programs.
The agreements provide funding to a variety of stakeholders, including food animal producers, veterinarians, and public health personnel. Examples of projects in recent years include:
• Indiana has focused on developing an Animal Production Food Safety partnership with three teams—one each for poultry, dairy, and beef. Each team develops an educational program focusing on quality assurance targeted to the differing needs of their animal producers. A new initiative in 2003 seeks to link production practices with problems surfacing in packing houses.
• Nebraska has targeted information to food animal producers and their families, involving them in a preharvest food safety network. They have worked with extension educators, 4-H, and veterinarians. Their quality assurance education programs include a leader’s guide, a handbook for youth, a video, and a “learning laboratory” kit of materials to be used in hands-on activities.
• The New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program is a model program that integrates the best management practices based on a comprehensive risk assessment of herd health and current management practices. New York used FSIS funding to support the position of coordinator for the program.
According to New York’s cooperators, “a new approach is required to meet the numerous future challenges faced by the livestock production industry.... Producers and responsible agencies will have to establish preventative intervention strategies to maintain confidence in the food supply.”
At the same time, New York’s project recognizes that pathogen reduction programs must be designed with flexibility to accommodate a wide array of risks—a key concept in their program design.
• Oregon’s cooperators note that quality assurance programs have tended to focus on drug and chemical residue avoidance.
However, “with a growing public and government concern for other food safety issues, like foodborne pathogens and transmission of antibiotic resistance from food animal groups to humans, the time has come for a major education effort in that direction,” according to the program’s authors.
|On-Farm Food Safety Resources.
The Foodborne Illness Education Information Center has a database of
resources as well as a Web page devoted to animal health and food safety on
the farm. Go to:
Oregon’s initiative educates producers of food animals about pathogen reduction strategies, with a special emphasis on strategies that are broad in scope and have potential for controlling multiple pathogens.
• Vermont ranks first in New England in livestock production. Its initiative is designed to promote awareness of food safety among people involved in all phases of animal production, including transport, marketing, and processing. It has also focused educational outreach to dairy producers, providing intensive training to some and mass mailing of educational materials to others.
To learn more, go to: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OPPDE/animalprod/partners/descriptions.htm •
Dr. Garry McKee signs the agreement, while Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa Murano and Surgeon General Richard Carmona look on.
Under a new agreement, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is significantly expanding the number of public health officers detailed to the agency from the U. S. Public Health Service’s Commissioned Corps.
Approximately 30 additional officers are being detailed to all program areas nationwide.
According to FSIS Administrator Garry McKee, the officers will share their scientific and technical knowledge with FSIS employees, while gaining a more comprehensive public health background working alongside their FSIS counterparts.
The U. S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is a uniformed service of more than 6,000 health professionals who serve in many agencies with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as other federal agencies. The Surgeon General is the head of the Commissioned Corps.
According to McKee, the additional public health officers “will provide a level of expertise and professionalism in specialized areas that are key to protecting health.”
In addition, flexible deployment rules for public health officers allow them to rapidly be reassigned to shifting priorities, such as outbreaks of foodborne illness.
McKee said the officers will work in a variety of areas, including homeland security, workforce development, and meeting critical priorities and needs. •
Norovirus, also known as Norwalklike viruses, may be the leading cause of foodborne illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is now thought that at least 50 percent of all foodborne outbreaks of gastroenteritis can be attributed to noroviruses.
Familiar to many as the culprit causing illness among cruise lines in 2002, the viruses can be transmitted by food, or person to person. They can be tough to stamp out and persistent problem makers.
According to CDC, most outbreaks are likely to arise through direct contamination of food by a food handler immediately before it is eaten. Food and drink can easily become contaminated because it may take fewer than 100 norovirus particles to make a person sick.
Outbreaks have frequently been associated with cold foods, including various salads, sandwiches, and bakery products.
To help reduce norovirus-related illnesses, CDC has a new Web site (http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/revb/gastro/norovirus.htm) with:
The site also includes a 24-page publication called “Norwalk-like Viruses: Public Health Consequences and Outbreak Management.” •
Food safety educators from 20 nations were among the participants at the September 2002 conference Thinking Globally, Working Locally: A Conference on Food Safety Education.
Their participation was just one indicator of the growing presence of food safety education globally. From New Zealand to the Netherlands, health educators are turning their attention to safe food and safe water.
The Food Safety Educator will be highlighting some of these initiatives to reinforce the link between educators globally.
Addressing the issue of international food safety, USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Elsa Murano has suggested that one solution is “the education of all individuals who are involved in producing, transporting, and preparing food, from farm to table....Consumers aren’t the only ones who need education.”
Education for farmers in developing nations is important, she added. “These folks need this information not only to enhance their competitiveness in selling their crops abroad, but for the well-being of the populations they feed, which certainly includes their own families,” she said. •
|Web Sites of Interest to International Educators
Several times each year, meat and poultry inspection officials from dozens of countries head to College Station, Texas to learn about the U.S. inspection system from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
The FSIS Training and Education Center in Texas hosts a three-week seminar typically made up of 35 participants representing 25 countries in the Americas, Asia, and Eastern and Western Europe.
Attended annually by more than 100 foreign government inspection officials, the seminar has been such a success that 11 FSIS employees managing the program were presented with USDA Honor Awards this summer.
The Meat and Poultry Inspection Seminar Team was presented the award which recognized, in part, the role that the seminar plays in improving public health internationally.
According to Kurt Krusekopf of the Center, a primary goal of the seminar is to provide an understanding of U.S. meat and poultry regulations and new initiatives.
A major emphasis is on the FSIS Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system and Pathogen Reduction initiatives. Along with information about slaughter inspection, the seminar also covers animal production and import and export procedures.
But there is more to the seminar than classroom learning. Participants go out into the field almost every day. Visits include an animal science center studying animal feed as well as animal waste management, production facilities, processing and slaughter plants, warehouses, and import and export facilities.
As one participant noted, the training has broad potential impact: “The topics on compliance, import/export, pathogen reduction, HACCP, and regulations are very important and can be adopted in our country to make our system more responsive to the challenging times of global competitiveness and become effective tools in promoting public health that will benefit our meat-consuming public.”
For more information on the program, go to: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OFO/HRDS/INTERNAT/seminar/overview.html •
Thinking globally, working locally perfectly describes the job performed by the Pan American Institute for Food Safety, a special Center of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)-World Health Organization.
With a hemispheric mandate, the Institute works in consultation with 32 PAHO representatives in the Americas to develop programs that can be utilized in local areas.
One of the Institute’s main functions is performed by the Social Communications and Education Project. Its aim is to promote safe handling of food.
When its materials are developed, the Education Project distributes them through a variety of government agencies and utilizes alliances with the media to promote food safety consumer-oriented messages.
But the Education Project also makes sure that its programs are grounded in good science. To define populations at risk, it uses information from the Regional Epidemiological Surveillance System of Foodborne Diseases that compiles data from 24 countries of the Americas. This system showed, for example, that 40 percent of the reported outbreaks in the Americas occurred in homes.
A look at its Web site reveals a wide array of tools for international food safety educators.
Its home page—http://www.panalimentos.org—provides links to:
• Canal Comunidad—Focusing on consumer education, this site is a rich resource for fun, graphic educational campaigns. Topics include safe handling of eggs, use of food thermometers, food safety at home, and food safety in schools.
It has downloadable graphics, television public service announcements, and more.
• Epi-ETA—This is a network of foodborne disease epidemiologists. The network is designed to enhance collaboration and communication among people involved in foodborne diseases. The network provides a forum for sharing information and a platform for training.
The network is provided in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA.
• Info Panalimentos—This is an electronic newsletter issued weekly that highlights topics of interest including epidemiological information, legislation, education, and technology.
You can subscribe on-line: http://www.panalimentos.org/panalimentos/infopanalimentos4.asp •
International food safety icons for food service are now available from the International Association of Food Protection (IAFP).
The icons are designed to provide an easily recognizable symbol that conveys a specific food safety message for food handlers of all nationalities. There are 11 icons symbolizing a variety of food safety “do’s and don’ts,” including:
The icons were developed in consultation with federal agencies including the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Additional advisors included Cornell University; Virginia Tech; Darden Restaurants, Inc.; Marriott International Inc.; McDonald’s Corporation; Walt Disney World Company; and the International Food Safety Council of the National Restaurant Association.
The icons are copyrighted but available for free to educators. If used for commercial purposes, there is a fee-based license.
Low-resolution file formats of the icons are available from the IAFP Web site. A CD-ROM with highresolution format for quality reproductions is available for $25 including shipping and handling. Go to: http://www.foodprotection.org •
The Partnership for Food Safety Education, originators of the Fight BAC!® program, recently elected the first officers of the board of directors.
Tim Hammonds, president of the Food Marketing Institute, will serve as chairman.
According to Hammonds, the board of directors will guide the Partnership’s efforts to educate Americans about food safety practices. The Partnership, Hammonds explained, is a diverse group with resources to develop a wide range of programs and messages.
Created in 1997, the Partnership recently obtained nonprofit status as a 501c3, resulting in eligibility for foundation grants and government funds to support its programs. For more information, go to: http://www.fightbac.org •
Food and fund-raising. They just go together. Hopefully, foodborne illness isn’t also part of the package.
But the fact is that people fixing food for fund-raisers are generally untrained in how to keep large quantities of food safe. And, depending on the state, fund-raisers may not be inspected by the local public health department.
To help out, Penn State has developed a unique curriculum package designed specifically for nonprofit organizations and targeting potential problem areas.
The package, “Cooking for Crowds: A Volunteer’s Guide to Safe Food Handling,” is a 108-page, 3-color manual. It can be ordered for $9 or downloaded for free from: http://www.cookingforcrowds.psu.edu/
The safe food handling information in the package is similar to that recommended to commercial food establishments, but it’s been adapted to meet the specific needs of nonprofit audiences.
Chapters in the manual provide food safety strategies addressing common problem areas, including: buying, storing, and serving; bake sales; barbecues; and sub and sandwich sales.
The package was developed by Dana McElroy, a food safety specialist in the Department of Food Science, and a committee of 10 cooperative extension agents. The package was pilot tested in 22 workshops involving more than 300 participants.
The pilot testing revealed the challenges food managers faced because of lack of funding for new equipment and resistance on the part of volunteers.
As a result, the final curriculum package was modified to include sections with advice for overcoming volunteers’ resistance and providing a variety of resources for low-cost food safety equipment.
The pilot testing also showed that the training made a difference, according to McElroy. The top three changes in behaviors were:
Too much to read and not enough time? You need EdNet, the National Food Safety Educator’s Network electronic newsletter focusing on activities of government agencies.
The newsletter editors do all the reading for you—scanning new government initiatives, major food safety listserves, and government publications. Then they sum it all up in a a neat package that comes to you electronically each month. And it’s free.
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Leave the subject area blank. In the message area type: Subscribe EDNET-L “firstname lastname” (substituting your first and last names!)
You can also subscribe directly online at: http://www.foodsafety.gov/~dms/infonet.html
For your convenience, EdNet-L archives are available at: http://www.foodsafety.gov/~fsg/ednet.html •
In spring 2003, a dam burst in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The flooding caused a loss of power that could last a month. How does a community get along without power for a month? And keep food safe?
One resource is the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN). The Web-based network provides a database of disaster assistance resources and, uniquely, a network of disaster assistance contacts.
Through a limited access listserve, extension agents can pose questions to other agents throughout the country. The cooperative extension agent in the Upper Peninsula, for example, explains the problem on the listserve: extension agents in Louisiana, with experience in flooding disasters, provide hands-on advice.
Mark Hansen, Extension Coordinator of Emergency Management Programs at Michigan State University, teamed with others in the Mid-West to create EDEN.
Today, the network is a multistate effort by university extension services across the country to provide disaster assistance resources and information on a wide variety of topics—including food safety.
Since 9/11, citizens and emergency responders are realizing that the information and networks that are useful for floods, tornadoes, or hurricanes are also useful for bioterrorism, according to Hansen.
Through the EDEN network, Hansen explained, “we have a point of contact in each participating state. They are the starting point. Extension agents are heavily networked in local communities. They have contacts with community leaders, the media, and they are linked to expert resources at the universities.
“We’re not there to take the place of the emergency workers. We don’t provide medical care, direct traffic, or put out fires. But we are there as educators. We help people prepare for disasters and we help people put their lives together again after disasters,” he explained. For more information, go to: http://www.agctr.lsu.edu/eden •
Sometimes our pet pals can give us more than their love. Unfortunately, our pets can be a source of infection, including foodborne illness.
Case control studies from FoodNet have pointed to contact with animals as a risk factor for Salmonella and E. coli.
Keeping safe is easy, however. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a new Web site with tips.
Go to: http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets
Pets and food come into the picture again when it comes to pregnant women.
“Toxoplasmosis: An Important Message for Women,” released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, explains why a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii can cause a serious infection in women who are pregnant. It can be transmitted by cats, contaminated soil, and food.
A pregnant woman can pass the infection to her unborn child. After birth, the child may develop serious complicatons, such as blindness or mental retardation.
How do people get sick?
If the parasite is in a cat’s feces, it can contaminate a person’s hands or garden soil. If the feces is eaten by other animals, such as pigs or sheep, the parasite can be passed to them. If people eat these meats under-cooked, they could become ill.
Staying safe is easy and kitty doesn’t need to go. Safety tips include wearing gloves while changing kitty litter boxes and while working in gardens--and thoroughly cooking meat.
To learn more, go to: http://www.cdc./gov/ncidod/dpd/parasites/toxoplasmosis/ToxoWomen.pdf •
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