Inside Iowa State
July 18, 1997
It's food education with a twist
by Michelle Johnson
While vacationing with her family in Chicago, Peggy Sherry ordered a hamburger at a national restaurant chain. The waitress delivered something resembling a charred hockey puck on a bun. The manager delivered an apology with the explanation that all hamburgers must be prepared well-done ("restaurant policy"). It was food safety run amok, Sherry said.
A research associate in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, Sherry is educating consumers via the World Wide Web about what is and isn't necessary to ensure that foods are safe to eat.
With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sherry has developed a network of nearly 60 Web pages devoted to food safety education. She spends hours making sure the information distributed is timely and accurate.
Unfortunate as they were, incidents like the Hepatitis A scare at Noah's Ark Restaurant in Des Moines this spring or the unsafe strawberries that caused an outbreak of Hepatitis A among Michigan school-children have been good for the food safety education business.
"Consumers are beginning to realize the importance of food safety," Sherry said. "The challenge is to maintain that interest."
On the Web, Sherry entices readers with a line of ants marching across a page about packing a safe picnic, or bare feet stepping across a page that lists 10 steps to a safe kitchen.
Interestingly, the page that draws the most people contains no graphics. It's about common food-borne pathogens, and it offers a detailed outline of some of the illnesses and organisms carried by food. The page lists likely symptoms, incubation period for the illness, its sources and ways it might be prevented.
Sherry's work on the Web is part of an extensive food safety initiative at Iowa State. Another part of the initiative involves working with project leaders Jim Huss, associate professor of hotel, restaurant and institution management, and Pat Redlinger, extension program specialist, to develop educational materials and displays about food safety. The research team also is developing a Web-based food safety curriculum to be piloted in approximately 15 Iowa high school food service and nutrition classes this fall.
"Over the past few years, consumers' confidence in regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety and Inspection Service, has been shaken a bit," Sherry said. "Through this project, we hope that consumers of all ages will begin taking a more active role in protecting themselves from food-borne illness."
In addition to the Web page network, Sherry has created six steps to help consumers achieve food safety. The steps address purchasing, storing, preparing, cooking and serving food, and handling leftovers. To capture the attention of consumers, Sherry packaged these steps, which she terms "consumer control points," in catchy slogans such as "Cook it well or time will tell" and "If in doubt, throw it out."
But not all of the phrases rhyme, as pointed out by first lady Hillary Clinton at a recent food safety conference in Washington, D.C. Clinton jokingly encouraged Iowa State to work a little more on "Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold." However, the first lady suggested that other conference participants follow Iowa State's example in keeping important food safety information brief and to-the-point for consumers.
Iowa Fareway and Hy-Vee shoppers will see the "points" printed on grocery bags in September as part of National Food Safety Month and the Los Angeles county government will adopt them as part of its food safety campaign.
Bookmarks featuring the consumer control points are available through extension publications, 4-5247. The ISU Web page on food safety can be found at http://www.exnet.iastate.edu/Pages/families/fs/homepage.html.
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