Consumer Education Best of Times

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

We have seen such a dichotomy of events throughout the year that has been 2020. The impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on those involved within the food system has been unprecedented. The pandemic has been likened to a hurricane that knows no shore. With the closure of dine-in restaurants, the retail grocery industry instantaneously became the primary source of food to customers in the U.S.

There have been a number of disruptions throughout the food system, from the rush on stores with food stockpiling, to the lack of product availability due to temporary facility shutdowns. The demand for home delivery and curbside pickup grew at lightspeed. The food system has been shaken, but it is resilient. With the increase of meals prepared at home, food safety awareness has never been more urgent and relevant for the customers we serve.

Over the last two decades, the Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) has served as the leading voice in promoting safe food handling messaging. The “core four” messages of Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill serve as the cornerstone messages to connect with consumers.  Over the last three years, the Partnership has driven successful campaigns to millions of Americans including The Story of Your DinnerDon’t Wing It, and most recently, the Safe Recipe Style Guide. Coupled with the appointments of strong food safety education advocates, Dr. Mindy M. Brashears, USDA FSIS Undersecretary for Food Safety and Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, I am confident we have the best leadership to advance consumer food safety education for a brighter tomorrow!

On July 13, 2020, the FDA introduced The New Era of Smarter Food Safety, FDA’s Blueprint for the Future. Of the four core elements introduced, Food Safety Culture has the promise to positively impact food safety education for consumers spending more time in their home kitchens. Specific to developing and promoting a smarter food safety education campaign, the FDA calls out several concepts, including understanding and utilizing new technologies relevant to food safety, engaging new partners in a broad coalition to promote food safety culture, and using tech-enabled popular mediums and tools, such as smart home devices, smart phones, digital platforms, to help reach consumers with “smarter” food safety messages.

Does “smarter” food safety sound like a science-fiction experiment? Hardly. Over the last few years, major cities have been investing heavily in smart technology to help advance transportation, public safety, and environment challenges. Take a look at the investments being made by these cities across the country: Atlanta, GA; Nashville, TN; Charlotte, NC; and Lake Nona in Orlando, FL. When evaluating these smart city solutions, it is worth noting they are all people led and technology enabled. It is worth remembering this as we focus on food safety culture.

More recently on October 6, 2020, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service hosted Food Safety: Consumer Outreach and Education Today and for the Future. During this meeting, agencies, associations and business leaders provided a state of the union on leading consumer food safety education efforts. We will continue to build upon these efforts when the Partnership hosts Now You Have My Attention: Hand Hygiene & Food Safety Education for Everyone, March 9-12, 2021 at our Consumer Food Safety Education Virtual Conference. Please plan to join us for this event.

We remain in the middle of a global pandemic, and everyone should heed the CDC’s guidance related to fall and winter holiday celebrations. This year’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s seasons will likely have a deeper meaning of family and faith, and for that, we are all grateful. It is a time for giving back and serving those who may need assistance and care. 

PFSE has established itself with a differentiated, focused approach to food and health: eliminating foodborne illness by educating consumers about safe food handling. Through the strong partnerships forged with those currently participating in the Partnership and those who we’ll engage as new partners with our broad coalition to promote food safety culture, I wish you all a safe and healthy holiday season. 

Lastly, I would like to acknowledge Publix Super Markets for allowing me the opportunity to serve the Partnership along with real food safety champions on the PFSE Board of Directors

Through the Partnership for Food Safety Education, we can build upon these collaborative efforts to help advance food safety and health for the families we all strive to mutually serve every day. By accelerating our prevention focus with the health of all top-of-mind, we can help bend the curve on foodborne illness.

Have a wonderful holiday season, and I look forward to seeing you in the New Year!

All the best…Michael

Michael Roberson is Director of Corporate Quality Assurance for Publix Super Markets. He was elected Chairman of the Partnership for Food Safety Education Board of Directors in September 2020.