Honoring 25 Years of PFSE’s Dedication to Consumer Food Safety Education

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Authored by Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

I am honored to have this opportunity to mark the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) and to express my sincere thanks for PFSE’s unwavering dedication to public health.

PFSE is a valued partner in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) work to bend the curve of foodborne illness in this country, and around the world.

We often say food safety is a shared responsibility. Industry has the primary responsibility for producing safe foods, but regulatory agencies also play a critical role. For example, the FDA and other government entities are responsible for helping to ensure that requirements are met to keep food safe from source to table.

While consumers should expect that food producers have done all that they can to provide them with safe food, consumers play a role too when preparing and handling food at home. And, after all, we’re all consumers. We all have a responsibility to observe safe food handling and storage practices at home, to help protect ourselves and our families from harmful microbes that can contaminate food.

PFSE plays a critical role in providing consumers with the information they need to stay safe and, in this manner, completes an important part of the nation’s overall food safety net. Looking at the wealth of resources on PFSE’s website, it strikes me how empowering it is to let people know that there are actions they can take themselves to protect themselves and their families.

FDA has been working closely with PFSE since it was created in 1997 through a Memorandum of Understanding between government, industry, and consumer leaders. The Partnership soon developed the four messages that have become the standard in food safety education: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

We have worked together on outreach materials for children and adults alike, including resources for those who provide food safety education in our communities. In fact, FDA has co-sponsored a series of PFSE national conferences on effective consumer food safety education since 2002. 

FDA’s partnership with PFSE has evolved and will continue to evolve as our approach to food safety continues to change to keep up with the times. The agency is working through our New Era of Smarter Food Safety goals to modernize our approach to food safety, and PFSE has been working on a parallel track to modernize consumer education on food safety issues. The way consumers get their food has changed dramatically with the rise of e-commerce and the proliferation of food-delivery apps. Consumers are also receiving information in new ways and through new mediums. PFSE is tailoring its messages and delivery vehicles to work in this new and changing landscape, providing resources to help protect consumers no matter how they get their foods and how they like to receive information.

Ultimately, what we’re all after is safe food for people everywhere. And that’s going require us to strengthen a food safety culture in which everyone, regardless of their role in the food system, cares about food safety — not just because it’s law, but rather it’s the right thing to do and we all care. To do this, we have to create a strong food safety culture along the entire farm-to-table continuum. 

A food safety culture must start on the farm, be present in food manufacturing facilities everywhere, occur in retail food establishments, and end in the home. FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint recognizes this. It’s also reflected in PFSE’s commitment to support and strengthen food safety at home. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the importance of educating consumers on the best food safety practices when cooking at home because more people are doing that now.

As we look towards the future, I believe the key to PFSE’s continued success lies in what it is already doing to bring together partners in the public and private sectors. I often say that there is so much we can do individually to keep food safe but there’s so much more we can do together. We can — we WILL — bend the curve of foodborne illness in this country, together.