Consumer education could boost food safety

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Kansas  State University meat scientist James Marsden says he hears it over and over again – that there’s a need to better educate consumers about proper food handling and cooking. Such an effort could go a long way in minimizing the risk of foodborne illness.

“Ideally, food manufacturers should reduce the risk of foodborne pathogens, even in raw foods to minimize consumer risk,” said Marsden, who is a regent’s distinguished professor in K-State’s Department of Animal Science and Industry. “Consumers can certainly reduce that risk further by following safe food handling practices and proper cooking.”

In 1994, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service began requiring that all raw meat and poultry products be labeled with Safe Handling Labels. However, that effort, plus other consumer education initiatives, have had limited success, he said.

Food manufacturers and university researchers have poured years and money into making foods as safe to eat as possible. And that goes a long way toward making foods safer for consumers, Marsden said. But  there’s still an ongoing need to educate consumers about safe food handling and preparation practices.

Marsden, who worked in the meat processing industry for many years before taking on the role of university professor, provided five suggestions for how consumer education could be improved:

  1. Food safety messages for consumers should be concise, consistent and mindful of reasonable consumer behaviors.
  2. Safe food handling labels should be updated to be product specific and to provide more details. For example, a label for ground beef could include more detail about preventing cross contamination and a recommended minimum cooking temperature.
  3. Because food safety is rarely taught in schools, government and industry food safety education should target younger consumers using Internet-based messages, taking advantage of YouTube, Facebook and other sites frequented by teens and young adults.
  4. Advertisements with food safety messages should be programmed on the Food Network, using celebrity chefs and familiar actors.
  5. Food safety messages should be included with product information for appliances and cookware, targeting consumers of all ages.

Food safety is everyone’s responsibility – from the producer to the processor to the consumer, he said.

“For raw meat and poultry products, the solution lies with safe foods produced using non-thermal pasteurization technologies, such as UV/Advanced Oxidation technologies and antimicrobial spray treatments, combined with safe preparation and proper cooking,” Marsden said. “Consumer education can and should play an important role in that solution.”

Source: Drovers (sister publication to Dairy Herd Management)



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