The failure that is Food Safety Education month

Linda Rivera (right, pic from Washington Post)  is the face of everything that is wrong with Food Safety Education month.

As The Washington Post reports this morning:

In Room 519 of Kindred Hospital, Linda Rivera can no longer speak.

Her mute state, punctuated only by groans, is the latest downturn in the swift collapse of her health that began in May when she curled up on her living room couch and nonchalantly ate several spoonfuls of the Nestlé cookie dough her family had been consuming for years. Federal health officials believe she is among 80 people in 31 states sickened by cookie dough contaminated with a deadly bacteria, E. coli O157:H7.

The impact of the infection has been especially severe for Rivera and nine other victims who developed a life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. One, a 4-year-old girl from South Carolina, had a stroke and is partially paralyzed.

In a baffling waste of resources, groups like the International Food Information Council, have decided that food safety education month – that apparently starts today – is all about educating consumers with sanitized messages; that if consumers were only made aware they had a role to play in food safety, outbreaks related to contaminated peanut butter, produce and cookie dough would be reduced.

Whenever a group says the public needs to be educated – in this case about food safety — that group has utterly failed to present a compelling case for their cause. ??????I cringe, and remember a Lewis Lapham column I read in Harper’s magazine in the mid-1980s about how individuals can choose to educate themselves about all sorts of interesting things, but the idea of educating someone is doomed to failure. Oh, and it’s sorta arrogant to state that others need to be educated; to imply that if only you understood the world as I understand the world, we would agree and dissent would be minimized.???

Given all the outbreaks – produce, pet food, peanut butter, that have nothing to do with consumers, any food safety information – not education — campaign should include what the World Heath Organization has been advocating since 2002: source food from safe sources. An evaluation of message effectiveness should also be a bare minimum and rarely happens.

An honest Food Safety Education month would include food safety stories, tragic or otherwise, and a rigorous evaluation of what has worked, what hasn’t worked and what can be improved, rather than a checklist of ineffective and often inaccurate food safety instructions with the cumulative effect of blaming consumers. Telling people to wash their hands isn’t keeping the piss out of meals.

But judge for yourselves in what I am sure is a completely spontaneous and unscripted video from IFIC on why ordinary consumers feel they should be doing more.