The International Association for Food Protection, an organization of over 3000 food safety professionals, celebrated its hundredth birthday in Milwaukee, WI a couple of weeks ago and I was there to partake in the festivities. Having pretty well everyone in the food safety world together in one spot is a great way to catch up on all things food safety and reconnect with old friends. After a ridiculously short 15 minute connection flight from Chicago, IL, I arrived in Milwaukee just in time for the welcome reception; a great way to start a great meeting.
The first symposia I went to on environmental testing – a subject I want learn more about. Timothy Jackson’s (Nestle, USA) take home message was “testing is not control”. In food production, you are dealing with a dynamic system that is constantly changing and testing can be misleading. To explain how testing can be misleading, Tim had three decks of cards and handed them to three audience members. He told each audience member, your facility is the deck of cards and each card is a random sampling site. So you have 52 sites, if you only sample 25% of your sites each week that will be 13 sites. Tim then asked the audience members to pull 13 cards off and tell him when they found the ace of hearts. One audience member found the contaminated site in the first week and the other two found the ace of hearts during their last week of sampling. Using cards like Tim is a great way of explaining how testing can give you a false sense of security and an example I will use in class in the future. Ultimately, you can test all you want but if you don’t get out in the facility and watch practices you won’t catch the real problems.
Another symposia on human pathogens in the environment by Dr. Charles Gerba (The University of Arizona) reported high counts (CFU) of bacteria found on sponges, kitchen sinks, bath sinks, and cutting boards compared to low counts on toilet seats, bath counters, and bath floors. Surprisingly it was more common to find methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium difficile on touch screens at grocery stores than in hospitals. Salmonella and E. coli can survive and grow in vacuum cleaner bags. This session was very interesting and from now on I will be washing my hands after touching any screen or vacuum cleaner bag.
During a session on education and training, a project by Majorie Davidson at U.S. Food and Drug Administraion, discussed something called the Health Belief Model. The Health Belief Model was developed by Irwin Rosenstock in the 60s to study and promote the uptake of health services. It was determined that demographics, perceived seriousness, perceived susceptibility, perceived benefits, and perceived barriers will affect the likelihood of action. In this project they studied the likelihood of adopting safe food handling practices in South America by hospital residents.
Another presentation by UGA MS student, Ashley Bramlett (University of Georgia) aimed at increasing food safety knowledge of college students through the use of social media. The researchers created a Facebook page including short food safety videos to be visited by college students in a general food science course. Ashley reported there was an increase in knowledge of students participating in class and commenting on the Facebook page but after the Institutional review board time frame ran out the Facebook page was deactivated. I believe the researchers could have prepared a mirror page excluding comments from participants in the study and continue to support the page.
After four days of food safety sessions and technical posters, this food scientist definitely had her fill of information and ideas for future food safety education endeavors. Overall I attained my goal of attending sessions that increased my knowledge of food safety issues and learning about current food safety education projects going on across the world.