An ambulance can only move so fast: problems with partnership’s food safety educator study

Chapman’s right when he says I probably didn’t notice him the first year he worked in my lab: it was big, and I had people supervising people.

ben.doug.2.12But he stuck with it, ended up coaching girls hockey with me, bailed me out of jail, published lots of cool research, and now he’s his own prof at North Carolina State.

And he gets to make his own mistakes.

The recent work he and graduate student Nicole Arnold did with the food safety partnership thingies might have been good experience, but he got pressured into violating some basic research tenets: surveys, on their own, suck (they had limited cash), and press release before peer review is always a bad idea.

At least Chapman insisted all the raw data be made available.

The draconian consistency of partnership messages – cook, clean, chill, separate – while all valid, lead to a snake-oil salesman effect and ignore one of the biggest causes of foodborne illness that has been highlighted by both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization: food from unsafe sources.

What did consumers have to do with outbreaks involving peanut butter, pizza, pot pies, pet food, pepper and produce (washing don’t do much). That’s just the Ps.

Reciting prescriptive instructions like some fascist country line-dancing instructor benefits no one. Food safety is complex, and it takes effort.

The survey found that in today’s digital environment, most food safety education is done in person. According to the survey, 90 percent of the people that consider themselves food safety educators connect with consumers via face-to-face meetings and presentations. The next most-used channel is online, with 36 percent of educators using this method to connect with consumers.

But such a conclusion ignores the multiplier effect of messages, or the social amplification of risk: where did those messages originate and are they valid?

If anything the results argue for marketing microbial food safety at retail, where people can vote at the checkout aisle.

And education is the wrong word: people make risk-benefit decisions all the time. For those who care, food safety information should be provided using multiple media and messages; then people can decide for themselves.

At least Chapman stressed the need for medium and message evaluation, which is sorely lacking.