Consumer food safety efforts (or, environmental scans aren’t about camping)

I started out my career in food safety as an undergraduate student looking for some sort of direction or passion. It was post-y2k and I really just wanted to find something fun to do and stay in Guelph with all my friends.

After one night of expressing my disappointment of not getting a job as a councilor at a science camp, one of those friends, Lindsay Core, suggested that I contact this professor (Doug) who was interested in food safety – he might have a job. After a couple of emails he told me to show up to his lab to learn how to do the news.

I didn’t know what the news was. I figured I’d find out when I arrived.

Doug was running FSNet, a daily food safety listerv (the precursor to barfblog), and a couple of other lists. The news meant scouring the Internets for content that would be edited into those listserv postings. I showed up everyday as summer student, read everything I could and became really passionate about foodborne illness stuff.

NA-picThe rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

At the start of summer 2014, soon-to-be MS student Nicole Arnold (right, exactly as shown)  was helping out with a couple of projects that my group was running – and doing the news. One day I got a call from Shelley Feist at the Partnership for Food Safety Education about a research question: would we be able to gather some data on who was doing what in the world of consumer food safety education. I said I had a student who might be a good fit for her needs.

I emailed Nicole and asked her if she wanted to do an environmental scan.

As she stated this morning during a talk the 2014 Consumer Food Safety Education Conference, she thought I was asking her about a camping project.

After administering a questionnaire electronically and by phone to almost 400 front-line folks who are actively engaging with people in their communities about food safety stuff she answered Shelley’s questions: lots of different types of interventions are out there, most are delivering face-to-face; many programs are directed at high-risk populations; only about half measure whether their efforts had any impacts; and, there are some audience gaps.

Here’s the press release that the partnership sent out today about Nicole’s work. A paper will be submitted shortly, but in the interim preliminary analysis of the raw data can be found here.

Partnership for Food Safety Education Conducts First-Ever Analysis of Food Safety Education Initiatives across Sectors

ARLINGTON, Va., Dec. 4, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Federal government, cooperative extensions and public health agencies are identified as the most active organizations in educating consumers about safe food handling at home, according to an environmental scan report commissioned by the non-profit Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE). The analysis of current activity and initiatives in food safety education across different sectors was released today at the Consumer Food Safety Education Conference 2014 in Arlington, Va. and is available at

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.

“We conducted this environmental scan for the Partnership for Food Safety Education to better understand where health and food educators are focusing their consumer outreach activities,” said Dr. Benjamin Chapman, associate professor in the department of Youth, Family, and Community Sciences at NCSU. “Gathering data on educators’ delivery methods and target audiences allows the food safety community to see where gaps exist – and provide a roadmap for where to put resources in the future.”

Of the groups surveyed, the federal government was identified as reaching the greatest numbers of consumers through programs such as Food Safe Families, Cook it Safe and Fight BAC!®. Cooperative extensions represent the greatest number of educators who come in contact with consumers on the topic of home safe food handling.

Across the three most active groups, food safety education outreach has been predominantly aimed at reaching children/students and adults with children at home. Public health was found to be a primary sector reaching elderly populations. Low-income populations, pregnant women and people who buy food were secondary targets for food safety educators.

Another finding of the survey is that measuring the impact of food safety education programs is not always a top priority. Across all of the groups surveyed, half (52 percent) measure the impact of their programs, while the remaining 48 percent either do not conduct evaluations of these efforts or don’t know if there is an evaluation system in place. Those organizations that do measure effectiveness do so using tools such as pre and post surveys, tests/quizzes, audits/visits and surveillance.

“We all need to do a better job of measuring and then telling the story of the impact of food safety education on consumer health,” said Shelley Feist, Executive Director, Partnership for Food Safety Education. “Much of this year’s Consumer Food Safety Education Conference is focused on program evaluation and tactics for measuring program impact. Our hope is that the conversations and the tools shared in these sessions will make measurement a more attainable goal across the board.”

For those unable to attend the Consumer Food Safety Education Conference, several plenary sessions will be broadcast live on December 4-5 at


PFSE commissioned North Carolina State University to conduct the survey in 2014 to identify the most involved organizations, the audiences they serve, and the channels most frequently used to communicate safe food handling messages. For a complete description of methodology please visit:

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.