Communicating food safety is tricky

Nicole Arnold, MS student at N.C. State University writes:

I never knew that I sounded like a twelve year old until I recorded myself for a video competition to take part in IFT’s first inaugural Food Communicator’s Workshop. A few snowflakes in North Carolina had shut things down; I couldn’t use a university studio so I was forced to record myself in my bedroom via YouTube.IMG_5919


Maybe it was because I boasted of being part of the behind the scenes of barfblog (and mentioned 40,000 subscribers) or because nobody else could bear the discomfort of recording themselves, but they chose me.

Sponsored by CanolaInfo, the IFT workshop was created to prepare and encourage students and young professionals to communicate food science information and issues through various channels. As a group, we dissected multiple media platforms, specifically the infamous Food Babe’s attack on canola oil.  The group leaders asked:

How would we respond?

What would we say if we chose to say anything at all?

What type of social media platforms would we use?

During a mock print interview, I grabbed a slip of paper out of a bowl with the words ‘artificial colors’ on it. I know a little bit more about that topic but am less- familiar with GMOs and preservatives (which others received).

With only a minute to look over the content, the interviewer asked me ‘why artificial colors are added to foods when scientific literature links it to cancer?’

I made a rookie mistake and used the oft-used phrase that the dose that makes the poison. The mock reporter’s eyes lit up.

Poison. I had said it.

An actual reporter could take that statement and run with it, indicating that my statement equated colors to poisons.

I should have talked about how safety reviews are conducted on artificial coloring and that while there are no certainties or guarantees in safety, regulators assess risk by calculating exposure and the amounts needed to cause problems. Many studies are based on mouse models – which may or may not be all that transferable to humans.  Based on the current available science, the U.S. FDA and other public health-protecting bodies throughout the world have deemed certain artificial colors as low risk.

It’s tricky, but as food communicators, our messages should be clear, concise and explain the uncertainties of the science. And shouldn’t use clichés.

Nicole Arnold is a MS student in Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, a barfblog news team member, and is a vegetarian studying mechanically tenderized beef safety.

Here’s a video submission from Ohio State’s John Frelka.

Do people cook ice cream?

Foodborne illness outbreaks are teachable moments: people are paying more attention to a particular topic.

listeria4Listeria in Blue Bell ice cream is one of those moments in the news cycle where people may pay attention.

So what does the U.S. Institute of Food Technologists tell people?

IFT Spokesperson Kantha Shelke, PhD, CFS offers four tips consumers can use to avoid getting sick from Listeria:

  • cook animal products thoroughly to make sure bacteria is killed;
  • wash raw vegetables and fruits very well in order to reduce bacterial pathogens;
  • keep uncooked meat and any utensils or cutting boards that touch the uncooked meat separate from cooked products and anything else you might be eating raw like fruits and vegetables; and,
  • avoid raw milk or food products that have been made with raw milk as they don’t adhere to proper temperature and hygiene standards.

It’s reworded cook-clean-chill-separate dogma and would do nothing to prevent Listeria in ice cream.

New IFT report reviews the role of food science and technology in providing, uh, food

The world’s food system provides food for nearly seven billion people each day. But according to a new report from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), more advances are critical for an adequate food supply, which must nearly double during the next several decades, for the future world population.

The first-of-its-kind scientific review, to be published in the September 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, takes a historical look at the food system, the many challenges ahead, and the crucial role of food science and technology in meeting the needs of the growing population.

The report summarizes the historical developments of agriculture and food technology, details various food manufacturing methods, and explains why food is processed. The report also describes and stresses why further advancements in food science and technology are needed — to more equitably meet growing world population food needs with enhanced food security in developing countries and solutions to complex diet-and-health challenges in industrialized countries.
Impact of Modern Food Manufacturing Methods

John Floros, PhD, of the Pennsylvania State University Department of Food Science said,

"Thanks to food science and technology and modern food manufacturing methods, nutritional deficiencies and inconsistent food availability can be addressed, harvests can be protected, and various commodities can be transformed into new products having specific nutrients for better health and wellness. However, this success has distanced consumers from the agricultural origins of today’s food products and understanding of why processing is important. As a result, there are concerns and misconceptions regarding food safety, and the food system’s effect on health and the environment.”

Uh-oh. That sounds condescending.