The Food Safety and Inspection Service wants to educate the public on proper food safety

While the world is focused on battling COVID-19, one federal agency is working to inform the public about health risks in the kitchen.

For several decades, the Food Safety and Inspection Service has been working to educate consumers about proper food preparation and handling. Now, they are building on five years worth of research to modernize their message.

According to Chris Bernstein, FSIS director of food safety education, says like many of the cooking and eating customs we all hold, this one is often linked to habit, or in this case history and the fact that a family member passed it down.

“It’s interesting to see here that many of the things we had typically messaged about, that washing poultry doesn’t remove germs was not the primary drivers people used to motivate their behavior in this case,” he said.

He says that some bad habits, like washing poultry, are deeply ingrained in custom:

“Rather than telling people what to do, explaining risks more directly and letting consumers make their own informed decision on how they behave in the kitchen may be the most effective approach for positive behavior change for safe food handling,” Bernstein added.

In other situations, consumers know what they are supposed to do but not the proper way to do it. Using thermometers to check food temperatures is one common information gap.

“We were getting information to people that thermometers are important, but we weren’t doing enough to say here’s how you use them, when to use them, this is what they look like, this is what you should be looking for,” Bernstein said.

For the past decade, FSIS education has focused on cooking food properly. Now, the agency hopes to focus on cleanliness in the kitchen.

Agency research shows people fail to wash their hands properly 99 percent of the time, but the pandemic could present a learning opportunity.

Dr. Mindy Brashears states, “While people are focused on hand washing for preventions of COVID-19, let’s make sure they know the benefits extend beyond preventing COVID-19 and that hand washing can help prevent food borne illnesses from pathogens they encounter in their kitchens every day.”

FSIS is also in the process of developing new tools like tech enabled traceability and smarter tools for responding to disease outbreaks.