The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest statistics (CDC, 2006) indicate that progress is being made toward reducing the number of illnesses linked to certain pathogens. From 1996–98 to 2005, cases of Yersinia decreased by 49%, and Shigella 43%. Progress has also been made against Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, and Escherichia coli O157:H7.
This is evidence that when successful industry and regulatory efforts are combined with widespread public education about the importance of practicing safe food handling, we see a reduction in foodborne illness outbreaks.
Unfortunately, the mass media are often quiet regarding foodborne illness unless there are major outbreaks. Even when we do not hear of major outbreaks, we should not assume that individuals and families are not at risk. Cases do continue to arise on a regular basis.
Economically, there is an enormous cost to society from foodborne illness. If one in every four Americans is becoming ill each year, there is lost productivity and days missed from work. In some cases, a serious foodborne illness leads to secondary illnesses that may plague persons for the rest of their life.
To continue to bring the number of foodborne illnesses down from the CDC’s estimate of 76 million cases/year (Mead et al., 1999) requires that we continue to do everything we can along several fronts.
The Partnership for Food Safety Education (www.fightbac.org) was created as part of the White House’s 1997 National Food Safety Initiative (www.foodsafety.gov/~dms/fsreport.html) to fill an important coordinating role for national food safety education.
The nonprofit Partnership was formed in May 1997, when the U.S. Depts. of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Education, industry leaders, and consumer leaders signed a Memorandum of Understanding pledging cooperation in the development of science-based, consumer-oriented messages to promote safe food handling practices in the U.S.
Among the Partnership’s members are more than 20 trade and professional organizations. The Institute of Food Technologists joined the Partnership in 2005.
After nearly ten years, the Partnership continues to be the table around which consumer groups, professional organizations, industry associations, and government agencies meet to ensure that tested and effective food safety education messages and materials are available and disseminated free of charge for use by everyone who cares about promoting preventive health: public health agencies, private businesses, schools, health professionals, and many others.
The Partnership is creator and steward of a national consumer food safety education campaign called Fight BAC! Keep Food Safe from Bacteria®. The campaign’s four core messages—Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill—have become a basis for conveying key practices that can reduce risk of foodborne illness.
IFT representatives participate in several committees to help ensure that the four key messages are worded effectively and promoted through the media and at various meetings and conferences.
The effort to achieve cooperative buy-in to a common campaign theme line and messages is not to be underestimated. There was an understanding when the Fight BAC! campaign was launched that altering consumer behavior would be far from easy. Continual reinforcement, repetition, and creative positioning of the core four messages is required in order to have an impact. Although foodborne illness figures are down, we must stay the course. Losing ground on consumer food safety practices will mean an increase once again in these diseases.
As food scientists, members of IFT understand that the job of communicating with the public about risks and risk reduction is complicated and ongoing, and we are very pleased to have IFT as a contributing member of the Partnership.
As the Fight BAC! campaign approaches its 10th anniversary, let’s continue to work together to ensure that we don’t lose sight of the long view on the importance of educating the public about safe food handling.
by Tim Hammonds, Chairman of the Partnership for Food Safety Education, is President and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, DC 20005 ([email protected]).
CDC. 2006. Preliminary FoodNet data on the incidence of infection with pathogens transmitted commonly through food-10 states, United States, 2005. Morbid. Mortal. Wkly. Rept. 55: 392-395 (April 14).
Mead, P.S., Slutsker, L., Dietz, V., McCaig, L.F., Bresee, J.S., Shapiro, C., Griffin, P.M., and Tauxe, R.V. 1999. Food-related illness and death in the United States. Emerg. Infect. Dis. 5: 607-625.