James N. Klapthor

Usually in this space, IFT members are brought up-to-date on developments involving IFT media relations and generally profiling the efforts of the IFT Food Science Communicators who are trained to interact with news media to deliver credible scientific perspective on the topics of the day.

This month, however, let’s begin with three active IFT members who do not serve on this committee but still served a major news outlet with substantive scientific perspective on food safety.

The September issue of Shape magazine, with a circulation of 1.7 million, addressed a wide range of foodborne illness topics with the assistance of IFT past president Ted Labuza of the University of Minnesota, former IFT board member Bob Gravani of Cornell University, IFT Professional Member Arun Bhunia of Purdue University, and former IFT Expert Report chair and current Food Science Communicator Mike Doyle of the University of Georgia.

The six-page-long article, “How Safe Is the Food You’re Eating?” jumped right in with the well-known figure food pros know by heart, that 76 million cases of foodborne illness will likely affect Americans this year. Should we worry? the article asks. Yes, and no, the article attributed to Labuza.

“The overall danger (of getting seriously ill or dying) is on the decline,” he said, “thanks to better technology and stricter governmental regulations.”

He then added, “Taking a few precautions when preparing your food can drastically reduce your odds (of contracting illness).”

Addressing the dangers of fresh-cut produce, the culprit in last September’s nationwide illness outbreak, Gravani explained to Shape’s readers: “Fruits and vegetables can be exposed to tainted water or soil” and added, “Organic produce can be as much a threat as conventionally grown, so use the same precautions.”

Doyle, who was exhaustively active with news media during the E. coli-on-spinach outbreak, relayed a minor safety detail likely often overlooked in the home. He advised readers to remove the outer layer of a head of lettuce, as it’s the most likely to harbor dangerous E. coli, “then wash your hands with soap and warm water before touching the rest.”

Bhunia addressed how to reduce the odds of raw or undercooked eggs adversely affecting home food safety. “For homemade ice cream and Hollandaise sauces, buy pasteurized eggs or liquid substitutes,” as a method to avoid Salmonella poisoning, he said. 

Final good advice from these experts pertained to inspection: When dining out, do the restaurant’s public places appear clean? “(The bathroom) is the best indicator of an establishment’s general cleanliness,”said Bhunia. “If the bathroom isn’t clean, places the public doesn’t see are likely to be worse.”

As further evidence of freelance reporter Richard Laliberte’s comprehensive coverage of sound food safety advice, a boxed insert provided in detail four smart food strategies, the four Fight BAC! steps of clean, cook, chill, and separate, as advised by the Partnership for Food Safety Education, of which IFT is an active member. 

Other media also took advantage of IFT members’ expertise. The Los Angeles Times took on the issue of kids and candy in its Halloween treatment of the topic on October 29. Interviewing a registered dietitian and doctors and professors of pediatrics and medicine, the freelance reporter also made the effort to put IFT Food Science Communicator Dian Dooley of the University of Hawaii in the middle of the topic on sugar highs and kids. 

Dooley delivered her message soundly: “There is no scientific basis to the idea that sugar and or candy has any major effect on children’s behavior. Particularly if they (generally) eat OK.”

IFT works diligently to ensure that its food science messages are not utilized solely for the major traditional news media like those noted above. It understands that different segments of the public utilize different outlets from which to receive their news. 

Thus, it’s with great enthusiasm that Food Science Communicators have become a popular resource on food science topics by Washington City Paper, an alternative and popular newspaper outlet in the nation’s capital.

In its City Desk Ask Tim blog on October 1, Barry Swanson, of Washington State University passed along the finer points of the science behind avocado pits and the browning of the fruit.

Swanson said that flavonoids within the pit can slow down the browning process but the process is ultimately inevitable. Where guacamole is concerned, he offered more helpful advice: “Get an emulsion going.… If you blend it up really good, there’s so much fat involved” that the enzymes and substrates may not get together to do their browning dance. Swanson advised adding a squirt of lemon: “Lemon juice containing citric acid is going to help you keep it much greener than the pit ever will.”

by James N. Klapthor,
Media Relations Manager 
[email protected]

In This Article

  1. Food Safety and Defense