Strengthening the Last Line of Defense for Foodborne Illness

Wenqing Xu

We live in a society where we covet a multitude of things. Sometimes, often unconsciously, our desires oppose one another. Consumer needs that pertain to food are no exception. We want to revisit our ancestors’ diet and consume more raw food. At the same time, we want our raw food to be as safe as fully processed foods. We enjoy the convenience and diversity provided by a global food supply, but we fear the emerging food safety issues because of diverse origins of food and longer transportation times. We want to eliminate additives and preservatives in our food, yet we require a longer shelf life so mail-order foods traveling across the country arrive as if they were processed locally.

Consumers want one thing while demanding the opposite. These opposing demands generate tremendous challenges for consumer food safety education. Consumers blame the food industry or government for lacking better regulations or practices to provide safer foods while we overlook personal responsibility as the last defense line for foodborne illness. Individuals must pay attention to food recalls, avoid time-temperature abuse, prevent cross-contamination and keep good personal hygiene when handling food.

The LSU AgCenter consumer food safety program is designed to balance consumers’ opposing needs. Without balance, knowledge cannot be conveyed effectively for the end user to retain or lead to a positive change in behavior. This balance is deeply rooted in all research and extension projects. Some of them are:

  • Collaborating with Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge to offer food safety education for pregnant women. While acknowledging the discomfort that moms-to-be go through with changes in appetites during pregnancy, AgCenter educators are on board to suggest avoiding high-risk food and promote better food safety practices.
  • Collaborating with Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and other cancer treatment sites to promote patient health and satisfaction while addressing food safety practices to reduce their exposure to foodborne illnesses.
  • Training volunteers who serve their communities after natural disasters by focusing on the differences between cooking for an individual family and preparing food for 300-plus people.
  • Working with summer feeding sites that serve children to address the challenge of serving nutritionally balanced and safe meals on tight budgets. Programs consider each individual situation to enhance compliance with food safety practices.
  • Teaching people that cooking to the safe temperature does not sacrifice food quality.

Wenqing Xu is an assistant professor and consumer food safety specialist in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences.

This article appears in the fall 2019 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.

1/11/2020 4:43:14 PM
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