Produce Marketing Association is committed to food safety at each link in the supply chain, including that last link: the consumer. In 1997, PMA helped found the Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE), which is a collaborative effort among industry, consumer groups and government, to educate consumers about safe food handling, including safe produce handling. A special thanks goes to PMA’s Gold Circle members who help make PMA’s food safety efforts possible, including its support of this important work. The PFSE hosts a biannual conference to give those who educate consumers about food safety an opportunity to network, share resources and ideas and learn about the latest trends. The next conference
, Advancing Food Safety Through Behavior Change, will be held January 25-27, 2017. It is the only opportunity for this specific group to gather and learn together.
PMA’s Chief Science and Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker sat down with PMA Vice President of Industry Relations Kathy Means for a Q&A to discuss how PMA members will benefit from PFSE:
Kathy, as you well know, food safety is a supply chain issue from farm to consumer. PMA does a lot in food safety policy through our issues leadership
efforts. We have been a leading force in prioritizing and funding food safety research through our efforts at the Center for Produce Safety, and we invest heavily in food safety education and training programs targeted at various points in the supply chain. But one question that never fails to surface in discussions with the supply side of the industry is: What are we doing at PMA to help consumers better understand how to handle fresh produce and to help protect it from cross contamination in their kitchens? PMA has a long and productive history working with the Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) that specifically addresses this area of concern. Can you tell us more about the PFSE and how they work with consumer facing experts?
That’s right, Bob. Consumers are a critical link in the food safety chain. In the late ‘90s, PMA joined with several other food-oriented associations to create an independent organization to help consumers understand how to handle food safely; the Partnership for Food Safety Education
(PFSE). The associations recognized the need to include government and consumer organizations to create science-based, consumer-tested advice for consumers. The “core four,” as we call them, are Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill. In addition to the basics, we have created specific campaigns around many topics, including safe produce handling
. These downloadable resources are free to anyone, including PMA members, who educates consumers about safe food handling. We’re proud to support these educators—many of whom are not teachers, we call them BAC Fighters—in their efforts to help consumers stay healthy.
Besides PMA, what other agencies are involved with the PFSE? Perhaps you can share some insight on why they are engaged.
The PFSE includes industry associations and companies, consumer organizations, such as the Consumer Federation of America, and government agencies charged with educating consumers, including the FDA, USDA, CDC and more. We all share a commitment to consistent, science-based messaging that our BAC Fighters can use to educate consumers. Many BAC Fighters have little to no budget, so it’s important that these credible messages and resources are free. We are continually amazed at the creativity and innovation these folks bring to consumer education. I’ve seen PMA members use these resources—in English and Spanish—to educate their own employees, which allows them to be better food safety stewards both on the job and in their homes.
What are the greatest challenges the industry faces in educating consumers, and how is PFSE meeting these challenges?
There are so many challenges. Consumers often believe it’s someone else’s responsibility. Industry and government have critical roles to play in ensuring consumers receive safe food, but consumers must accept ownership from there. Consumers must be informed of the basics in order to protect themselves and their families. Many believe that their family practices have worked for generations, hence the “if it isn’t broken, why fix it?” mentality. But the food safety landscape has changed tremendously, so many of mom’s or grandma’s practices are now considered high risk. The industry can sometimes be hesitant to discuss food safety education, because they don’t want to create concerns in consumers’ minds. That’s where the PFSE comes in. Through the use of positive, science-based, consumer-tested messaging, the industry can effectively communicate messages to ensure consumers are using their products safely.
I understand you have been named co-chair of this year’s PFSE Conference in Washington, DC. I have attended this event in the past, and have found it to be incredibly well done. It is a genuine opportunity to bring food safety professionals together while allowing them to share information and best practices on consumer food safety education. Being named co-chair, along with Frank Yiannis of Wal-Mart, is certainly a well-deserved honor but also a great deal of work. Tell us, when is the event, and what are the key areas of educational focus this year?
Thanks, Bob. This year, we’re focusing on behavior change. After all, that’s our ultimate goal: To get consumers to behave differently, whether that’s using a meat thermometer, rinsing raw produce, cleaning the fridge or simply washing their hands. We’ve got great speakers on behavior change—some from the food safety community, as well as some other outside resources. Frank will be speaking, and he’s a hit every time. I’m also excited about having keynote speaker Charles Duhigg from The New York Times
, author of “The Power of Habit.” He will help us better understand that concept, and how it affects changing food safety behavior. We’re also featuring Dr. Lou Atkins from the Centre for Behaviour Change, University College London, and author of “The Behaviour Change Wheel.” I’m particularly excited to hear her speak about designing interventions. There are preconference sessions, as well, on effective story-telling, evaluating consumer interventions and more. There will also be workshops and poster sessions evaluating motivation and risk perception, influencing behavior through physical design, measuring behavior change, targeting at-risk populations and behavior change in the digital age. For me, though, one of the greatest benefits of this conference will be experiencing the energy created as participants share ideas and solutions with one other. So I encourage anyone with an interest to register for the conference being held Jan. 25-27 in Washington, D.C., to visit the conference web page
for more details about the program.
Who typically attends this event, and how do they use the educational content to help consumers understand their role in the food safety continuum?
This conference is for the folks we call BAC Fighters. These are people who help consumers understand how to handle food safely. It’s usually not the sole purpose of their jobs, so we see attendees from cooperative extensions, health educators, retail, foodservice, academia, community and public health agencies, school systems (K-12), not-for-profit agencies and child care providers. What they all have in common is an unwavering commitment to helping consumers live healthier lives by understanding how to handle food safely. Attendees can also obtain CEU credits, which is very important. And for folks just getting into this line of work, we also have student scholarships. Though it sounds as if it’s all about teachers, I want to stress that it’s so much more than that. Our industry has many opportunities to help consumers handle produce safely—companies’ employees, customers, communities and consumers in general through the information we provide on our products. We must take responsibility for helping close the food safety chain with consumers. This conference can help us do that.
Where can folks go to get more specifics on the event and where to register?
For more information, visit cfsec2017.fightbac.org
. There you’ll find the program, rates, hotel information and more. Registration is now open. It is highly recommended that everyone secure hotel reservations as soon as possible.
This and all of our food safety-related material is made possible by the members who support PMA's Gold Circle Campaign for Food Safety. Find out how your company can help improve produce food safety throughout the supply chain.