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Clean, Cook, Chill, Separate To Prevent Food Borne Illness

In the wake of the recent e. coli outbreak in Europe, the US government is launching a campaign to raise awareness of safe food handling procedures in an attempt to curb the spread of food-borne illnesses.

Four Steps To Safe Food

Several government offices have collaborated on the campaign, including USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Ad Council. It features English and Spanish-language radio, television, print, and online advertising, even including the Twitter hash-tag #checksteps.

The Food Safe Families campaign uses the motto "Check Your Steps" to remind consumers to follow four steps for safe food handling:

  • Clean hands and surfaces often to prevent bacterial contamination
  • Separate raw meats from other foods by using separate cutting boards and knives
  • Cook foods, especially meats, to prescribed safe temperatures--and do not trust color as an indicator of readiness
  • Chill unused portions promptly.

The campaign's launch was timed to precede the July 4 weekend and the height of the summer grilling season, when food-borne illnesses tend to increase. However, the preliminary results of a recent CDC study indicate that rates of most types of lab-confirmed food borne bacterial infection have decreased between 1996-98 and 2010.

Be Food Safe To Food Safe Families

Food Safe Families appears to have grown out of the older Be Food Safe campaign, which was a collaborative project between the USDA and the Partnership for Food Safety Education. Be Food Safe used the same "Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill" keywords but operated on a much smaller scale than the new campaign, focusing on radio and print advertising. Food Safe Families has seen the development of new advertisements across a broader media spectrum.

The CDC in particular also remind consumers to report suspected cases of food-borne illness to local health departments, not to prepare food for others if they have diarrhea or vomiting, and to be especially careful when preparing food for children, pregnant women, elderly people, and people in poor health.

Campaign's Focus Misdirected?

Just a few days after its launch, Food Safe Families has already picked up a high-profile critic: food policy commentator Marion Nestle says the program is "cute, but it might not work--and it doesn't address the real problem." The video ads, she says, are entertaining, but are unlikely to encourage anyone to actually adopt safer food-handling habits. None of the ads, she points out, actually have much to do with food.

Nestle also points out that the campaign focuses exclusively on the consumer's responsibility for food safety, overlooking the fact that "the big national outbreaks we've been experiencing lately are from foods that are already contaminated by the time they get to you."

You can watch the Food Safe Families video advertisements at the USDA YouTube Channel.

Read More:

  • The USDA's Latest Food Safety Campaign: Pig-In-A-Sauna Edition (The Atlantic)
  • Food Safe Families: First-Ever National Multimedia Food Safety Campaign Launches to Reduce Food Poisoning in the US (USDA Blog)
  • Recipe for Safe Food: Clean, Cook, Chill, Separate (NPR)

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