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Summary

Youth and adults are susceptible to foodborne illness, especially when they choose to preserve food without using tested methods. The Family and Consumer Sciences agent developed and implemented programming to combat the unsafe handling of foods and unsafe canning methods to educate community members.

Situation

In the U.S., per year, the foodborne disease results in an estimated 48 million persons with gastrointestinal foodborne illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths. Average medical costs alone per case requiring hospitalization even with full recovery are $14,337 for Salmonella and for Campylobacter, $24,223 for norovirus, $9,743 for E. coli O157: H7 (without HUS), and $25,539 for Yersinia. For Listeria, costs range from $32,831 (maternal) to more than $130,000 for newborns that recover and up to $863,131 for stillbirths. These estimates do not account for costs during recovery after hospitalization or for lost productivity. Most cases of foodborne illness do not get reported because many people do not go to the doctor or do not have a culture tested to determine the exact cause of illness. The elderly have a higher risk of developing serious complications from foodborne illnesses than do healthy adults. In Hall County, there are 29,205 adults 65 and over ad 14 personal care homes for older adults. Georgia DHS aging trends indicate that Georgia has the 11th fastest growing 60+ population and the 10th fastest growing 85+ population in the U.S. from 2010-2030. In Hall County, there are 300 child care learning centers and 13,002 children ages birth to four years. A high percentage of home food processors use practices that put them at high risk for illness, and even death, injury, and economic losses. (Natl. Center for Home Food Preservation [NCHFP] national surveys, 2001 and 2005). About 1/3 of home canners feel free to adapt the directions or procedures they are given in their own way which can be hazardous. Over 2/3 of home canners do can high-risk low-acid foods; the prevalence of practices that put them at high risk for botulism from these did not decrease between 2000 and 2005 national surveys. The majority of foodborne botulism cases in the U.S. are from foods improperly processed in the home (CDC). In 2012, CDC initiated a home canning website oriented to avoiding botulism from home canning due to recent cases. Estimates from a study released in 2010 by PEW Charitable Trusts put the cost of a case of botulism at $726,362 (Scharff, 2010). There are high numbers of U.S. consumers looking for advice and recommendations for preserving and storing foods at home. The NCHFP website gets from 82,400-306,689 visits per month and over 1.6 million visits per year from more than 1.35 million people looking for home food preservation information.

Response

Over the last year, the family and consumer sciences extension agent provided over 1,200 educational contact hours with youth or adult programs on the subject of food safety and food preservation, reaching at least 290 adults face-to-face before the national health emergency. Food safety topics focused on keeping foods out of the temperature danger zone, cooking foods properly, using a food thermometer, and how to pack foods for picnics, lunches, or tailgates safely. Participants engaged in a hands-on learning experience during these classes. Four ServSafe Food Protection Manager classes were taught, and tests proctored for school foodservice, restaurant employees, and small business owners. The agent produced over 100 hours of radio programs educating citizens of Hall County on safe food preservation practices and safe food handling, reaching an audience of 20,000 people regularly. The agent also wrote 3 newspaper articles for the local newspaper, the Gainesville Times, with a distribution to over 19,000 residents. The agent participated in a ServSafe update for instructors' training as well as a fall and spring food safety update. As a result of the public health emergency, programs were forced to be conducted virtually. The agent partnered with the Hall County Library system to deliver a program on safe food handling entitled “Food Safety Myth Busters”, delivered virtually via the library Facebook account. This account boasts a following of nearly 4,000 people and the program was archived for future viewing. The agent was also asked by the Associate Dean of Extension to be a featured panelist on a statewide webinar series. The agent presented content about packing safe lunches for back to school and how to keep foods safe when packed in a lunch box. The agent collaborated with the Agricultural and Natural Resources agent in the Hall County Extension office to provide a virtual 4-H lesson on growing blueberries and discussed the safe handling of harvested blueberries. This lesson was disseminated to 4-H youth statewide and viewed in other states. The agent also created a week-long social media series on food safety topics including a “Don’t Wing It!” series to highlight safe handling of poultry products. This series reached over 300 people and was shared across multiple platforms. In addition to food safety information delivered, the agent taught 9 food preservation programs, 6 of which were hands-on. Three programs were moved to a virtual format in order to reach audiences during the public health emergency. Topics of these programs included: pressure canning and boiling water canning, pickling produce, jam and jelly making, and canning salsas. Programs included an in-depth view of pressure canning or boiling water canning, an overview of where to locate tested resources to use when preserving food at home, and safe handling of home-canned goods. Participants received hands-on experience during in-person classes or an up-close look at the step-by-step processes during the virtual sessions. Four of the six programs were conducted with a community partner, Jaemor Farms. In-kind donations totaled $1300 and included: produce, facilities, and materials, and broadcasting equipment when the programs needed to be moved to a virtual format. In order to provide the most up to date information to participants, the agent participated in the home food preservation update given by the food safety specialist, Dr. Elizabeth Andress. As a result of these programs and social media outreach, food preservation questions from neighboring counties were sent to the agent in Hall County. The agent also visited neighboring counties to inspect pressure canners and test gauges. Overall, 22 gauges were tested, including those in Hall County. Videos of programs as well as informational videos created by the agent were published to the UGA Extension Youtube channel to make them available to a larger audience.

Impact

As a result of one of the ServSafe Food Protection Manager classes, a local elementary school foodservice employee reported that she realized how essential is to the quality of your entire operation to serve food safely and keep food safe for your customers. She stated the “importance of continuing to learn and update your knowledge base on the subject is essential to serve customers (students) safely and provide the best service possible”. She planned to implement an updated training program for her employees to discuss updated protocol to include updated cooking temperatures for foods that impact over 6,000 students in the local elementary schools. In addition, data collected during food preservation classes indicate a significant change in knowledge: 80% improvement was reported in knowing when to use boiling water vs. pressure canning methods and knowing the risks associated with improper canning techniques, 42% of individuals reported improvement knowledge on the proper ways to handle canned foods during processing and storage, 96% of participants reported knowing trusted resources for safe home canning recommendations.

State Issue

Food Safety

Details

  • Year: 2020
  • Geographic Scope: County
  • County: Hall
  • Location: College Station, Athens
  • Program Areas:
    • Family and Consumer Sciences

Author

  • Booth, Carin Walton
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Extension Impact