August 16, 2018
According to a 2016 study by the Center for Food Integrity, about two out of three consumers express concern for food safety, ranking it among the top five most concerning life issues. In her role as food program manager with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), Sandra Walker helped to make sure food made in Michigan was safe to eat.
Since recently retiring, Walker continues to stay current on food-related information and was a panelist at Food@MSU’s Our Table conversation on food safety in May 2018. The discussion was hosted in partnership with the MSU Online Food Safety Program, of which Walker is an alum. Below, she answers some of our questions and dives deeper into some of the topics mentioned at Our Table.
Food@MSU: Why is it important for the general public to understand food safety concepts?
Sandra Walker: There are many regulations in place to help protect the food supply that focus primarily on mandates for the food industry to abide by. Although they do a pretty good job ensuring that the food provided the consumer is safe, food protection efforts must continue all the way through to consumption.
Consumers play a role in food safety once they receive consumables, whether they are ready-to-eat foods or food products in need of further preparation and cooking. Consumers play a key role by maintaining proper temperatures for food through avoiding holding foods too long in the temperature danger zones, adhering to proper cooking temperatures and preventing cross contamination.
Food@MSU: How can scientists, academics, and those who specialize in food safety do a better job of getting this information to the public? How can they bridge the gap with consumers?
SW: I think that public service-type announcements of important issues through all media tools from social media, television and radio should be done routinely, like once a week, instead of food safety reminders only during food related holidays such as Thanksgiving.
Food safety messages can be sent on a regular basis, in addition to providing relevant recall and outbreak notices. The present forms of communication by applicable authorities can be bridged by using social media, such as Twitter and webcasts.
Food@MSU: What is the role of food safety in the larger conversation about food?
SW: Food safety should be at the forefront of food conversations. Many times, it loses traction to other in vogue issues such as genetically modified foods (GMOs) and gluten-free eating.
Food@MSU: What can the public — those who aren’t typically viewed as "experts" — do to be active and engaged when it comes to food safety?
SW: The public has more power than it thinks. Every time a consumer chooses one commodity/product over another, they are “voting” and using their power to communicate to the food industry and others what is important to them.
Food@MSU: What’s the most important thing to know when it comes to food safety?
SW: The most important thing in food safety is to emphasize good handwashing by food employees and consumers.
Food@MSU: In your role, how do you work to ensure that food is safe? What goes into ensuring food safety for the public, from your perspective?
SW: I now am mostly a consumer and on the regulatory sidelines, but that doesn’t stop me from expressing my opinions publicly to all I come into contact with.