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Sources: Doug Powell, 785-317-0560, dpowell@k-state.edu;
and Ben Chapman, 919-809-3205, benjamin_chapman@ncsu.edu

Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010

RESEARCHERS FIND STORIES CAN HELP IMPROVE FOOD SAFETY BEHAVIOR

MANHATTAN -- Food safety advice may fail because it's too prescriptive -- wash your hands, use a thermometer -- and it often doesn't include stories to make such information relevant. Researchers at North Carolina State University, Kansas State University and the University of Guelph have found that using short food safety stories with vibrant graphics can be a better training tool for food service workers.

A new paper by the researchers in the British Food Journal details the concept, creation and distribution of food safety infosheets, like those found at http://www.foodsafetyinfosheets.com. These single-page posters are created around a current food safety issue or outbreak, and are supplemented with graphics and information targeted at the food service industry. The infosheets are used to provide food safety risk-reduction information to generate behavior change and support a food safety culture.

"Food safety infosheets were designed with the goal of communicating risk reduction messages with the objective of changing behavior," said Ben Chapman, assistant professor in the department of 4-H youth development and family and consumer sciences at North Carolina State. "These infosheets differ from much of what is currently used in training, because we focus on the consequences of mishandling food by providing real examples taken from recent events."

A recent food safety infosheet detailed an outbreak of E. coli O157 linked to a festival in Winnipeg, Canada, that sickened 40. Another focused on food preparation and cooling for large crowds, sparked by an outbreak at a  church turkey dinner in Kansas that sickened 159.

"Whether it's a waitress, a line cook or the stock boy, people learn through stories," said Doug Powell, an associate professor of food safety at K-State. "We want to reach out to the last person who touched your food and make it safer."

Over the course of two years and using multiple methods, food safety infosheets transformed from a text-heavy memo to compelling, story-laden posters supported with contextual messages on what a food handler could do to reduce food safety risks, according to the researchers

As part of the design phase of the infosheets, Chapman spent 185 hours working as a dishwasher in a local restaurant.

"We felt it was important to really immerse into the culture of a food handler, and get a better understanding of what types of conversations occurred and what the hierarchy was like," Chapman said. "The experience directed us to refocus our messages to be a bit edgier and include references to celebrity and music where possible."

Food safety infosheets at foodsafetyinfosheets.com are created semi-weekly and are posted in restaurants, retail stores and on farms. They also are used in training throughout the world. Since September 2006 more than 150 food safety infosheets have been produced. They are available for download at no cost. The website has been recently redesigned, adding a search function, automatic e-mail alerts and RSS feeds. The new database is also sortable by pathogen, location and risk factor.

Chapman, Powell and Tanya MacLaurin, a professor at Canada's University of Guelph, are the authors of "Food safety infosheets: Design and refinement of a narrative-based training intervention," which is available in the latest issue of the British Food Journal. An abstract is available at http://bit.ly/eZg6mR.