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Source: Doug Powell, 785-317-0560, dpowell@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Tyler Sharp, 785-532-2535, media@k-state.edu

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010


MANHATTAN -- It's not going to happen to me.

Issues of food safety are often met with this kind of attitude, according to Doug Powell, associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University. This lack of concern places a greater emphasis on how food safety messages are presented.

"The way people learn is through telling stories in surprising ways and making it relevant," he said.

Powell has combated this attitude in a variety of ways, including at http://www.barfblog.com, a blog on food safety issues worldwide, which he operates with several co-authors. Powell and barfblog are highlighted in a section on food safety in a new book, "Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks and Good Food." The book is written by computer scientist Jeff Potter and is 432 pages of musings on experimentation in cooking.

Powell's contributions to the body of knowledge on food safety also are in the classroom, albeit through a computer screen. He teaches a graduate distance course called Food Safety Risk Analysis, involving the assessment, management and communication of food safety risks.

Outdated approaches by government entities make new ways of conveying information on food safety even more important, according to Powell.

"Most of our government agencies are stuck at the 'we produced a brochure stage' of information provision," he said. "That's not going to work with the younger demographic. We're always looking for new media to exploit."

Awareness is the best asset for enhancing the food safety culture, Powell said. The best approaches come through incentives and the punishment of bad behavior. A prominent example is restaurant disclosure. This is based on giving letter grades for inspections. The greatest benefit is that it establishes a dialogue, he said, but the information has to be posted.

"Publishing the information in the newspaper every couple of weeks doesn't help when you're walking through the restaurant's door," Powell said. "It needs to be right there."

Powell said he's encouraged by the level of dialogue on improving food safety, but acknowledges there's plenty of work to do.

"For every step forward there always seems to be a few steps back," he said. "When you look at the billions of meals served in the country each year, food safety is pretty good. But when someone screws up, it's pretty bad."

That happened this summer when more than 550 million eggs were recalled nationwide because of a salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 1,800 people. The eggs came from an Iowa egg producer.

On a personal level, Powell said he is respectful of food when he cooks. But he cautions against being too paranoid.

"I think of any raw food as containing microorganisms that could be dangerous," he said. "I don't treat it like nuclear waste, but I treat it with respect."

More information on food safety and Powell is available at http://barfblog.foodsafety.ksu.edu


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