One of the points that really resonated with me during my interview with Darin Detwiler is where he was very definitive about how outbreaks occur. Through is 25 years of experience, he says it’s because of two main factors:
People Don’t Know or People Don’t Care
In this article, I wanted to give a few pieces of advice on how we can get people to know, and how to get them to care.
People Don’t Know
If you don’t understand microbiology, food safety can be very hard to understand. In the past, doctors didn’t wash their hands because they thought it’s a waste of time. It wasn’t until we learned how microorganisms grow that we took things a bit more seriously.
If you know how to wash your hands, you’re as smart as a doctor.
If you don’t, here’s some basic reasons. The science behind it.
- Dirt and other brown stuff have billions of microoganisms. Some that make you sick. Your body is also a pretty dirty place
- Washing your hands uses physical movement to wash out microorganisms down the drain.
- Using heat kills microorganisms which is why water should be hot
- Using soap gets rid of oils and helps scrape more microorganisms down the drain.
- Using sanitizers destroys 99.9% microorganisms on the skin. Some say that’s not 100% required, but the fact is, it wipes out everything
- Using physical objects like paper towels also help wipe off bacteria
- After doing all of this, you are reducing billions of bacteria, to potentially zero.
Do note, it does take a lot of bacteria to make you sick, but as you can see above, it’s actually quite easy to have billions of bacteria on your hand.
To know how bacteria grows, and where it grows, and how harmful it is, is in general just an important factor when dealing with food safety. It takes some textbook work to learn, but you can apply it so easily.
Here’s some more tips:
- Rotten food will make you sick because its bacteria count has grown to such high levels. If it smells or it’s slimy, part of that is bacteria proliferating. Also, because the product is breaking down.
- If you leave a hair on a petri dish full of agar, 2 days later, your hair will be covered in bacteria colonies
- Not all bacteria is bad and humans do a good job sorting this out. Anything rusty, dark, damp, or smelly is generally a sign of microbial trouble. If it’s not microbial, it’s probably something bad.
Though we don’t know the powers of bacteria, we know that there are good ones and bad ones. Study the bad ones, and the next time you get food poisoning, think: What microorganism did I get?
PS: I did this when I ate old rice and got B. cereus.
People Don’t Care
A big portion of outbreaks are people who are very careless, only doing things for money.
How do you get people to care?
According to Darin, have them be in the consumer’s shoes.
Darin uses an example of a pizza place. Pizza places are usually filled with high schoolers who just want to get some money for fun.
They are a prime target in terms of not washing their hands and being lazy. This, of course, is a generalization but bear with me.
What happens if you were a high school student and you work at a pizza place. Your girlfriend comes to your pizza place and buys a slice with your friends?
Your girlfriend gets sick from the pizza place, and it’s fatal…
The repercussions are huge. The pizza place loses a bunch of money and you go into depression. The outbreak might have not been even your fault but the CDC decided to quarantine your shift and your location so it might have actually been your fault!
Point being, food safety can affect anyone and everyone. Even people without a high school education should learn why we have to pay attention to food safety. Discussing the incidences where foodborne illnesses can affect a love one is very important.
Let’s think a bit bigger. Most food companies implement food safety, but because it’s a preventative award rather than a profit award, some money-driven managers shirk responsibility. Of course, the only time people realize that you’ve made a big error is if an outbreak actually occurs and you lose $10 million dollars.
It’s so hard to figure out who is doing their food safety well or not. As a consumer, it’s not attractive to hear “we keep our food safe!” (compared to: “Quality is our policy!” Or, “Good for your body”). People expect a food company to produce safe food. The good news is that the line is pretty darn solid between safe and not safe, and that if you fail, it’s very hard to come back.
Author: Adam Yee, check out Adam’s other blog posts at My Food Job Rocks!
Are you interested in a career in Food Safety or Quality Assurance? Read Amelia’s story to learn about her journey from Culinary to Food Safety. If you have made up your mind–Food Safety/QA–is for you, check out the FoodGrads Job Board.