Food safety programs help keep the public healthy

A fairgoer learns about pressure cooker safety from an Extension agent at the State Fair of Virginia.

A fairgoer learns about pressure cooker safety from an Extension agent at the State Fair of Virginia.

Every year, 1 in 6 Americans — 48 million people — get sick from foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. The diseases not only cause suffering and hardship for individuals and their families, they also take a toll on the federal and state budgets.

In Virginia, the estimated economic loss from foodborne illness ranges from $13 to $25 million annually. Virginia Cooperative Extension’s food safety initiative prevents foodborne illnesses, thereby reducing their cost to the public and the government.

“If a manager or someone goes through our program and prevents foodborne illness, then there’s a dollar value,” said Renee Boyer, Extension specialist and associate professor of food science and technology. “I think it’s important to know that Extension agents across the state are trained to deliver these training programs, and, all in all, they’re hoping to reduce foodborne illness and reduce cost in the state of Virginia.”

Training programs are one of the biggest weapons for fighting foodborne diseases. In 2013, Extension offered 22 food manager food safety certification courses, 33 employee food safety certification courses, and 24 general safe food handling and preparation courses. Extension also provides training for temporary food servers and events, such as when a church hosts a barbecue dinner as a fundraiser.

Extension tailors its training programs to meet the needs of the individual audience while covering the tenets of food safety, which include cleaning and sanitation techniques, separating food to prevent cross-contamination, and keeping foods at the right temperature.

Extension is also expanding its food safety training to new audiences, such as farmers markets, in order to maximize its impact. In the future, Extension would like to hire and train more agents who are dedicated to promoting food safety.

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