This past weekend, the USDA Food Safety Discovery Zone (FSDZ) appeared at the inaugural USA Science and Engineering Festival Expo in Washington, DC. Over 1,500 exhibitors, including universities, private industry, and government agencies filled the National Mall and surrounding areas with thought-provoking, fun, interactive, and hands-on displays. The mission of the organizer and founder, Larry Bock, and his team is to re-invigorate the interest of our nation’s youth in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by producing and presenting the most compelling, exciting, educational and entertaining science-based exhibits and displays in the United States. If this weekend was any measure, they definitely succeeded!
The FSDZ shared a block on Pennsylvania Avenue between 12th and 13th streets with numerous other mobile labs, and the location garnered a great deal of interest since all of the vehicles were located in proximity to each other. The lessons of foodborne bacteria fit perfectly into the scientific theme of the festival, and the colorful, custom-made FSDZ attracted children, teens, and adults alike. Nearly 6,000 people visited the USDA’s exhibit, asking questions, learning about safe food handling practices, and winning age-appropriate prizes at the Food Safety Wheel Game.
One little girl, age 8, spun the wheel and landed on SEPARATE. A USPHS Officer staffing the game asked, “If your mom is cutting up a chicken on a cutting board, and she asks you to help her cut up some lettuce for a salad, are you going to use the same cutting board?” “No way!” she replied. “Why not?” asked the food safety professional. “Because there could be chicken juice all over it! And it can have bacteria that could make everyone in my family sick,” the little girl exclaimed. The FSDZ staff all agreed that this young lady was a true microbiologist in the making!
While the FSDZ reinforces safe food handling practices for adult consumers, the staff believes the attractive, kid-oriented vehicle helps “drive home” food safety messages to children at an impressionable age. Learning these habits at an early age will help them learn life-lessons that they can carry on through adulthood. The lessons learned by children this weekend at the USA Science and Engineering Festival hopefully also inspired a new generation of scientists.