I’ve worked for the Food Safety and Inspection Service for 21 years, and for the past six years, I’ve had the opportunity to help reduce foodborne illness in a unique way outside of my usual job description—by talking to local 8th grade science students about how to “Fight Bac!” My husband, Kirkland, also works for FSIS. I am a Case Specialist, meaning I deal with consumer complaints and product recalls within FSIS’ Springdale, Ark., district, while Kirkland is a Consumer Safety Inspector (CSI). When my niece was studying bacteria in her 8th grade science class, she mentioned to her teacher that several members of her family work every day to prevent harmful bacteria in our food supply. Intrigued, the teacher called and asked if I would discuss with the class my job and how foodborne pathogens can make people sick.
I agreed. Since then, I’ve given six presentations, called “Fighting Bacteria!,” to the students at Huntsville Middle School. The presentation changes a little each year. Once, the students swabbed their backpacks and purses to see how much bacteria was growing there. This year I brought along my husband. Kirkland and I gave prizes to students who correctly answered questions about which pathogen is linked to different illnesses and how pathogens can multiply. The students were really attentive, and I like to think it wasn’t just for the prizes. They were especially interested in how CSIs like Kirkland take samples of different products, and they wanted to know what they could do to prevent foodborne illness. We emphasized the importance of washing hands and keeping backpacks and purses away from tables and countertops, and we gave them plenty of handouts on everyday food safety.
My family has found that while keeping food safe in our homes is important, keeping food safe for the public can be a truly fulfilling career. My niece—the one who inspired these presentations—is now a student intern with FSIS. For now, I hope these kids have a better awareness of how they can directly affect the safety of what they eat. When they look for jobs in the future, I hope they remember that there is a way they can contribute to food safety on a larger scale.