The USDA’s Food Safety Discovery Zone has finished its spring 2012 tour, taking hands-on food safety lessons across the Southeast. Stopping in the smallest towns and big cities like Dallas, we were able to educate over 175,000 people on preventing foodborne illness. Real food safety experts who work in meat and poultry plants near each town—like veterinarians, investigators, and other FSIS personnel—came out to staff the events. FSIS Administrator Al Almanza even came to the last stop in San Antonio. Here are some of my favorite moments along the way:
Elm City, NC, April 3: The first stop on the tour was in Elm City, North Carolina. We parked the Discovery Zone at Elm City Elementary School, where students and educators learned to clean, separate, cook, and chill. Elm City has a population of 1,400, and in a tight-knit community like this, the Discovery Zone staff knows our messages will be put into practice at community barbecues and potluck dinners.
Byram and Madison, Miss., April 8-9: These two towns are in the heart of FSIS’ Jackson District, an area known for poultry production. Grocery stores are one of my favorite places to host events, because people have good food safety questions about their purchases. Shoppers were surprised by the unusual installment in their Kroger parking lots, and over 400 people took away food safety resources to use at home.
Dallas, Texas 4/14: The White Rock YMCA hosted us as part of its “Vive tu Vida” (“Live Your Life”) Health Fair. As the staff’s bilingual member, I enjoyed leading Discovery Zone tours and manning the Food Safety Wheel game for the mostly Spanish-speaking crowd. With an estimated 3,000 in attendance, the Discovery Zone’s presence in the community was certainly felt.
San Antonio, Texas 4/17: Our staff made an immediate impact at the South New Braunfels Avenue HEB grocery store. Late in the afternoon, a couple approached the Discovery Zone with a serious dilemma. The wife had been thawing frozen pork in bowls of warm water, ignoring her husband’s warnings that this could make them sick. Convinced she was right, the woman wanted our staff to prove her husband wrong. She was shocked when we told her the three safe ways to thaw frozen meat: in the refrigerator, in the microwave, and in cold water. The couple took home a Kitchen Companion to consult next time there is any uncertainty.
Fiesta San Antonio 4/20-21: What a joy to be in San Antonio for its annual Fiesta, the city-wide multicultural celebration! The Discovery Zone set up shop among vendors at the Fiesta Oyster Bake held on St. Mary’s University campus. Visitors wanted to know about Vibrio at this event, a pathogen that can be present in shellfish, and the staff was happy to talk to them about food safety practices for all foods. FSIS Administrator Al Almanza gave out food safety materials while we were there, taking pictures with the FSIS staff and visitors alike.
Fort Sam Houston, Texas 4/22: An important military medical training facility, “Fort Sam” hosted a fireworks display and carnival for armed service members and their families. This was a unique and meaningful opportunity to talk food safety with a special group. Young children are at higher risk for foodborne illness, and we welcomed at least 200 families into the Discovery Zone, setting them up for a safe and fun summer. The fireworks display was a fantastic finale for our trip, and then it was back to Washington, D.C. for some local events.