Following this post about an outbreak of E. coli O157 at a daycare, I received a few emails asking thoughtful questions about food safety. One in particular asked about what food manufacturers are doing to keep their products safe, and what public health officials are doing to educate the public about how to properly handle and cook food. For the latter, I replied that we’re doing what we can, but that it’s difficult to reach people and get them to listen to advice on a topic where many people already feel they have enough education (I mean, food preparation and cooking isn’t exactly rocket science, right? Why should you take the time out of your day to listen to a public health professional about how to do it their way, when your way is working just fine?) A segment on the morning news made it even more obvious to me why our efforts to educate all too often seem to be futile.
I mentioned yesterday that my son was sick and home from school. He was feeling better last night, but I kept him home a bit late today just to make sure he was still fine this morning. Meanwhile, I killed an hour or so flipping through the morning news shows. The Today show had a cooking segment with Martha Stewart on BBQ’ing great hamburgers. So Martha put a burger on the grill, and the anchor asked her, “how long do you cook that for?”
Martha’s reply? “For a rare burger, about 3 minutes on a side.”
Ground beef. Martha Stewart, cooking icon, telling viewers that they can cook it rare. No mention of using a food thermometer to be sure that the internal temperature is up to 160 degrees F in order to kill any contaminating bacteria. No mention that eating such a burger rare increases one’s risk of developing a food-borne illness. Nothing.
This is why public health officials bang their heads against the wall. Who has more influence–your local public health department, already understaffed and underfunded, trying to get the word out about safely BBQ’ing this summer, or Martha Stewart with 5 minutes on the Today show, telling everyone how to cook a rare hamburger?
Image from http://www.tvsquad.com/media/2005/12/martha-stewart.png