Can The USDA's 'Food Safe Families' Program Really Prevent Contamination?

USDA food safety

Forming a sort-of “food safety alliance,” the USDA, Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and the Ad Council joined forces to launch a campaign titled “Food Safe Families” targeted at helping Americans reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

The official blog post announcement came from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack stating that, “American families are looking for clear and concise information on how to better protect themselves, and this campaign has the potential to generate unprecedented national exposure to issues of food safety and foodborne illness prevention.”

Replete with a Twitter hashtag (#checksteps), the “Check Your Steps” motto for the Food Safe Families program is based around four main considerations for safe food preparation:

  1. Clean: Clean kitchen surfaces, utensils and hands with soap and water while preparing food.
  2. Separate: Separate raw meats from other foods by using different cutting boards.
  3. Cook: Cook foods to the right temperature by using a food thermometer.
  4. Chill: Chill raw and prepared foods promptly.

Food expert and Professor of Sociology at New York University, Marion Nestle, wrote on her blog that while food safety at home is indeed a smart idea it’s not where the problem lies, “the big national outbreaks we’ve been experiencing lately are from foods that are already contaminated by the time they get to you.” Nestle uses the recent EU sprout contamination issue as an example of how ineffective these rules would be in that case.

A functional, governed food safety system with rules requiring all producers to follow safety procedures is our best bet in hedging these risky outbreaks writes Nestle, ” Will we ever get a food safety system like this?  And how bad will things have to get before we do?”

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Photo: USDA

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.