DENTON— The last place anyone wants to end up after a holiday meal is in the emergency room with food poisoning or an allergic reaction. New free food-safety videos in English and Spanish, created by a team of Texas Woman’s University nutrition and food sciences faculty and students, are designed to lower that risk in America’s restaurants and home kitchens.
Each year, one in six people in the United States is sickened by a foodborne illness, resulting in a cost of more than $15.5 billion annually, a TWU press release stated. In addition, an estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies, costing almost $25 billion each year for children alone.
“Both foodborne illness and allergic reactions to food are linked to common ingredients such as peanuts, soy, shellfish, dairy and eggs,” stated Cynthia Warren, assistant professor of nutrition and food sciences at TWU, in the release. “It makes sense to develop strategies to reduce the occurrence of both. The information in these videos – from maintaining a clean food prep area to safe food temperatures – also is useful for those preparing meals at home.”
Restaurants account for more than half of all reported foodborne illnesses in the country. The TWU study focused on small, independently operated restaurants, which represent 91 percent of the foodservice industry. These restaurants typically have limited resources and access to adequate food safety training programs.
“Most national chains can afford training – which can cost $35 to $50 per employee – or develop their own training,” Warren stated. “For a small restaurant with fewer than 50 employees, that can be a significant slice of the budget. Our training videos are free, available to anyone (at www.twu.edu/food-safety) in both English and Spanish, and are easily accessible. You can even watch them on your smartphone.”
Warren said the nature of restaurants —fast-paced environments with high employee turnover — increases the need for accessible training that is easy to understand and to apply to their food service behaviors.
“The issues of foodborne illness and food allergies are very complex,” she stated. “There are many laws and a lot of information restaurant workers need to know, understand and apply. The education component is important and needs to be ongoing.”
The TWU food safety training consists of both employee and manager manuals and 12 accompanying videos, available in both English and Spanish. In addition to covering topics such as hand washing, safe food temperatures and cross-contamination, the manuals contain real-life examples of customer illness or death related to food contamination or allergic reaction.
TWU students are featured prominently in the Integrated Food Safety Training videos, both as restaurant workers and customers in scenes shot in the university’s cafeteria, the food product development lab and other campus locations. Graduate student Gabriella Solis narrated the Spanish language videos, while TWU senior learning technologist Corin Walker provided English narration. Local videographer Guy Taylor Sheppard produced the videos.
Researchers developed the training materials based on results from a nationwide survey of knowledge, attitudes and food handling practices in independently operated restaurants, along with in-depth interviews. The materials then were tested at independently owned restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“The restaurant owners have been complimentary of the quality of the material and particularly appreciate it being concise and easily understood,” Warren stated.
The project was initiated by former TWU professors Dojin Ryu and Lisa Zottarelli, TWU Professor Emerita Carolyn Bednar and Joseph L. Baumert, assistant professor and co-director of the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Baumert, an expert in food allergens, stated mitigating food safety issues is a team effort and requires buy-in from everyone.
“I do believe that this training will help to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness or allergic reactions to foods if the employees remember to implement what they have learned into everyday practice,” he stated. “The restaurant owner and managers must communicate to the employees that food safety is a top priority of the business.”
An advisory board consisting of experts in the field contributed to the TWU research. Board members included Jayne Nosari, senior food safety and health manager of Walmart; Steve L. Taylor, Ph.D, professor of the department of food science and technology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and co-director of the Food Allergy Research & Resource Program; John N. Sofos, Ph.D., distinguished professor in the department of animal sciences at Colorado State University; NK Kim, Ph.D., director of food manufacturing at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee; and Jessica J. Jones, supply chain, food and product safety for Chick-fil-A, Inc.
Jones stated: “We applaud any effort to help food service employees be advocates for food safety, and Texas Woman’s University’s pioneering work with the support of the National Integrated Food Safety Initiative grant did just that with the development of materials that create a clear message. It was truly a pleasure to partner with TWU on reviewing the materials and advising them in their laudable effort to help small business owners keep food safety a priority in their restaurant. Food safety, from the farm to the restaurant, is the backdrop of any great dining experience.”
These TWU-produced food safety videos are a result of a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, resulting in the only research project in the country that took an integrated approach to food safety training.
The study was funded through the National Integrated Food Safety Initiative, a program within the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. According to Warren, independent public universities like TWU typically aren’t awarded these types of grant.
“These grants usually go to land grant universities, because they have that extension component and a larger pool of faculty to work with,” she stated. “I think it speaks to the importance of this issue — and to the reputation and caliber of our program — that our study was awarded this grant.”