The introduction of the Food Safe Families advertising campaign, a joint venture between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the New York-based Ad Council, is a welcome start to efforts to educate consumers about steps they may take to prevent food-borne illness. Food safety consumer education has been sorely lacking, and this high profile undertaking is needed to ensure the billions of dollars food and beverage manufacturers have spent on food safety interventions and good manufacturing practices do not become undone by consumer ignorance.

Created by the advertising agency JWT New York, the new Food Safe Families campaign aims to raise awareness about the risks of food-borne illness and to educate consumers, especially parents, to take specific actions to reduce their families’ personal risks. Through humorous depictions of the four key safe food handling behaviors, the advertisements urge parents to keep their families safer from food poisoning and emphasize clear steps family members may take to reduce their risks.

The advertisements focus on four key safe food handling behaviors, including cleaning kitchen surfaces, utensils and hands with soap and water during food preparation; separating raw meats from other foods by using different cutting boards; cooking foods to the right temperature to ensure safety; and chilling raw and prepared foods in a prompt manner.

The campaign includes English- and Spanish-language television, radio, print, and Internet advertising, as well as a social media program. The social media applications include a redesigned Facebook page and outreach via the Twitter application. All of the advertising campaign elements direct viewers to visit, the recently updated web site, where they may learn more about proper food safety practices.

Past food safety consumer education efforts have been limited in scope and for the most part unsuccessful. The most notable effort is the Partnership for Food Safety Education, which was formed in 1997. While the Partnership has made progress through its Fight BAC marketing campaign, it has always been hindered by a lack of resources to promote its message, which is in line with the points being promoted by the Food Safe Families campaign. It is hoped a combination of the two initiatives may build consumer education efforts.

In late June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report profiling how the incidences of food-borne illness caused by different pathogens have changed during the past 15 years. On the positive side, illnesses caused by pathogens such as E. coli O157 have declined by 50%, and illnesses caused by other pathogens, including Campylobacter, Listeria, vibrio and yersina declined by 23%.

On the negative side, the incidence of salmonella infections increased by 10% during the past 15 years. From a consumer education standpoint, this information is notable, because proper food preparation plays a significant role in preventing illnesses caused by salmonella infections.

Advances in testing, detection and medical diagnosis technologies have allowed public health officials to expand understanding of food-borne illnesses, their causes and their prevalence. As these technologic advances continue, it will put even more pressure on manufacturers to lessen the incidence of contamination.

The food and beverage industry has developed various food safety protocols, including using hurdle-oriented systems, to reduce the incidence of contamination. These protocols include a series of interventions to be applied during processing and designed to lessen the possibility of end product contamination. The final hurdle in this process is consumer education, and it is important for any effort designed to better inform consumers to have the resources behind it to assure its effectiveness.