February 2008 // Volume 46 // Number 1 // Tools of the Trade // 1TOT5

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Food Safety Education as a Risk Management Strategy

What would the consequences be if food at an Extension event caused a food borne illness outbreak? Programs and activities involving the service or preparation of food are common in Extension programs and provide inherent risks that, if not managed, could lead to potential financial loss or harm to people, property, or organizational goodwill. Ohio State University Extension has taken a proactive approach to food safety risk management by adopted Food Preparation/Service Policy and Procedures, requiring training, using The Original Safe Food Handling for Occasional Quantity Cooks curriculum, for all Extension staff and volunteers involved with food programs or events.

Deborah L. Angell
Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences
The Ohio State University
Norwalk, Ohio


What would the consequences be if food served at an Extension event caused a food borne illness outbreak? Extension professionals conduct educational outreach in order to improve the lives of citizens in the communities they serve. Often the program efforts involve risks, which, if unmanaged, could lead to potential financial loss or harm to people, property, or organizational goodwill. Just as important in program planning as choosing the topic, teaching methods, and evaluation tools, is identifying the risks associated and appropriate measures to manage these risks. Risk analysis and management is widely utilized in development of food safety standards at all levels of food industry. Non-profit organizations preparing or serving food, including Extension, should use this process as well.

Food Safety is one of many areas where Ohio State University (OSU) Extension has taken a proactive approach to risk management. Extension events are steeped in tradition, traditions that often involve preparation and/or service of food or food demonstrations. Another Extension tradition is the involvement of volunteers to assist with programs or to run events. The food safety risks involved in these events are an important concern.

Nationally there are an estimated 76 million cases of food borne illness annually, causing 5,000 deaths (Centers for Disease Control, 2005; Mead et al., 1999). Two to three percent of food borne illness cases lead to secondary long-term illnesses, including rheumatoid and reactive arthritis, meningitis, and chronic kidney disease (Centers for Disease Control, 2005). The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the national costs of food borne illness to be between $260 and $13.3 billion annually in medical costs, lost of income and productivity, and other costs (Battelle, 2005; Busby, Roberts, Lin, & MacDonald, 1996).

Individuals, including Extension personnel and volunteers, are often unaware of the risks. They need to understand the risks involved with preparation and service of food and be knowledgeable about measures required to manage these risks. The potential consequences for an organization of a food borne illness outbreak are serious enough that the risk cannot be left to chance.

Program Description

The Ohio State University Extension Food Preparation/Service Policy and Procedures went into effect March 1, 2006 and address the risks associated with events involving preparation and/or service of food. The purpose of the policy is to take a proactive approach to managing the inherent risks of a food event or program (OSU Extension, 2006).

Basic requirements of the policy include:

  • OSU Extension strongly recommends contracting with licensed food service professionals to prepare and serve food at events when appropriate.

  • The policy requires Extension staff and volunteers to consult their local Health Department and adhere to all requirements for food handling and licensing.

  • All paid OSU Extension faculty and staff, as well as volunteers, who are involved with food preparation or service must be knowledgeable about safe food handling practices. They must participate in The Original Safe Food Handling for Occasional Quantity Cooks (OQC) training (OSU Extension, 2005).

  • At least one staff member or volunteer who has taken this training must be on-site at all times for the entire program or event.

The OQC training can be conducted in several formats. The original curriculum was designed to be six 1-hour lessons. The curriculum has been adapted by OSU Extension educators for a 2-hour overview suitable for training Extension staff and volunteers. A training DVD was also developed for use in counties where no Extension educator has the expertise to teach the program.

The curriculum covers an overview of what is required to carry out a food event. Topics include planning, purchasing, storage, food preparation, food service, and handling leftovers. The training materials include Power Point presentations, handouts, activities, posters, and a participant manual that can be provided to participants for their use as a reference.

After finishing the training, participants complete an on-line survey and are entered into a statewide database. They are issued a certificate of participation that they need to renew through update training every 5 years. To date there are over 1,400 people in the OSU Extension database documenting completion of the OQC training.

Anecdotal evidence shows this program is making a difference in practices. One group no longer has volunteers prepare individual batches of sloppy joe at home to donate and combine into one large batch for their concession stand. Now they take money donations to purchase supplies and prepare all sloppy joe on site in an approved kitchen. Other behavior changes reported include using proper cooling techniques, more effective hand washing, and use of gloves.

Pre- and post-session survey results from one county (n=65) show significant increases in knowledge gained during the program, with a mean pre-session survey score of 57% and a mean post-session survey score of 92%. If they have the knowledge, will they use it? Research shows food safety education is effective in helping people adopt safe food handling behaviors (Medieros, Hillers, Kendall, & Mason, 2001; Bruhn, 1997; Hillers, Medeiros, Kendall, Chen, & DiMascola, 2003).

Results and Discussion

Risks are everywhere around us in life and are impossible to totally eliminate or avoid. Extension would do no programming at all if the organization attempted to avoid all risk. On the other hand, certain risks cannot be ignored. The proactive approach of engaging in the process of continuous risk management allows for safe, effective programs and events. This continuous process involves identifying and acknowledging potential risks, evaluating the risks, and implementing risk management strategies (including educating staff and volunteers), and monitoring and updating as required (Graf, 2003). The OSU Extension Food Preparation/Service Policy and required training provide proactive risk management for the organization.

The Original Safe Food Handling for Occasional Quantity Cooks curriculum is available on CD, including all the Power Point Presentations, Participant Manual, and all program materials. For information on ordering contact OSU Publications at 614-292-1607 or by email at pubs@ag.osu.edu.


Battelle Memorial Institute. (January, 2005). Ohio State University Extension: A generator of positive economic impacts for Ohio (Executive Summary). Retrieved July 7, 2007 from: http://extension.osu.edu/about/executive_summmary.pdf

Bruhn, C.M. (1997). Consumer concerns: Motivating to action. Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol. 3, No. 4.

Busby, J. C., Roberts, T., Lin, C. T., & MacDonald, J. (1996) Bacterial foodborne disease: Medical costs and productivity losses. Food and Consumer Economics Division, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Economic Report No. 741. Retrieved July 7, 2007 from: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer741/AER741fm.PDF

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.) Annual listing of foodborne disease outbreaks, United States, 1990 - 2005. Retrieved July 7, 2007 from: http://www.cdc.gov/foodborneoutbreaks/outbreak_data.htm

Graf, L. (2003). Better safe… Risk management in volunteer programs and community service. Dundas, Ontario, Canada: Linda Graf and Associates, Inc.

Hillers, V. N., Medeiros, L., Kendall, P., Chen, G., & DiMascola, S. (2003). Consumer food-handling behaviors associated with prevention of 13 foodborne illnesses. Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 66, No. 10, pp. 1893-1899.

Mead, P. S., Slutsker, L., Dietz, V., McCaig, L., Bresee, J. S., Shapiro, C., Griffin, P. M., & Tauxe, R. V. (1999). Food-related illness and death in the United States. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 5:607-625.

Medeiros, L., Hillers, V., Kendall, P., & Mason, A. (2001). Evaluation of food safety education for consumers. Journal of Nutrition Education, 33: S27-S34.

Ohio State University Extension. (rev. 2005). The original safe food handling for occasional quantity cooks.

Ohio State University Extension. (2006). Ohio State University Extension Food preparation/service policy and procedures. Retrieved July 7, 2007 from: http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~admin/handbook/PDF%20files/FoodServiceFinal.pdf