The Consumer Food Safety Education Virtual Conference Offers Insights and Connections
Steven Mandernach
Steven Mandernach

The Consumer Food Safety Education Virtual Conference Offers Insights and Connections

While the March 9-12 conference is focused on consumers, there’s plenty for food safety professionals as well, says co-chair Steven Mandernach.

March 4, 2021

The Partnership for Food Safety Education will host its Consumer Food Safety Education Virtual Conference March 9-12. The conference is dedicated to consumer food safety education, and will feature sessions delivered by speakers such as Frank Yiannas, the Food and Drug Administration’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response, Michael Roberson, director, Publix Super Markets, and Jennifer McEntire, senior vice president of food safety and technology at United Fresh Produce Association. 
We caught up with event co-chair Steven Mandernach, Association of Food and Drug Officials executive director, to talk about the conference and why it’s worth attending. 
QA: Why is the consumer side of food safety important for food processors and manufacturers to know about?
SM: Ultimately, they’re your customers for your side of the shop. These are folks that are working every day to help educate my parents and my brother and sister across the country to help them understand better what they need to know about food safety. Many of the outbreaks we've seen in history are really because of improper handling by the consumer. With some of the behavioral studies that USDA FSIS has done, it's confirmed that again and again, the practices of the consumer are definitely contributing to foodborne illness. There’s some work to be done there. Educators across the country that are working in this area bring valuable information and are valuable resource to those studies. So, if they have one of those events or their industry segment has something that's really valuable for consumers, it's an opportunity to interact with the people that are working every day with them to do that and get more information out about what they do and why. This is an important area for consumers to know. 
QA: What are some of the sessions like?
SM: The session on behavioral change is really valuable regardless where you're at because we're all  dealing with that every day. In the plant, you're trying to change the behavior of the employees in all likelihood and implement behavior change — no different than the consumers. It’s the same science, same information, same concepts. I do think getting the perspective of where the federal leaders are heading with consumers is helpful for industry to understand, because that's likely to influence where things are going with industry too. They will give us some good insight of where they're headed in those areas and what they see as important. For the consumer food trends session, while the industry knows that, sometimes there are things that are coming that are being thought of in a different way, and that's always helpful to know from an industry perspective. 
QA: Since it’s a virtual event, what kind of networking opportunities will there be?
SM: There are poster sessions that have an opportunity for networking. There's actually a networking event also. Those are allow opportunities to talk to smaller groups of people — be kind of in that small chat room environment. But I think now we're pretty proficient with that. There's also some breaktime that allows for the opportunity to interact with the people that are participating. So, all of those give you a great opportunity to meet people and learn from others.
QA: Are there speakers or sessions you’re looking forward to? 
SM: I definitely think the behavioral change session is something I'm looking forward to. Also, I’m looking forward to the researchers panel, because what I've seen on their preliminary work, there are some things that we probably would not have said three years ago that are going to be potential changes as it relates to consumer food safety education. We also are fortunate to have some good friends of mine, the cheese twins (Michael and Charlie Kalish) that have been on the Food Network multiple times and are food safety consultants also as their day job. But they are an entertaining bunch. I think that'll be a little more lighthearted approach to food safety. That will be very interesting for everyone participating as we have our virtual cheese tasting.
QA: There’s a session on food delivery, which has seen such an increase with the pandemic. How has COVID-19 changed consumer food safety? 
SM: COVID clearly has an impact every day. While it doesn't have a direct impact on food safety as food is not a transmitter of COVID, it has the impact of changing how you approach food. So, how you approach the grocery store, how you approach going to restaurants, etc. Food delivery has gone on steroids. Food service is going to be a very different industry at the end of COVID or as it subsides. And frankly, I think the grocery industry is going to see a lot of change in their world, too.