4th grade presentation: water treatment on the Oregon trail

Austin Bouck classroom presentation
Apparently I have T-Rex arms here…I was excited!

I had the honor once again to make a presentation to two 4th grade classes at a local elementary school during their Oregon Trail unit. The question posed to the students was:

Your wagon train has broken down, and you need to find water for your entire group. What can you do to make sure the water is safe?

I came in to cover the topic of water treatment. The presentation was based on several key points:

  1. What kinds of hazards/dangers do you need to address with water (or food in general)?
  2. What did pioneers on the Oregon trail know about these hazards in 1811-1840? (hint: no germ theory yet)
  3. Which hazards do different treatments address, and which ones would have been available at the time?

The presentation consists of me blabbering and motioning wildly, a powerpoint, and a visual aid. The visual is a set of configurable pegboards to represent different filtration “pore” sizes, and demonstrate how effective they might be depending on the situation.

4th grade Oregon Trail unit on water filtration
Steeper slope=more water pressure. Bill Nye, whenever you’re ready to have me on…

I can’t post the ppt here because I’m certain I used a number of copyright images. However I was able to record the presentation this year, so I can make the audio available. It’s about 25 minutes long including the questions. But if you’re into this kind of thing, or want to learn about different water treatments, enjoy!

Fur, Farm, and Fork awarded IFSQN Member of the Month

Me and the other person with the NPR donation mug can stare each other down now.

I’m proud to be awarded Member of the Month for March, 2017 over at the International Food Safety and Quality Network, a community of food professionals sharing knowledge about food safety, equipment, certifications, and support.

From their about page:

The IFSQN was founded in 2003 to provide food safety practitioners with an online platform for sharing knowledge and information and to enable collaboration on the effective implementation, operation and continual improvement of food safety management systems. Twelve years on this remains our primary goal. As food safety regulations continue to develop and third party food safety certification standards are mandated globally the importance of the IFSQN has never been greater.

The IFSQN website attracts well over 1,500 unique visitors every day and we also distribute the popular Food Safety Talk newsletter to over 25,000 subscribers each and every week.

Our discussion forums are unique and unrivaled anywhere in the world; with over 40,000 members creating an archive of over 80,000 posts as well as 1’000’s of files and documents to assist members old and new.

Each year we run the popular Food Safety Live online conference which brings together thousands of food safety practitioners for a free day of learning and in January 2015 we began running weekly complimentary educational webinars for our members.

If you work in food check it out, the forum archive has an amazing array of topics, and there are some very talented people on there helping out for free purely to help other manufacturers produce safe food. It’s like VIN for food professionals, and that’s pretty awesome.

I get a sweet new mug, courtesy of Safefood 360 ™ as my “trophy”. Will display proudly next to my “Where your hairnet” trophy.

FDA officially refers consumers to Wikipedia for information on food pathogens

I was perusing the Bad Bug Book while doing some research on the recent Blue Bell outbreak and came across a hyperlink. After hearing “do you want to know more?” in my head, I clicked through on some non-L. mono species of Listeria and was…confused. I quickly doubled back, thinking that maybe I had been redirected, but there it was.

FDA Bad Bug Book linking directly to wikipedia
FDA Bad Bug Book linking directly to Wikipedia

FDA describes the reference as “current information about the major known agents that cause foodborne illness.” Descriptions also include a statement that it should not be used as a comprehensive or clinical reference. However, this isn’t an excuse for making a consumer and industry reference link to a completely uncontrolled document source. The Bad Bug Book (2nd ed.) is a wonderfully written resource, both for a lay and industry audience; but the fact that the authors of the Listeria page referred to Wikipedia as an ongoing resource, without knowing or being able to control the content presented to consumers, is irresponsible. A nefarious Wikipedia troll could at any moment have an article claiming that L. grayi is a GMO herbicide borne bacteria found in bananas that causes uncontrolled crying and hair growth, and have the full support of the FDA behind their article.

Please don’t write that article.

A  currently live example of why this was such a poor decision is that if you click through to some of the pages, they don’t exist (as of 7/27/15). I don’t know if the author intended to write them him/herself and never got around to it, or if they simply assumed the pages existed, and then didn’t bother to review the content. I’m not satisfied with either of those answers, and if alternatively the reference articles were removed at some point, that also highlights what a poor decision those links were.

Given the sheer number of PhD’s involved in the book’s creation, I think taxpayers should expect a resource with material actually reviewed and sanctioned by FDA. The poor editing here is unacceptable and a change should be made to the current edition of the book.

Many of the other pages in the book name multiple related species, but either included links to NIH or CDC or included no link at all, both of which are acceptable alternatives. I won’t name the authors and editors of the book here, anyone who wants to know can find them at the front of the document. If you’re interested in bringing this to FDA’s attention in your own way, they’re on twitter as @US_FDA and additional points of contact are available at www.fda.gov.

Food and Drug Administration (2012). Listeria Monocytogenes Bad Bug Book, Foodborne pathogenic microorganisms and natural toxins. Second Edition, 99-100

Misinformation and selective coverage change perception of outbreaks, but can be corrected by presenting the facts

While it’s not an animal product, the Listeriosis outbreak recently traced to apples is just as relevant to the food industry as a whole as any other food-borne illness outbreak. While I was looking for more information on the outbreak, I came across this gem* of an article posted on cnn.com.

*When this post was originally written, the text on the website read: “At least seven people have died after eating caramel apples that may have been infected with Listeria monocytogenes. Followed immediately by a quote from CDC which stated ‘Thirty-one ill people have been hospitalized and six deaths have been reported. Listeriosis contributed to three of these deaths, and it is unclear whether it contributed to an additional two deaths. The sixth death was unrelated to listeriosis.'” CNN has since removed the CDC quote, but kept their original ‘7 deaths’ statement.”

I found this disturbing on two levels. First, the fact that they reported that at least six people had died after eating contaminated apples, when listeriosis was only confirmed as cause of death for 3 of the cases and ruled out for the 6th.

“Hey Jen, what’s the body count up to on that outbreak article?”

“Looks like 3 for sure, could be 3-5”

“Thats it?”

“Don’t worry, we’ll round up to 6+, if you use a Log scale, they’re practically the same number.”

Second, they used the direct quote from CDC’s 12/31 update to directly contradict themselves in the following sentence. Who wrote this article? (update, clearly they wizened up and removed the quote on Jan 15, I wonder if they saw the reddit post. This is also a rhetorical question, their name is on the article, but we also need to assign blame to their editor.).

So what sort of impact could this statement have? Young, Norman, and Humphries reviewed the impact of media coverage on how dangerous we think they are. They found that indeed, those conditions/diseases that receive more media coverage are perceived by medical students as a “worse” condition. This can actually be a very good thing for infectious disease outbreaks, as rapid media coverage of the danger encourages people to avoid contact with others, leading to exponentially fewer cases the earlier you do it. This is less good however, when non-infectious diseases or inaccurate correlations are blown out of proportion (e.g. people avoiding pork to avoid H1N1).

The literature review included in the beginning of the article shows that this isn’t necessarily new information. However, the authors also examined the effect or including additional “objective” information about the conditions when asking students to rank their risk. The result was that, as seen in the chart below, when provided additional information the study participants then changed their views of the diseases. The large separation between what they had seen in media and what they had not seen shrank and they assigned more risk to those threats that aren’t often talked about, and became less nervous of the high coverage items in comparison.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0003552As a science blogger, this is my soapbox, as this study highlighted the responsibility for those who know more than the headline to speak up and share their knowledge, because people can and will be receptive to it as long as it’s available.

Unfortunately, the study was inherently biased as medical students are more likely to be receptive to new data (especially related to disease) as opposed to other groups with stronger existing bias’ (e.g. CAM users, anti-vaccination proponents, specialist doctors, or epidemiologists who may be swayed by previous outbreak coverage). The authors specifically did not survey students on their current media usage or biases, and therefore could not demonstrate the power of providing additional information on subjects they may have already formed strong opinions on.

I’d like to see the study repeated with an older group, as student’s opinions are more likely to be malleable as they are less likely to know as much about these illnesses or had personal experiences with them. A repeated study with participants of at least 40-years-old would be more telling and help us understand what effect providing additional objective information can have.

After all, as nice as it is to know students can be taught, they’re not the ones in public office. Are they also willing to change their minds when new information is made available?
Young ME, Norman GR, & Humphreys KR (2008). Medicine in the popular press: the influence of the media on perceptions of disease. PloS one, 3 (10) PMID: 18958167

Mummert A, & Weiss H (2013). Get the news out loudly and quickly: the influence of the media on limiting emerging infectious disease outbreaks. PloS one, 8 (8) PMID: 23990974ResearchBlogging.org