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Allison Howell and Devon Mendez at North Market Booth

By: Allison Howell

I joined CFI as a graduate student in the Department of Food Science and Technology in May 2020. While the rest of the world was in a state of chaos, I settled right into my new home at OSU with the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention (CFI). Over a year later, I am currently in the process of transitioning to a dual-degree program, where I will complete both my PhD in Food Science and Technology and my MPH in Epidemiology with Dr. Kowalcyk as my advisor. In the past year, I have worked on several of CFI’s projects, such as FAIRETARTARE, and Chakula Salama, and I have had the chance to work with students from a diverse mix of educational backgrounds. Throughout all my interactions with CFI, one thing has stood out to me: a passion for translating science and reducing the burden of foodborne illness. My past academic and research experiences were not as focused on translational work, which has the potential for impact at the individual, community, and global levels. Getting to work with this group of passionate researchers and scholars in the food safety field has led me to believe that science does not belong behind the locked doors of a research lab or hidden among stacks of books in a library, but it belongs in our communities and everyday conversations.  

When the North Market reached out to CFI looking for educational groups to host booths at their summer markets, I jumped at the chance to lead CFI’s efforts. As an undergraduate student, participating in outreach and engagement was one of my favorite activities, so I was excited to continue this with CFI.  I connected with Gina Nicholson Kramer, Director of Partnerships and Learning, to learn more about CFI’s brand and how we wanted to present our group at events. Gina offered me support and guidance as I worked through iterations of what our booth at the market would include. I adapted materials from the Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and created a trifold display board with interactive components and succinct food safety messages. Gina also connected me with Food Safety Dietitian Mary Angela Miller at KeepSafeFood , who was kind enough to donate a “Basic 4 Food Safety Kit” and several “Food Safety Chopping Mats” to be raffled off and given away at our booth. 

During the event, I was joined by CFI alumni, Devon Mendez, MPH, who now works for Columbus Public Health as a STI epidemiologist. We engaged with market-goers and invited them to test their food safety knowledge with our interactive display or to ask any food safety question they wanted answered. Most shoppers would stop and review our display with inquisitive looks and occasionally ask a question or make a comment about how they didn’t realize there were quite so many things to consider about food safety. We were even visited by one guest who wanted to take our picture, so she could share it with her sister who worked in food safety extension in Indiana. Reflecting on the experience, I realize that most people don’t actively think about the safety of their food. It is often assumed that the people who have handled that food before its purchased have kept it safe, and as long as consumers don’t make some egregious mistake in preparing the food, they will be okay. I think getting people to take a proactive role in acknowledging that all food has risk and the safety is not guaranteed is an important first step to making food safer for everyone. 

I really enjoyed my time at the Farmers' Market. It was great to take what I have been learning during my time with CFI and apply it to a setting outside of the classroom or academic context. Outreach and education is an important part of promoting safe food handling behaviors, and I look forward to continuing to share this message at additional CFI outreach events in the future! 

Allison Howell

Allison Howell

Graduate Research Associate





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