By: Sharmi Das
This past July, middle and high school teachers got a taste of the latest food safety and nutrition information at the FDA’s 15th annual summer training program for school teachers. The week-long program aims to improve food safety and nutrition education in U.S. schools so students are better armed to make nutritious food choices and understand the proper handling of food.
The program, called Science and Our Food Supply, uses a curriculum co-developed by FDA and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). To date, 652 teachers (from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and some U.S. Territories) have completed the weeklong training. This year, 32 teachers from 22 states participated in the program and will return to their own schools to teach the curriculum this school year. This class included teachers who specialize in biology, chemistry, food science, health, and family and consumer sciences such as culinary arts.
The creation of a strong network of teachers and students around the country who are “food savvy” is a measure of the program’s success. The program’s participants will reach an estimated 3,200 new students, as well as 640 additional teachers in daylong train-the-teacher sessions, this coming school year. These estimates conservatively reflect the reach of this program – many teachers report using this curriculum to educate consumer groups within their communities, as well as sharing their new knowledge with their own friends and family.
During the weeklong program, teachers learned about the journey food takes from farm to table. The training included basic microbiology techniques in a University of Maryland teaching lab, along with introductions to the latest food safety and nutrition research from scientists at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) and USDA’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC). The teachers heard about new and ongoing research on food safety, nutrition and nutrition labeling, food allergies and food allergen labeling, and cosmetics safety.
In these settings, the teachers not only listened to presentations about relevant topics, but were given ample time to interact with the speakers. Teachers were excited at the opportunity to “ask the experts” many of the questions their students had brought up in class. Lively discussions on the topics of food allergies, color additives, and cosmetics helped teachers understand FDA’s role in regulating several products.
At the end of the week, teachers reported on the many ways the training and curriculum will be used to teach their students about food safety and nutrition. “I feel like I can better explain and allow them to investigate better/healthier food choices,” said Victoria Obenchain, of Moraga, Calif. The teachers were also given a variety of educational materials and resources to help them use the curriculum in their own schools.
The FDA-NSTA training program immerses educators in the world and culture of food safety and nutrition for a full week. This experience provides school teachers with a comprehensive farm-to-table perspective on food safety and nutrition, allows them to become familiar with the many and varied backgrounds of professionals in this field, and helps to educate thousands of students about Science and Our Food Supply.
Sharmi Das is the Director of the Division of Education, Outreach and Information in the Office of Analytics and Outreach in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition