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Frequently Asked Questions

 Dr. Stephen Neel, Founder and CEO of Technical Solutions International, is often asked specific questions about the IAFE Consumer Protection Workshops.  Below are a few of the questions and his responses:

Question:  Why the sudden and urgent rush for E. coli training and awareness?

SN:  It’s not so much that the world has changed; it is just that the way our world is viewed has changed.  Media coverage of recent E. coli outbreaks at the center of American culture, petting zoos and county fairs, has placed an undue amount of pressure on the industry, resulting in a heightened awareness and criticism of the traditional fair event.  Furthermore, our population has become more urban and less rural, with young children, older adults and immune compromised people potentially having a higher risk when coming into contact with farm animals.

Question:  Is this E. coli bacterium new?

SN:  No, Escherichia coli, or E. coli, are members of a larger family of enteric pathogens.  One particular strain of E. coli, E. coli O157:H7 is of particular concern because it can live in or be distributed by farm animals without making the animal sick, but when ingested by people can make them very sick, or even result in death.  This strain of E. coli was identified in the early 1980’s when an outbreak of the disease was traced to undercooked hamburgers.  Modern science has enhanced our ability to identify the organism, thereby increasing the number of known cases of contamination.  In the old days, there may have been just as many cases, but science was unable to determine which organism was responsible.

Question:  Are the IAFE workshops for education or training?

SN:  Both.  The first day of the IAFE workshops are educational and informational, with an emphasis on understanding pathogens and learning about site evaluation, process control and sanitation to control risk associated with pathogens in human and farm animal interaction zones.  The second day is all about training; with hands on workshop sessions spent evaluating facilities and applying newly learned concepts to either your own facility or a hypothetical facility.  Furthermore, critical documents such as crisis response plans and sanitation standard operating procedures will be developed. 

Question:  Will I be embarrassed by sharing specific information about my fair?

SN:  The trainers at the workshops will focus on becoming part of the support team for fairs and expositions, and are not "auditors" or critics.  As such, the message will be upbeat, positive and productive rather than negative or extreme.  We understand that the time is now for strengthening an already strong industry, and doing the "little things" to further protect your consumers and customers.  Participants will not be embarrassed or humiliated by the presenters, but rather encouraged to understand the importance of the message and incorporate the information and tools into a "new and improved" facility.  The general idea is to provide each participant with a full-day of information and learning, then help them get started on the second day with a "starter kit" for implementation at each specific site.

Question:  Will improvements be too expensive or cumbersome for me to implement?

SN:  Our goal is to provide "no-cost" or "low-cost" recommendations for improving consumer protection programs at any facility or site where farm animals are in close proximity with humans.  While there will certainly be, or can certainly be some site modifications proposed or discussed, the general goal will be to provide operational procedures, record keeping and general guidelines for controlling the event such that a contamination event is not probable.  Nothing can be prevented with certainty, so we are working to change those physical things that can be changed with limited investment, and manage the rest for optimum performance and consumer protection.  We do not anticipate suggesting or proposing large investments in equipment, sampling, sanitation or structural changes, but will instead strive to improve the human component of the equation. 

The issue of "cumbersome" is difficult to address.  Without a doubt, any time you place more responsibility on the human factor, such as increased oversight, record keeping, sanitation or evaluation, you are making life more cumbersome for those involved.  We are hopeful that our recommendations are simple and effective enough to fit nicely into a regular routine of oversight, sanitation and evaluation, and that the extra burden upon management and staff is not extreme.

Question:  Will the suggested changes be well accepted by our patrons or guests?

SN:  It is anticipated that the considerations will be simple, standardized and benign enough that the patrons will not perceive a drastic change, but simply see and appreciate improvements in an already great system.  Granted, there will be some facilities that may need to radically change the way things are done, but in those facilities the changes should provide a positive message to the patrons and present a positive image of the facility.  The funny thing about protocols and procedures is that they are only as good as the implementation by the staff and leadership.  We can't build a machine or "hands free" system to control this issue...so we have to manage our way out of the woods.  If implementation breaks down, then the system will return to a state of risk.  Continuing education and an appreciation for the importance of diligence will be keys to proper and sustained implementation of protocols, record keeping and procedures.

Question:  Will changes to existing routines scare our customers away?

SN:  NO.  We are not proposing "HAZMAT" teams or “Fear Factor” techniques.  We intend to use this as an opportunity to further educate our patrons and guests about the importance of applying sound hygienic principles such as hand washing, hand-to-mouth control and oversight to reinforce the "Mom was Right" principles we learned as children.  We do not anticipate the need for harsh language, "food police" and other scare tactics to inform, educate and encourage people to "do the right thing" after visiting animal barns, petting zoos or having contact with farm animals. I think the general public will appreciate the efforts put forth, and won't mind seeing facility staff, management and volunteers implementing protocols, keeping records and "going the extra mile" to create a safer environment at farm animal events. 

Question:  What if I can’t fully implement or follow through with the recommendations or new procedures, am I at greater risk or liability?

SN:  The workshops serve as a first and important step in the awareness process.  I consider it to be a three-part program:  Awareness...Attitude...Behavior.  Once we get the message out and educate the leadership, we will begin to change the attitude towards the need for change, which will ultimately lead to a behavioral change in procedures, protocols and record keeping.  We must keep in mind that even IF a fair did EVERYTHING suggested, the risk of a contamination event will only be reduced, not eliminated.  Any positive step, even a small and seemingly insignificant one, will be a step in the right direction and provide a safer environment for the consumer.  Creating a safer fair environment is a journey, not a destination.

Question:  Will my fair be ready to go after the workshop?

SN:  Unfortunately, no.  We are calling the take home information from the workshops a "starter kit", which will need to be applied to each specific site.  This is a process that could take some time and won't be implemented over night.  Nonetheless, each and every implementation will slightly (or in some cases, significantly) reduce risk associated with a contamination event.  When dealing with risk management and consumer protection programs, the “one size fits all” theory does not apply.  Each and every site must develop its own set of site-specific tools, which takes time.  By the way, doing NOTHING is the one procedure that carries with it the greatest risk of liability.



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Last modified: August 25, 2005