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:
Why the sudden and urgent rush for E. coli training and awareness?
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.
Is this E. coli bacterium new?
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.
Are the IAFE workshops for education or training?
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.
Will I be embarrassed by sharing specific information about my fair?
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.
Will improvements be too expensive or cumbersome for me to implement?
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.
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.
Will the suggested changes be well accepted by our patrons or guests?
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.
Will changes to existing routines scare our customers away?
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
if I can’t fully implement or follow through with the recommendations or new
procedures, am I at greater risk or liability?
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.
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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