(Editor’s Note: This is an online-only article attributed to the October/November 2018 issue.)
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Do you ever catch your audiences dozing off during your presentations or lectures covering important food safety topics? Do you admit that you sometimes find it hard to stay awake during dull, boring, tedious presentations about sanitation and hygiene, allergen control, foodborne pathogens, and other often mundane food safety issues? If you answered “yes” to these questions, you are sure to be inspired by some food safety professionals who strive to make their presentations worthwhile, memorable, and lots of fun.
Food scientist Ronald Schmidt, PhD, a professor emeritus with the University of Florida, Gainesville, is quick to point out that it’s a constant struggle for professionals to find effective ways of communicating food safety messages to people of all ages and walks of life, from students to food industry and food service employees, and to consumers—while keeping them interested.
“Program design and modeling are important for the success of food safety messaging,” Dr. Schmidt says. “But all the information sharing in the world is of no avail if no one pays attention.”
So how can you grab people’s attention and hold it? How do you make learning science-based food safety information fun? How do you creatively motivate others to embrace sound food safety practices in order to minimize the risks of foodborne illnesses?
For starters, Dr. Schmidt says, there is a place for humor, poetry, and music in teaching. “These tools can improve learning,” he notes.
As a reference, Dr. Schmidt credits the Greek philosopher Plato for saying “musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful.”
Livening up the Microbiome
Frequently in demand as a food safety trainer, Dr. Schmidt firmly believes food safety training need not be tedious. He sets an example by often grabbing his guitar and livening up the microbiome with a toe-tapping song or two. He delights audiences with songs he wrote called “FSMA on His Hip” to the tune of Marty Robbins’ “Big Iron” and “Salmonella Wind” to Tom Russell’s “Santa Ana Wind.” Another of his crowd pleasers is “Chop, Cook, Slice (Listeria in the 1990s),” a song about Listeria in deli meats inspired by Slaid Cleaves’ “Hickory.” During December, he invites audiences to participate in his version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “The Twelve Steps of HACCP.”
“Playing and listening to music works several areas of the brain,” Dr. Schmidt relates. “Research shows that music increases memory and improves test scores. Moreover, music increases optimism, decreases anxiety, and enhances both attention and creativity.”
Human beings have learned through rhyme throughout history, Dr. Schmidt notes. “That started with cave people, who communicated with musical grunts.”
Drawing on his 40 some years as an educator, Dr. Schmidt offers several tips to anyone interested in adding creative touches to their teaching. “Never use humor at a student’s or audience member’s expense,” he emphasizes. “Self-deprecating humor usually goes over, but don’t overdo it. And don’t be offensive.”
Know your audience, Dr. Schmidt advises. “The generation gap is real. And it’s important to be aware of cultural differences,” he relates.
The Author of Parodiomics
As an extension toxicologist in the University of California-Davis Department of Food Science, Carl Winter, PhD, focuses on protecting consumers from chemical contaminants of food.