MARCH FOR MEALS 2021:
Food Safety Workshops See Record Participation
Network of Kitchens and Satellite Serving Sites Prepare Safe, Healthy Food for Older New Yorkers
New York State Office for the Aging staffer Jenifer O’Keefe has worked as an aging services nutrition consultant for 2O years, but like everyone else, COVID-19 threw her a big curveball.
O’Keefe works in tandem with the New York State Dept of Health (DOH) planning and overseeing annual food safety trainings. The training sessions are designed for area agencies on aging (AAA) staff responsible for oversight of their nutrition program, registered dietitians, program cooks, and those who train food preparers and handlers. Pre-COVID, the regional food safety and sanitation trainings were offered at six locations across the state, face-to-face. Not last year.
DOH is the oversight agency for regulation and food safety at more than 100,000 food service establishments in the state. Under this umbrella, NYSOFA operates the Senior Nutrition Program. Like many pandemic events and meetings, the training went online in the form of three two-hour webinars. They were held in September.
“We had to switch gears n 2020 and offer the trainings in a different way,” O’Keefe said. “It was a big change from what we’ve done in the past.”
The result? Record attendance! More than 700 certificates were issued to individuals who completed the food safety workshop webinars online. That’s great news for New York State’s older adults. The in-person workshops historically host about 200 people, she said.
Each year, roughly 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of food borne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The workshop focuses on prevention and how to serve healthy food safely. O’Keefe wasn’t sure what to expect, as she thought it might be difficult to convey some of the more sophisticated parts of the workshop online. She said that that explaining safety regulations for hundreds of unique sites, each with their own variables—and unique questions—might not work as well in an online format. But she was pleasantly surprised.
The online evolution resulted in a lot of happy customers. “Each AAA works hard on their food service component and we have great faith in them and their ability to adapt,” O’Keefe said. “Attendance was well beyond what we anticipated, and we exceeded all expectations offering the training this way.”