USDA pushing food safety message to Latino audience

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Agriculture has hired a pair of agencies to build on a food safety campaign for the Hispanic community.

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Agriculture has hired a pair of agencies to build on a food safety campaign for the Hispanic community.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service already does Spanish-language outreach, but decided to expand its efforts after conducting a study of how to better reach Latinos.

"They understand that this group has traditionally been overlooked," said Luis Vasquez-Ajmac, president of MAYA Advertising and Communications, which won the account with its strategic partner, DTI Associates.

Vasquez-Ajmac noted that about 75 million Americans get sick from food poisoning each year, and several thousand die from it. A disproportionate number of those people are Hispanic.

Food poisoning "is a problem, probably a bigger problem than most people think and realize," Vasquez-Ajmac said.

Although the messages will remain the same, the new campaign will take into account cultural factors such as differences in dietary choices, specifically unpasteurized cheeses, said Susan Conley, director of food safety education for FSIS.

Food poisoning occurs more often among Hispanics for reasons that might include language barriers, the high number of Latinos in the food services industry, and a perception that food in the US is safer, Vasquez-Ajmac noted.

"Our clear and key message is why, and why you should care," he said.

PR initiatives will focus on building a coalition of food industry and restaurant partners to address safety issues as well as distributing brochures and educational material.

The USDA already reaches out to Hispanics with a Spanish- language website and 800-number, Conley noted.

It has also initiated a program to train "abuelas," or grandmothers, as nutrition educators within their families.

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