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Abuela Team Honored

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Nineteen state employees who organized a community-based food safety intervention in Yakima County in 1997 were honored recently at the Executive Mansion.

The team received the Governor’s Award for Service and Quality Improvement. The award recognizes teams in state government who have demonstrated excellence in cutting red tape, improving customer service, improving efficiency and reducing and or avoiding costs.

Team members honored at the ceremony included Margaret Viebrock, Washington State University Douglas County Cooperative Extension; Betty Meloy, WSU Grant County Cooperative Extension; Lizann Powers-Hammond, WSU Benton County Cooperative Extension; Theo Thomas, Lynnel Rowan, Frances Herrera, and Anna Zaragoza, all with WSU Yakima County Cooperative Extension.

Also honored were Marc Bates, manager of the WSU Creamery; Ryan Bell, a former WSU graduate student; Stephanie Clark, assistant professor of food science at WSU; Val Hillers, WSU Cooperative Extension food science specialist; Lloyd Luedecke, WSU professor of food science; Mike Costello, WSU research technician, and Francisco Manzo-Robledo, WSU assistant professor of foreign languages.

Joie Navarrete, Gena L. Reich, Skip Steinmetz, Sherryl Stoltenow, and Randy Utley, all employees of the Washington State Department of Agriculture were honored as well.

The project was organized in response to an outbreak of Salmonella food poisoning linked to consumption of queso fresco, a traditional soft white Mexican cheese usually produced from raw, unpasteurized milk. The homemade cheese is a traditional food in the Hispanic community.

The team recruited respected women (abuelas) in the Hispanic community to educate the community about the health risks associated with consuming queso fresco and to teach a modified recipe using pasteurized milk.

Salmonella infections connected to the unpasteurized cheese in the Yakima Valley dropped from 90 in 1996-1997 to two since the project began in November 1997. The training expanded from Yakima County to six other counties in 1998 and has continued in 1999.

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