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Successful Food Safety Project Honored

The Abuela Project, a multi-agency campaign led by Washington State University Cooperative Extension, will receive $5,000 to further develop and expand its objectives.

The campaign responded to a growing number of infections of Salmonella Typhimurim DT104 in Yakima County. The food poisonings in the Hispanic community were linked to a home made cheese made with unpasteurized milk.

From 1992 to 1997, the annual rate of infections rose from 5.4 to 29.7 cases per 100,000, according to the Washington State Department of Health. In 1997, there were 90 salmonella infections linked to consumption of queso fresco, a home made Mexican-style, soft cheese.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that for every reported case of salmonella, there are 60 unreported cases.

Last year extension food educators in Yakima and Pullman collaborated with the Yakima County Health District, the Washington State Dairy Products Commission, and the Washington State Department of Agriculture to educate the public about the dangers of consuming raw milk products and to encourage home cheese makers to try a modified recipe substituting raw milk with pasteurized.

Extension educators trained 15 abuelas (grandmothers) how to make the new recipe. Abuelas were chosen because they hold positions of respect and authority in the Hispanic community. In turn, the abuelas agreed to train at least 15 neighbors. “They all fulfilled that commitment and some went way beyond that,” said Theo Thomas, WSU Yakima County Cooperative Extension.

Only 14 infections were reported in the last six months of 1997. And just two cases were reported in the first four months of 1998.

In addition to the abuelas and their trainers, Val Hillers, WSU extension food specialist, credits the Washington State Migrant Council for the success of the project. “They were real important in getting the word out. They distributed the recipe and they’ve put up posters. Most of the people who have had contact with the Migrant Council seem to be very aware of the project.”

Hillers was co-project leader with Thomas.

Hillers also credits Ryan Bell, a WSU graduate student, who designed flyers that teach the recipe and designed a survey to assess the results of the project.

“He has a strong interest in public health,” Hillers said. “He has lived for short periods of time in Central and South America and studied Spanish. This was a perfect project for him because it needed someone who knew Spanish and someone who had a real strong public health interest.”

Hillers said the $5,000 the project will receive from Dannon will be used to expand the Abuela project into other counties in Eastern Washington.

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