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Extension COVID-19 Food Safety Resources Reach Far and Nationwide

People sitting around a table and eating food

When questions arose around food safety in the era of COVID-19, NC State Extension Food and Microbiology scientists took their expertise to a new level. As a result, food safety materials from NC State are now being used in at least 29 other states as cobranded Extension materials and through links by public health departments and many other organizations.

“We’ve been floored by how far this has gone,” said Natalie Seymour, NC State Extension associate, Agricultural and Human Sciences.

In terms of COVID-19, food safety “Wasn’t an issue until it suddenly was,” said Seymour, adding that several weeks ago, Ben Chapman, NC State Extension food safety specialist and professor, started receiving numerous questions, primarily around what efforts retail food establishments need to take to protect both workers and the general public from the disease.

Map of U.S. with states indicated where Safe Plate's COVID-19 materials have been shared by partner institutions.
Graphic courtesy of Safe Plates.

Taking their extensive knowledge about food safety, coupled with CDC, FDA and USDA guidance, and pulling in NC State’s Lee-Ann Jaykus, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and world renown virologist specializing in norovirus, Seymour, Chapman and team set out to develop COVID-19-specific materials that would address some of the most pressing questions around food safety in the current environment.

The established peer review process with colleagues Michelle Danyluk (University of Florida), Linda Harris (UC Davis) and Don Schaffner (Rutgers) brings in partner Extension programs’ expertise before materials are published.

That innovative thinking and ability to rapidly deploy research-backed guidance has put NC State Extension food safety all over the map, literally.

“The relationships built through years of collaboration set us up to have the trust [of partner institutions],” Seymour said of the 29 state Extension programs that have, to date, co-branded or simply shared NC State’s materials. Other universities have shared the materials through at least 104 social media posts.

Safe Plates, the name of Chapman’s food safety program, had the infrastructure and best practices in place to rapidly develop and distribute information. “We don’t all need to reinvent the wheel,” said Seymour. “We reached out to other universities offering to co-brand materials starting with our peer review partners.” Other universities have reached out offering translation support. “There have been many professional eyes on this material,” she added.

“Everyone needs someone to help us out in a crisis, and we’re excited to be able to help in this way. We simply applied what we already knew to this public health issue, addressing areas of focus for Cooperative Extension nationally,” she said.