Suzanne Driessen has always been a teacher, though she began her career as a nurse.
"I found that I really liked the teaching aspect of nursing," said Suzanne. "Then I went back to school for health education."
Being an Extension educator in food safety was a natural fit when she joined Extension 17 years ago at the Morrison County office. She is now based at the St. Cloud regional office.
"Some people say that food safety is common sense. I always say, 'if you don't know, you don't know.'"
And it is certainly important to know. The Center for Disease Control estimates that each year about one in six Americans get sick with foodborne illness, and most of these could have been prevented. Foodborne illness can even be life threatening to young children, the elderly or those with weakened immune systems.
The University of Minnesota Extension food safety program "exists to help prevent foodborne illness and protect public health here in Minnesota," said Suzanne. They accomplish this in a variety of ways for consumer, food processing and food service audiences.
The thorough food safety website is the main channel the program uses to reach consumer audiences. In the last few years, there has been a growing interest in food preservation. With the local food movement, there has been plenty of demand for education related to canning your own fruits and vegetables. This worked well with Suzanne's special interest in the technology side of teaching: she developed mini-modules like the boiling water canning method and stop BOT (botulism) that are available online.
"Food preservation is based on science--it's different from cooking," said Suzanne. Indeed, recipes cannot be improvised without serious risk.
For those working in food processing and food service, the program provides research-based information on processing methods, hazards and regulations to help keep Minnesotans safe. Their signature continuing education re-certification online course for food service managers, Serve It Up Safely, has been around for 10 years!
Suzanne is currently working with Minnesota Farmers Market Association to develop food sampling training for farmers market vendors after Governor Dayton signed the Safe Food Sampling bill into law last spring.
Now that gardens are bountiful, you'll find Suzanne canning her own fruits and vegetables--and teaching Minnesotans how to safely preserve their produce.