“Food safety worker” may bring to mind images of scientists in lab coats, inspectors at processing plants, or investigators checking out what’s on supermarket shelves. A crucial but less recognized component of protecting the public from foodborne illness, however, rests on the shoulders of those who alert consumers about potential dangers and actions they should take to keep themselves healthy and safe (Goal 3 of FSIS’ FY 2011-2016 Strategic Plan). And some of those consumers can be difficult to reach. Enter Bridgette Keefe-Hodgson, a top-notch communicator who can make sense out of the most complex language and fashion it so that it is easily understood by consumers.
A graduate of Washington, D.C.-based Gallaudet University, the world-renowned liberal arts university for deaf and hard of hearing students, Bridgette is the “Face of Food Safety” behind FSIS’ outreach to deaf and hard of hearing consumers. When she began working as a Public Affairs Specialist at FSIS, her friends told her that important food safety information, such as recalls, comes way too late. "People who can hear can turn on the radio to hear about an emergency, but we can't. They can overhear conversations, but we can't," Bridgette said through an interpreter. Like everyone else, they need to know about recalls when they happen — before they get to a restaurant or eat a recalled product from their refrigerator.
Bridgette has authored press releases, fact sheets, and podcasts over the years, but her signature project is SignFSIS, a series of videos designed to inform deaf and hard of hearing consumers about foodborne illness and raise awareness of the dangers associated with improperly handling and undercooking food. The videos feature entertaining, educational dialogue in American Sign Language on such topics as tailgating, freezing, microwave wattage, and others. Text captioning makes the videos accessible to those who are not fluent in ASL, and they are some of the most frequently watched videos on FSIS’ YouTube Channel.
"I am glad that we are providing this service and that it is being well-received. I think about the information that I'd like to receive, and I work to provide it to our deaf and hard of hearing audience," said Bridgette. While she did not set out to make a difference in the lives of deaf and hard of hearing community, she relishes in knowing she has. "If I can remove the barriers for one person or make hearing audiences appreciate what deaf and hard of hearing people have to offer, I've done a good job and feel very content," she said.
Faces of Food Safety is an initiative by FSIS to introduce Americans to the real people who work every day to keep the food in their own homes and yours safe. Click to read more about Bridgette and other Faces of Food Safety on FSIS’ website.