“Ask Karen” Connects the USDA to Your Kitchen

“Ask Karen” is the US Department of Agriculture’s answer to the Butterball Turkey Hotline.  Available as both an app (available on both iOS and Android) and a website, “Ask Karen” aims to educate consumers about safe food handling.

Preventing people from getting sick due to unsafe handling or storage of food is a big job.  Food and nutrition programs are key functions of the USDA, and ensuring that the US’s food supply is safe, from the way it is grown to its production and transport – and ultimately to the kitchen table – is part of the USDA’s mission.  Consumer education is a key tool that the USDA uses to accomplish this.

Likely recognizing that, short of providing this information in an easily accessible format, citizens would likely get answers to their food safety questions from random websites who may – or may not – have the correct expertise to make the call, the USDA introduced “Ask Karen.”  Launched in 2012, anyone can “Ask Karen” food storage and handling questions.  A number of common questions are in an easily accessible “Common Questions” section.  If you have a question that’s not already answered, you can get live help (via web chat or email – or for the non-technology savvy, through a phone call) from a food safety expert during certain hours Monday – Friday.

With the interactive component, the USDA takes a step beyond simple consumer education and makes its expertise easily available – and inviting – for the public.  Without this app/website, I cannot imagine many people emailing or calling the USDA with food safety questions.  According to the USDA’s website, Ask Karen responded to more than 80,000 inquiries and received 2.35 million hits during FY 2013.  Ask Karen is a positive model for how to effectively conduct citizen outreach and engagement.

Ask Karen can be accessed at the following links:

http://askkaren.custhelp.com/                  http://apps.usa.gov/ask-karen.shtml

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