Preparing and preserving local staples safely in Alaska
Many Alaskans live a subsistence lifestyle, or supplement their diets with fish and game meat. However, the state also has a large military population, most of whom have not previously preserved meat and fish. With one of the nation’s highest rates of botulism, a deadly toxin that grows in low-acid foods, it is particularly important to teach residents how to safely preserve these local staples. In addition, food establishments in Alaska are required to have at least one certified food protection manager on staff to ensure food safety.
Over the coronavirus pandemic, Extension instructors had to make adaptations to food preservation and safety classes to allow home canners and kitchen managers safe access to the information. They turned to online learning platforms, answered canning and food safety questions by phone and email, and offered canner gauge testing to the public.
Online instruction proved particularly successful. Participants in the food preservation classes expressed an intent to use the information, and share it with others. They expressed confidence in their new knowledge. Hundreds of canner gauges were tested, with many needing adjustment or replacement, underscoring the importance of this service. Of the 55 food protection managers trained in FY20, 82% passed the exam. Overall, University of Alaska Fairbanks Extension extended its reach through online classes and social media, connecting with more stakeholders around the state and across the rest of the country.
The instructional methods adopted during the pandemic to bring food safety information to Alaskans trained a variety of audiences and helped keep rates of foodborne illness low.