Fifteen years after playing music in college, Carl Winter has found a new way to use his musical talents: to write food safety parodies.
Winter, director of the FoodSafe program in the Food Science and Technology department at UC Davis and informally known as the “Sinatra of Salmonella,” has held over 200 performances across the nation, and released four audio CDs since undertaking the parody project in 1996.
Originally, Winter just wanted to play piano without bothering his children. But once he discovered how far synthesizer technology had advanced since his college days, Winter realized he could be the whole band at once and began writing parodies.
Winter and a team of scientists from across the United States conducted a 2009 study to test the usefulness of musical parodies in food preparation and safety behavior. Their subjects included school food service supervisors, culinary arts teachers and students, family and consumer science teachers, and a youth summer program.
Results showed that all participants in the study were able to quote lines or phrases from the songs, and employed safer food-handling behaviors after listening to them.
“The influence of music really reaches people,” Winter said. “When my kids heard the originals on the radio they would say ‘hey dad, they stole your song!”
Despite 59 percent of participants from culinary art school responding that they disliked the music, 94 percent remembered the music and commented that they found themselves singing it later.
Parodies range from the Beatles to Ricky Martin, and even feature Will Smith. Titles include “Don’t get sicky wit it,” a parody of Will Smith’s “Gettin’ jiggy wit it,” “Beware la vaca loca,” a parody of “Livin’ la vida loca,'” and “You better wash your hands,” a parody of the Beatles’ “I want to hold your hand.”
Winter is often invited to food and health conferences across the nation to add levity to otherwise serious events.
In addition to his four CDs, Winter has six animated music videos available on YouTube and iTunes, and is currently writing original music for a children’s album.
Though he usually performs in front of adult audiences, Winter said his music is used informally in schools all over the nation, and knows of programs in Idaho, South Carolina and North Carolina that use his food safety curriculum.
Elementary school teachers who participated in the 2009 study reported that the music “helps the students learn without knowing it,” and that “students learn better when they use all the senses.”
In the United States 76 million people each year suffer from food borne illness. 320,000 food illnesses result in hospitalized cases, and 5,000 result in death.
“You have to generate the desire by the individual to take the extra [safety] step, and his creative and innovative approach helps people,” said Christine Bruhn, director of the center for consumer research. “When it comes to safe food handling, we need all the help we can get.”
Student living isn’t usually known for its cleanliness, but Winter has four steps to help make kitchens a safer place.
By washing hands, food, and food prep areas; and avoiding cross-contamination by taking measures like cleaning cutting boards, heating food to the appropriate temperature to kill bacteria, and refrigerating leftovers within two hours, everyone can reduce food poisoning and illness.
Deborah Brayton, principal of Pioneer Elementary School in Davis said that hand washing prior to mealtime is a priority at her school, and Winter’s music might be helpful for kindergarten through second graders.
“Remember: You don’t have control over who touched food before you,” Winter said.
More information can be found at foodsafe.ucdavis.edu.
GABRIELLE GROW can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.