Special Topics- Dr. Robert Gravani

Dr. Robert Gravani, Director of the National Good Agricultural Practices Program in the Department of Food Science, recently spoke to Cornell MPH students about developing Risk and Communication strategies during foodborne outbreaks. Dr. Gravani began his lecture by providing examples of recent foodborne outbreaks and food recalls. He discussed in depth the case of the Peanut Corp. of America whose CEO Stewart Parnell was sentenced to 28 years in prison for knowingly allowing contaminated peanut products to go into the market. The contaminated peanuts created a nationwide salmonella outbreak that killed nine people. Dr. Gravani used this example to emphasize the gravity of what could go wrong if public health measures are not followed to ensure food safety protocols.


Dr. Robert Gravani, Director of the National Good Agricultural Practices Program in the Department of Food Science

He further emphasized the importance of conducting food outbreak risk and practice communication, keeping in mind three main pillars: prompt response, communicating responsibly and acknowledging and accepting public concern.  To ensure that students understood how to implement these three pillars, Dr. Gravani engaged with students and presented a case study exercise for students to practice implementing appropriate risk and practice communication strategies.  The case study exercise involved a real life example of an outbreak of E.coli 0157:H7 in unpasteurized apple juice from the Odwalla juice company. Students had the opportunity to engage with their peers to design an appropriate communication strategy to address the outbreak. The exercise allowed students to think critically about important steps in the process of designing an effective communication strategy by first identifying all stakeholders involved and creating a plan of action. Students then presented their plan in front of the class while Dr. Gravani evaluated each team’s plan and offered valuable feedback. He concluded the lecture by presenting what the CEO of Odwalla Inc. actually did. By presenting students with a real case study, providing this group exercise and then showcasing the real solution that was implemented, students were able to better grasp the importance of Risk Communications and the importance of implementing effective interventions that could ameliorate an outbreak.

Story by: Mariacamila Garcia Estrella

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