USDA Introduces Mobile Ask Karen, Food Safety on Your Smartphone

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Release No. PENDING



Catherine Cochran (202) 720-9113


USDA Introduces Mobile Ask Karen, Food Safety on Your Smartphone

Consumers Encouraged to ‘Take Karen with You’ and Get Food Safety Advice Instantly


           WASHINGTON, May 5, 2011Just in time for summer grilling and picnic season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is launching Mobile Ask Karen, a Web-based smartphone application, or app, that instantly answers food safety questions. The app is a mobile version of the existing Ask Karen site, a virtual food safety representative who offers advice about properly handling, storing, and preparing food to prevent illness.


“FSIS has a wealth of tips and useful information to help as you shop, prepare, and store food,” said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. “People are using mobile devices more and more to get quick information, so we’ve adapted our tools, allowing more people to get food safety messages faster. Now, people can ‘Ask Karen’ right away when they need food safety information, without being tethered to a computer.”


            In mobile format, people can take “Karen” with them to the grocery store, barbecue grill, farmers market, and into the kitchen. Anywhere mobile devices can access the Internet, at any time of day, consumers can get immediate answers to questions such as, “Is food safe if left out overnight?” or, “Should I use a wooden cutting board or a plastic one?”


            In a continuing effort to engage consumers and encourage new behaviors when buying food or cooking at home, the agency created Mobile Ask Karen to make food safety information more accessible. Just like using Ask Karen from a desktop or laptop computer, consumers can search for nearly 1,500 answers by topic or by product, chat with a live representative, or e-mail or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-MPHotline). The app currently is optimized for the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.


President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) developed three core principles to help guide food safety in the United States: prioritizing prevention, strengthening surveillance and enforcement, and improving response and recovery. In its overall mission as a 21st century public health agency focused on ensuring a safe food supply, FSIS developed the Mobile Ask Karen app to provide consumers fast, reliable food safety information.


In past two months, USDA announced two additional measures to safeguard the public from foodborne illnesses. In March, USDA announced implementation of revised and new performance standards aimed at reducing the prevalence of Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chickens and turkeys. USDA expects the new standards—which require establishments slaughtering chicken and turkey to make continued reductions in the occurrence of pathogens—to prevent as many as 25,000 foodborne illnesses. In April, USDA proposed a new requirement for the meat and poultry industry called “test and hold” that, once enacted, will significantly reduce the amount of unsafe food reaching consumers by allowing USDA to hold products from commerce until USDA test results for harmful substances are received.


            To start using Mobile Ask Karen now, go to on your phone’s browser, or scan Mobile Ask Karen into your iOS or Android mobile device: 




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