From the FDA Vault: It’s Not Easy Being Green


This week’s episode, “It’s Not Easy
Being Green.” Twenty years ago, the FDA was invaded by a
creature so grotesque that it led the Secretary of Health and Human Services to say it was
“so ugly, it’s something you’ll never forget.” But that hideousness was intentional. Meet BAC (short for Bacteria), the ugliest,
most disgusting, most unforgettable, but perhaps most endearing artifact in the FDA History
vault! Bac was created to put a fearsome face on
food-borne bacteria and help alert Americans to their danger and how to avoid them in their
kitchens. Public education was one of the core strategies
of a 1997 report to the President on Food Safety. That report led to the public-private Partnership
for Food Safety Education, which gave rise to the “Fight Bac campaign.” The aim of that campaign was to inform both
those in the retail food industry and consumers about safe food handling practices, thereby
helping to avoid the spread of food-borne pathogens and the illnesses they likely cause. Bac soon became the most recognizable part
of the public education campaign. There were Bac puppets, towels, lunch bags,
magnets, and even the larger than life green costume worn by staff at public events. It wasn’t the first time FDA had created
public education campaigns to help raise awareness of Americans about their health and safety
issues. In previous campaigns in the 1970s FDA used
celebraties such as Dick Van Dyke,…read the label, set a better table… Pearl Bailey, and Bob Newhart, to explain
changes in the iconic food label. Actor Robert Fuller broadcasted announcements
about poison prevention for FDA. In the early 1960’s FDA arranged for the
publication of special multilingual comic books that warned of the hazards associated
with medicines and consumer products, and these featured the well-known comic book character
“Dennis the Menace. Still another beloved cartoon character, Curious
George, helped publicize the new nutrition facts label in the 1990s, as did several major
league baseball players, including Minnesota Twin legend Kirby Puckett. I check out what’s in the food I eat. Here’s the pitch! The new food label is simple and it’s easy
to use. Bac might not have been as embraceable as
some of these celebrities (either human or animal). But he was the very public and very popular
face of an effective and collaborative public health effort that is still going strong twenty
years later. Bac’s message to “Keep Food Safe from
Bacteria,” continues to have staying power, supporting FDA’s mission to protect and
promote the health of the American public. We hope you have enjoyed your visit to the
vault.

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