Hueneme Teacher Spreads the Word about Food Safety

Debra Warren | © John Cressy/OUHSD
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© John Cressy/OUHSD
Hueneme High's Debra Warren was one of 40 teachers nationwide to attend a food science workshop last summer in Washington, D.C. © John Cressy/OUHSD

Many teenagers have jobs in the food service industry or have food preparation responsibilities at home. Debra Warren, a Consumer and Family Sciences teacher at Hueneme High School, has dozens of such students in her class every day.

That’s why she was one of 40 teachers nationwide chosen to participate in a food science workshop last summer in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). The workshop’s goal is to educate teachers and students about critical food safety issues such as food-borne illnesses by exploring the science behind them.

Warren, the only teacher from California to attend the workshop, returned home armed with book filled with experiments and lesson plans to share with her students and colleagues.

“The workshop made quite an impression on me,” Warren said. “We performed several experiments that show students that preparing food correctly is critical.”

In one experiment, teachers investigated how a single bacteria cell can multiply to millions in a just a few hours, and they observed how different temperatures – heating, room temperature, chilling and freezing – affect the growth of bacteria. The teachers explored these concepts by putting their culinary skills to the test. After cooking hamburgers at various temperatures, the teachers tested them for bacteria and other organisms that cause disease.

“It’s one thing to read about bacteria in a book, but the best way to learn is through hands-on experience,” Warren said. “When students actually see the growth of bacteria under a microscope, it becomes more meaningful to them.”

The FDA and NSTA food science curriculum also explores the science behind the production, transportation, storage and preparation of the nation’s food supply; how the passage of time affects the nutritional value of produce; how certain foods cause food-borne illness more than others; and reasons why salt serves as a good preservative.

Warren will attend a follow-up workshop session in Nashville in December, before conducting her own workshop science teachers from other Oxnard Union High School District schools sometime this spring. Science teachers from Oxnard-area middle schools also will be invited to attend.

In addition to teaching food science, Warren oversees the training and teaching of students in the Little Vikes Preschool. When Warren secured a grant last spring to replace the preschool’s outside playground set, she was determined to see that the old one was put to good use and not thrown away. So she donated it to the “Kids Around the World” nonprofit that refurbished it. The playground set that served Little Vikes preschoolers for 17 years now is enjoyed by young boys and girls in earthquake-stricken Haiti.

“It’s nice knowing that something that is making kids in Haiti so happy didn’t end up in a landfill,” Warren said.

The plight of the Haitians also inspired Warren to spearhead a shoe drive last spring on campus. Hueneme students collected 600 pairs of shoes for the “Soles4Souls,” an international nonprofit.

“I would imagine with all the broken glass and such there is on the ground following an earthquake, after food and water, the thing you would need the most is shoes,” Warren said. “I think it’s important for students to understand the many small things they can do to help others.”

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