Thursday, December 6, 2012

How to Keep Your Food Safe When Sandy and Its Friends Come

Superstorm Sandy had a severe impact to the East Coast at the end of October. It has become the second largest storm in recordkeeping. All the residents are urgent to prepare and face the difficulties they will meet, including power cuts, water cuts, food shortages and housing damages. Once the house is out of power and the tap water cut, the refrigerator won’t work and residents won’t have the running water to drink and use. When the severe storm affects all the former problems, making sure your food is safe and clean is vital due to the fact that unsafe food will cause diarrhea, even death.

In this fatal moment, A Consumer’s Guide To Food Safety: Severe Storms And Hurricanes will be very helpful for the residents who live in the disaster area. This document is published on the website of the United States Department of Agriculture. To be more specific, it is written by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. Generally speaking, the document provides various ways to determine if the food is safe and how to keep food safe. The audience will be social workers and general residents. From social workers’ perspective, they want to provide this guide to the public, to remind them be aware of the food safety in severe weather.  General residents would like to read and print it out in case of they need it someday. In an overview of the guide, the intention of the guide is good for the audience, but it is not in a user-friendly format. However, will people remember most tips from the guide when they need to? In this article, I will argue how the simple tips seem to omit information within guides.

As a government document, especially a guide to the public, this guide should be easily accessed by the public. The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease is 57.4; Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is 9.6; Average Grade Level is 10.1; 17.3 words per sentence. According to the statistics, this guide seems easy to understand. Most parts of this article are accessible and clear. It is likely to be perceived as “credible” to the public, because it is published by a government department.

The content from this guide is definitely unbiased because there isn’t a specific position for the authors. The document doesn’t seem “dumbed down” or potentially insulting, but it seems dry. Some parts sound like doing an experiment in labs. Moreover, almost all the sentences start with a verb, and they read like commands.

The tone is neutral at most times, except “Knowing how to determine if food is safe and how to keep food safe will help minimize the potential loss of food and reduce the risk of foodborne illness.” It sounds a little serious, and evokes the public to pay attention to their food safety during an emergency. However, the serious tone contrasts with the simplistic information. Readers may feel that the guide has a vital core but with an unimportant appearance. Then they will question whether the information is really important to them or not.

At the beginning of the guide, it shows that “This Consumer’s Guide will help you make the right decisions for keeping your family safe during an emergency.” This sentence uses metabasis and states the major theory of the piece. Coming straight to the main point helps the audience know what they are exactly going to read. It is an effective communication within vast public safety guides.

Another effective rhetorical device in this guide is using parallelism “STEPS TO FOLLOW TO PREPARE FOR A POSSIBLE WEATHER EMERGENCY: Make sure the freezer... Freeze containers... Freeze refrigerated items... Plan ahead ...Store food... Have coolers...Group food...” All the steps start with a verb and use the second person point of view. In front of each step, the writer uses a bullet to separate each sentence, which helps the reader read this part easily.

However, it is oversimplifying the subject matter in some parts. “Group food together in the freezer—this helps the food stay cold longer.” How does one group food? How does one classify the food and according to what? Maybe some people would think everyone should have the common sense of how to divide food in different categories, but the tone of the whole guide will be distinct. For instance, in the last step of “Steps to follow during and after the weather emergency”, “Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers, and deli items after 4 hours without power.” In this example, the author gives what kinds of food are perishable. In this case, the author is oversimplifying some information, but he also provides more details.

Furthermore, providing specific information is helpful for the audience. Nevertheless, how many readers will remember the exact information? Here is the example of how to disinfect the water in using household bleach, “Add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers.” This step sounds like doing a science experiment. When the hurricane comes and the power is off, people cannot use their computer to check this pdf unless they print it beforehand. How many readers will remember what the dosage of bleach is? And how long does the water need to stand?  Moreover, even though they remember all the steps, they might not have the tools to measure the bleach. These details don’t bring about the author’s purpose. If the author can explain this step in a vivid and easy way, the audience will remember it so they can measure the bleach without difficulties.

To sum up, the whole guide is useful for the public, even though some parts are oversimplifying while other parts are complicating. Thus, the tone between different sections is distinct. If the readers print it out and they don’t need to remember all the tips, they will feel easy to use this guide. Nevertheless, if the audience doesn’t keep a copy when they need to use, they will feel struggle with recalling those unfriendly user format guidelines.

--Xiaoqi Wu


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