Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just Say “No!” to Food-Borne Illness

This is the latest post by April Davis, our resident expert on travel nutrition for our Student Ambassadors. Here she is, washing her hands, as we all should!

One of the most gratifying experiences students can partake in when traveling to foreign countries is enjoying the variety of foods and culture they offer. Eating new and different foods is an important part of the learning experience when traveling with People to People Student Ambassador Programs.

However, eating in a foreign country can lead to a very unpleasant experience if unwelcome organisms are present in the food. People to People Student Ambassador Programs take every precaution to prevent food-borne illness and rely on our worldwide partners to choose local restaurants and hotels that serve not only nutritious and authentic cultural foods, but foods that are safe to eat.

Thus, the concern of contracting a food-borne illness is minimal-to-none at these establishments. However, there are many precautions Student Ambassadors can take to reduce the risk of food-borne illness during free time. One of the best ways to prevent illness is to avoid eating foods sold by street vendors. We cannot guarantee this food is safe.

What are the causes and symptoms of food-borne illnesses?
Most illnesses come from bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemicals that contaminate food or water. Bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Shigella are the main offenders of food-borne illness. Some parasites can cause acute diarrhea that may persist for weeks after returning home.

Symptoms of food-borne illness include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
Avoid the culprits.
It is important to remind your student that food-borne illness is preventable. The risk of illness will depend on the quality and cleanliness of the food and water consumed and the use of good personal hygiene practices. Certain foods are more likely to contain undesired organisms. Therefore, they are more risky to consume.

The Good:
  • Fruits & veggies that can be peeled or have been washed with clean water.
  • Foods that are thoroughly cooked and served hot. Cold foods that are kept cold.
  • Baked goods, such as bread, muffins, and crackers.
  • Bottled water. Canned, bottled or pasteurized juice.
The Bad:
  • Unwashed, raw fruits & veggies purchased from street vendors.
  • Food from an unclean establishment or person (be sure to wash YOUR hands, too).
  • Foods not held at safe temperatures.
  • Undercooked meat, poultry, pork, or seafood.

The Ugly:
  • Raw red meat, poultry, pork, seafood, or eggs.
  • Unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Leftovers that have been sitting at room temperature.
  • Tap water in countries with unsafe drinking water.
Be smart about what you eat!
The table above indicates some of the things your children can do to reduce the risk of becoming sick while traveling. Enjoy the culture and different types of food while keeping these guidelines in mind. If your child is ever unsure about eating a food, they should use common sense and keep risks to a minimum. A wise person once said: "It is always better to throw out than to throw up!"

By April D. Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES®

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

People to People's Care Team: The Right Thing to Do

We take our cues from industry standards even when they do not apply to us. It is important for us to use these standards to create the safest and best experience for our student delegates and their families.

A series of events led to the passage of the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act (the Act) of 1996 (49 U.S.C. §§ 1136 & 41113). The intent of this legislation was for the NTSB and airlines to have plans in place to ensure, going forward, “that in the event of a major accident, the carrier is prepared to act in the best interests of survivors families; to treat survivors and families with dignity; and to respect the cultural and religious backgrounds of survivors and families.”

While People to People Ambassador Programs does not fall under the scope of this legislation, we do believe in the principles behind it, and have used it to construct our own plan for the families of our delegates.

No matter how small the event, we believe families should receive timely and accurate information, and it is our intent to make sure we fulfill those needs. Some of these needs include:

  • Timely initial notification and accurate information delivered to the families
  • Continuous updates on progress
  • Logistical support for families’ travel to site
  • Daily contact with families

A new cornerstone of the family assistance program is our CARE Team that we established last year. [UPDATE: We have a total of 28 CARE Team Members - including 11 core members, and me.] Here are three other People to People employees on our CARE Team:

Colleen Schaffer

Ben Tibbetts

Sean Yarnell

Each CARE Team member is trained to provide timely and accurate information and logistical support to families if and when they need it.

People to People Ambassador Programs has specifically trained each CARE Team member to:

  • Understand and meet the needs of delegates and family members
  • Uphold the importance of maintaining the confidential nature of information received and the family’s private information
  • Thoroughly document all commitments made to families
  • Clearly communicate our policies and practices to families
  • Understand and appreciate cultural diversity

Over the past year since we rolled out our CARE Team training and preparation, we have been approached to share this plan and training with other major travel organizations.

As an industry leader, we eagerly shared this information. It’s not just about our organization traveling students safely. Our intent is to help every student be safe no matter what organization they select. We want to remain a leader in this industry in “doing what is right” for our students and families and by being proactive and ready in advance.

"Doing what is right" applies to each delegate. Even with no serious events to deal with during the 2010 travel season, we had members of the CARE Team dispatched around the world.

  • In these few incidents, a student needed to come home for one reason or another.
  • Rather than having a delegation leader return with the student and potentially disrupt the entire delegation, a CARE Team member meets the delegation and personally escorts the student home.
  • The CARE Team members receive training to help these students during a stressful time while they maintain contact with the family to personally bring the student directly home.

At People to People Ambassador Programs, one of our core values is passion. We are passionate about our programs, our mission and our pursuit of excellence. We are passionate about safety. Being the first in the educational travel industry to develop and adopt a family assistance program (our CARE team), is just one way for our team to live that commitment.

Come back and see us next week and hear more great advice for eating and living healthy from April Davis, RD, CD, ACSM CES.

Until then, I’m wishing you safe and happy travels, 

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health and Safety

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

People to People's CPR Standards Follow the Highest Standards

[Image credit: Karen Murphy, Strollerderby]

Our delegation leaders’ primary purpose is to ensure that the delegation members learn and have a rich cultural experience. But, if something unexpected should happen to a delegation member, our leaders are also equipped to handle emergency situations. For example, beyond access to our 24 hour/day OnCall resource, each of our leaders are certified in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

We follow American Red Cross and the American Heart Association Standards.

There are many ways to be certified, but People to People Ambassador Programs has elected to follow the trusted (and highest) standards set by the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association (AHA). These organizations have a rigorous set of requirements that must be completed by any candidate seeking CPR certification (or re-certification).

Why these standards?

Why did we elect to use these standards? Because they are the most stringent. One critical difference between these standards and others is that they require actual demonstrated expertise.

What does that mean?

Our delegation leaders must prove that they are equipped to handle a CPR emergency by passing an in-person examination administered by a certified instructor. There's no room for doubt. It's not enough for someone to know - in theory - how to give CPR. They need to demonstrate that skill to a level acceptable by a certified instructor. Our leaders provide proof of CPR certification to our program office, which diligently tracks this and other important leader training info. If they do not provide proof of current certification, they do not travel. Period.

How is that different from other educational travel programs?

Some programs do not require this important training certification from all their leaders, or they allow their leaders to attend online-only classes.

A word about online-only training. [Image credit: American Red Cross Minn-Kota Chapter].

Online training is great for many things. CPR is not one of them. It requires too critical a skill to be trusted to the thousands of online sites that offer training at different levels. Even though most claim to meet the various standards set by organizations such as the American Red Cross and the AHA, they cannot if they do not offer in-person certification—something impossible for an online site to do.

A little digging shows how serious we are to our attention to delegate safety

As it turns out, not all the standards are really the same. Many online programs lump together meeting American Red Cross, AHA, and OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards.

But I uncovered the loophole: OSHA does not completely follow the Red Cross/AHA standards as they do not require an in-person test. In reviewing their standards online, I found that the only time OSHA makes an in-person test a requirement is if you work in the logging industry. When I called the American Red Cross to ask them about the online training courses claiming to follow their standards, they seemed very concerned with the claims and promised to follow up with their legal group.

Are we proud of our attention to detail when it comes to delegate safety?

Yes. People to People Ambassador Programs is committed to the highest standards. Rather than relying on the weakest standards, we use the strongest. The fact that our delegation leaders exceed OSHA standards is one example. We will continue to monitor standards, call attention to those that do not meet our standards, and will make continuous improvement to our health and safety practices to ensure that every student receives the best care.

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health and Safety

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Europe Travel Alert: What You Need to Know

Europe Travel Alert
On Sunday, October 3rd, the US State Department issued an alert to Americans traveling in Europe to be vigilant about possible terrorist attacks. Specifically, the decision to caution travelers comes as counterterrorism officials in Europe and the United States are assessing intelligence about possible plots originating in Pakistan and North Africa aimed at Britain, France and Germany. The alert does not discourage Americans from traveling to Europe. Rather, it emphasizes the ongoing mindset of awareness that has been advised for the past several years.

Should you be concerned about the Travel Alert to Europe?
Concerned? No. Aware that our world is home to people with varying political and religious beliefs? Yes.

Based on current information, we have not altered any of our program itineraries at this time. We are following events closely, and firmly believe that Europe will continue to be a safe destination for our students.

No student programs are scheduled in the near future to England, France, or Germany. The next scheduled departure is not until June of 2011, more than 8 months from now. We fully anticipate that the travel alert will be revised and the level of threat reduced as recent events have demonstrated and will be monitoring the situation closely until the alert is rescinded.

People to People Ambassador Programs have a long history of safely traveling over 400,000 students and leaders. Changes in the global political climate remind us why we take the responsibility of safety so seriously. You can be confident in the diligence we take when it comes to the safety and well being of our delegates, leaders, associates, and partners around the globe as we offer life changing educational travel experiences.

The safety of our delegates is my only priority.
At People to People Ambassador Programs we would not hesitate to adjust or cancel a program if we felt our delegates were going to be in harm’s way. Our safety team along with our senior leadership team monitors all situations that could pose a threat to anyone traveling on one of our programs. I am personally monitoring the situation in Europe and receive updates from many sources throughout the day. We will continue to monitor developments associated with this alert and make any necessary changes to ensure participants' safety.

We are committed to taking action if necessary.
In years past we have, at times, adjusted programs up to the point of cancellation when a travel advisory was in place. Recent examples include redirecting an Ecuador program in the summer of 2010 to mitigate the risk presented by an active volcano, along with the cancellation of a Morocco program in the summer of 2007 due to an active advisory. In 2010 we came very close to canceling a program in Russia for one of our citizen programs, but a little rain and shift in the winds made travel to the area safe - and the experience turned out to be wonderful for those delegates.

How do we prepare for these situations?
That's why I'm here, to look at possible problems or potential threats and develop plans to remove that possibility. Issues like this come up every year and we prepare for the worst and welcome the better news as it arrives.
  • In 2009, the big challenge was H1N1. We developed a plan, surveyed all families in advance of travel resulting in not one case of H1N1 in Australia, Japan, or China, the three countries with the greatest entry restrictions.
  • In 2010, as ash from Iceland began shutting down European airports, we immediately devised a plan to transport thousands of students out of Europe in the event they became stranded. Fortunately, the governments worked hard as well, and new systems were put in place to regulate air-space. We ended up having no incident involving the volcanic ash.
How do we decide whether or not to travel to a country?

In making the decision to proceed with any program, our senior leadership team relies on up-to-date intelligence gathered from a number of organizations, including the US State Department, the Overseas Security Advisory Counsel (OSAC), the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and international safety and security specialists.

Regarding the Europe Travel Alert, we receive multiple updates from these organizations on a daily basis and will stay very close to this situation until it is no longer a concern. If the current conditions continue, and in any way hinder our ability to provide safe and rewarding programs, we will not hesitate to alter itineraries, redirect programs to safer regions, or provide other alternatives including outright cancellation.

With that, I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers 

Senior Director of Health and Safety