A lobster, a pig, and a chicken have starring roles in a new public-service campaign urging consumers to practice safe food handling and preparation. The campaign is sponsored by government agencies spearheaded by USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) and was designed by the New York advertising powerhouse JWT working through the industry’s Advertising Council.

In contrast to other food safety messages that depict food, the JWT television ads mostly show live animals–a lobster on a couch being cooled by electric fans to emphasize the need to keep raw foods cold; a pig in a sauna to make the point that food needs to be cooked to the proper temperature; and a chicken in a living room being kept away from a bunch of carrots to illustrate the importance of separating raw foods.  The ads can be viewed on YouTube site at http://www.youtube.com/usdafoodsafety#p/a.

The ads warn that “one in six Americans” will suffer from foodborne illness each year.  Materials intended for use in print are more specific about bacterial contamination, warning of “Salmonella with a side of e. coli.”

Showing live animals instead of food in the TV ads did not sit well with some of the consumer representatives on an advisory panel assembled by the government.  In a letter to FSIS, they complained that the ads were “a little too wacky.”  NCC and other industry groups were also represented on the advisory panel.

“These are funny ads, but this is serious business,” said FSIS spokesman Neil Gaffney.  “Humor and over-the-top situations will get people talking and thinking about what they do in their homes. The opening for the ads will get people interested.  Then we confront them with the reality of the problem and what they can do to make themselves and their families safer.”

The ads tie to the government website www.foodsafety.gov.