Food safety is one of those issues you likely don’t think much about unless you either work in a restaurant kitchen or hear a horror story about E. coli-tainted spinach leaves or an outbreak of salmonella.

But it’s a topic on which all of us should better educate ourselves because we are all vulnerable - perhaps, in this global economy, more so now than ever before.

While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the federal government estimates there are at least 48 million cases of food-borne illness annually. That’s the equivalent of sickening one in six Americans each year and many of these illnesses are serious. An estimated 128,000 result in hospitalizations; some 3,000 lead to death. The threats from these illnesses are numerous and varied. And the scary part is that while there are very obvious culprits -undercooked poultry or unpasteurized milk, for instance - fresh, healthful foods like raw produce can also carry harmful bacteria.

One of the world’s leading experts in this field, David Lineback, will deliver a speech here next week at LSU on the importance of food safety, courtesy of the Patrick Lecture Series. He will also meet privately with student groups and address the scientific community in a separate event at the Pennington Biomedical Research Institute.

That’s big, and both the general public and local researchers should take advantage of the opportunity to visit with Lineback and hear him speak. He is a senior fellow at the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and has an extensive academic background in the field of carbohydrate chemistry.

In other words, he has a lot to share in a region that knows a lot about food and is home to a world-class nutrition research center.

“I think this is a really important topic, and David has taken it to a whole new level,” said Ruth Patrick, herself a retired food scientist from LSU and an inspirational community leader and activist.

Patrick, whom you may remember from her nutrition updates on WBRZ’s 2Une-In, established the Patrick Lecture Series through an endowment to the LSU Foundation in 1999 with her husband, William Patrick, who died in 2005. He, too, was a scientist at LSU, a Boyd Professor Emeritus in the field of wetland science and the founder of LSU’s Institute of Wetland Biogeochemistry.

The Patrick Lecture Series sponsors an annual lecture that alternates between the Patricks’ fields of study -wetlands science/coastal studies and human nutrition/food science. This is the 11th annual.

“We always worked very hard at LSU and wanted to be able to give back to the community,” said Ruth Patrick, who earned her Ph.D in the 1960s and worked as a researcher in the food science department while raising four children.

“William always said LSU had been so good to us and our four children so we established this lecture series to bring internationally known speakers with the newest scientific information and knowledge to the community.”

Like so much of LSU’s intellectual and cultural capital, the Patrick Lecture Series is yet another of Baton Rouge’s best-kept secrets. It deserves more publicity and recognition.

We are fortunate to have people like Ruth Patrick and the Patrick Lecture Series bringing world-class talent and information into our midst.

Let’s support it and learn how we can protect ourselves and our families by keeping our food supply safer.

The Patrick Lecture on “Food Safety: Increasing Global Importance and Complexity” will be held at 6 p.m. Monday in the Energy, Coast and Environment Building on the LSU campus.

The lecture is free and open to the public. For more information call (225) 578-5207.