SafeFood© Connecting Food Safety to the Garden

August 1st, 2015

As I was heading to the bus the other afternoon, I noticed a group of students and adults tending and working in the garden next to Ames Middle School. It brought be back to when I grew up and, as a city girl, we had a relatively small garden next to the house, but how we all really loved fresh green beans. Then there was buying pickling cucumbers from the market and helping my Grandmother and Mother spend the afternoon making bread & butter pickles. My husband, who lived on a small acreage in What Cheer, IA grew up in a family with a huge garden which included not only vegetables but fruit trees. Thus his experience and memories of “fresh from the garden” is a bit different from mine. Nevertheless, as I watched the students work in the Ames Middle School garden, I thought how wonderful it was that these children were truly learning how to grow their own food and discovering all there is to know as they watched seedlings produce tomatoes, green beans, and peppers. Since gardening and safely handling fresh produce go hand in hand, I also hoped these children were learning about the proper way to wash, cut, and prepare the garden’s bounty. During a session presented at ISU’s recent 4-H Youth Conference, a short discussion was shared as to how to safely wash and prepare such items as fresh leafy greens and melons. Hopefully the Ames Middle School students were getting similar messages. ISU’s Food Safety Team has developed a one hour curriculum about school gardening safety for the students with many resources for the garden coordinator and instructor. Check these out at

So happy gardening and don’t forget to rinse, not soak your produce, and always scrub firm skinned produce!



SafeFood©: We all scream for ice cream!

July 22nd, 2015

Ah ice cream – a favorite summer time treat. An effective motivator and reward for kids of all ages. But the revelation this spring that the 108 year old Blue Bell Ice Cream Company – (based in Brenham Texas and a stalwart leader in ice cream sales in 23 states – was linked to cases of listeriosis shocked many people, myself included. One reason was because the company image and its product was the poster child for wholesomeness. The other reason was that internal testing had found listeria monocytogenes on work surfaces in its plant but the company had not disclosed results to the public. As a result, there have been work stoppages with three quarters of its workforce laid off (close to about 3,000 folks) and very limited distribution of product. Recently, product processed in upgraded facilities that have implemented new and improved cleaning and sanitation programs is back on the shelves. Will the company ever recover? What about the families – the families of those that became ill or died, but also the families of the workers. The company has found support from an investor – talk about saved by the bell, or more accurately, the bell is saved!

This crisis illustrates very well the ripple effect of food borne illness. According to the Voice of Agriculture, about 15 percent of the U.S. workforce is involved in food or fiber production, processing or sales. So, one issue can impact families and their communities. Out of work people don’t go out to eat, go to movies, or do much shopping beyond the necessities – not even for ice cream. This lack of retail activity affects other businesses in the community and a downward spiral begins. Financial insecurity affects family dynamics and health. So, what is the answer? Taking care of business in the food world means more than producing the right product at the right time and for the right price – it also means paying attention to food safety fundamentals. The culture of the work organization must support staff walking the food safety talk! The Iowa State University Food Safety Project has tools to help –being aware of how food is handled is a great first step. However, acting on the knowledge is critical. See for more info. Stay cool!




SafeFood© Embracing Local Foods

July 16th, 2015

Today I have been immersed in reading about and listening to information regarding local foods, be it for families, schools, local restaurants, or producers. As I listened to Dr. Catherine Strohbehn’s Thursday webinar “The Role of Human Sciences Extension Outreach with Local/Regional Food Systems” I could not help but be impressed by the tremendous impact Extension staff have had on helping create safe, local Food Systems in Iowa through their involvement in programming and development of a wide variety of resources for families, foodservice operations, and producers. Numerous resources can be found at While I had been involved in accessing, procuring, and using local foods for school meals, as a consumer, I also purchase food for home use at our local Farmers’ Market. The Extension food safety resources addressing local food procurement have always been extremely valuable tools. Numerous stories highlighting the success of schools and use of either local foods or produce grown in school gardens were also featured in several email posts I had received. These stories included a very successful four district northeast Iowa local foods initiative where use of local foods in school menus had increased 158%, to an elementary school in West Virginia using student grown lettuce for lunch, to new funding dollars which will be used to expand Farm to School programs in Oregon. In my drive between Ames and Iowa City, I see livestock and endless acres of row crops. However, I also see signs for local orchards; berry patches, and of course, with the arrival of summer, local produce stands. It is certainly reassuring to know the very important role Extension staff have in helping all Iowans “safely” embrace and enjoy local foods

local foods2015 july photo


SafeFood© – Grillin’ Time!

July 4th, 2015

Here it is – the 4th of July and the celebrations are on! Lots of us have some type of backyard BBQ – and hopefully know enough to keep raw meats separate from cooked by using a different plate and know enough to cook the meats thoroughly. Oh, and wash hands before handling food (of course!) Enough said – right?
But what’s this about the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding a $15,000 project by University of California Riverside to limit emissions that result from backyard barbecues. The projects’ stated aim is to “research and develop preventative technology that will reduce fine particulate emissions from residential barbecues”. Does that mean the aroma of grilling steaks and burgers may soon be a thing of the past? OR that firing up the backyard grill will be more complicated with regulated bells and whistles technology to prevent the fine particulate emissions? Here is link to award info if want to see for yourself details of the proposed project.

This particular award seemed to hit a nerve – a google search showed LOTS of articles/blogs/tweets etc. reacting to the info, and not in a good way. In fact State Senator Eric Schmitt of Missouri has started a “rebellion” on Twitter (see #porksteakrebellion).

Whether particulate emissions are a risk remains to be seen (yes I am aware of some research that indicates this but there are a lot of conditions), but what we do know is cross contamination between raw and cooked foods and clean and unclean surfaces are leading causes of food borne illness. So, be a SafeFood© Griller as you enjoy the birthday bash of this great country!
Happy 4th!

Steaks on Grill


SafeFood© Taking Care of Leftovers

June 28th, 2015

Not too long ago, my husband had a family birthday lunch celebration for one of his “0” birthdays (although he claims he is holding at 39). His mother had brought him a serving of meatloaf. When we talked later in the day, he asked me what I thought he should do with the meatloaf. Since he has been well educated in food safety, he knew it should have been kept cold during its travels from her home (she lives about 30 miles away) and while they all enjoyed a leisurely birthday lunch. Since it appeared the serving had not had any type of temperature control, the decision was made to throw away the meatloaf. I wonder how many consumers are aware of safe food handling guidelines for leftovers. The first heading on the ISU Food Safety web page link for consumers is “Leftovers” featuring the “4 Day Throw Away” guidance. In addition, there is great information on tips for what to do with leftovers One of these days it will hopefully stop raining and families can begin enjoying picnics with family and friends. These celebrations often include needing to safely transport food to the event and then addressing leftovers. The many consumer friendly Extension resources focusing on safe handling of leftover food will help everyone safely take care of leftovers.



SafeFood©: View from a Visitor

June 21st, 2015

My name is Allysa Ballantini, and I’m a dietetic intern in the Iowa State University Dietetics Internship. I’ve had the opportunity to complete a one-week community rotation with the Iowa State University Human Sciences Extension and Outreach and Dr. Catherine Strohbehn. Prior to my week here, I was unfamiliar with the projects and work conducted by extension specialists. The only experience I have in food service is the course I completed last fall, Quantity Food Production and Service Management Experience class (AKA the Joann Bice Underwood Tearoom). I graduated from Ankeny High School in May 2010, and school nutrition programs have changed since I was a student. Dr. Strohbehn provided a great overview of what my week with her would entail , but I did not realize the amount of information I would gain from this experience.
Throughout the week, Dr. Strohbehn along with consultants from the Iowa Bureau of Nutrition conducted the Summer Workshop Series for school nutrition program managers and employees. This series included Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP), Manager’s Update: Allergens, and ServSafe® Certification. Dr. Strohbehn and consultants from the National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI) and the state agency facilitated these workshops. I was granted the opportunity to present part of the ServSafe® presentation to school nutrition program employees, which was a valuable lesson.
Individuals who attended this workshop were from community school districts all across Iowa, and each brought their own experiences and work environment cultures to the workshop. During the week, I observed and participated with many school nutrition program managers and employees while learning about the various topics. I found it fascinating to see how dedicated the school nutrition program employees are to their students. Countless stories were shared among school nutrition program employees and there were differing opinions as to how to implement certain programs; however, the passion and drive portrayed by these individuals regarding nutrition and health of their students was inspiring. These individuals deserve appreciation for their dedication to the health and wellbeing of students in Iowa! I am appreciative of the opportunity to explore ISU Extension and Outreach in Human Sciences and learn more about school nutrition programs this past week!

Allysa photo(18)


SafeFood: Strawberry Fields Forever

June 14th, 2015

It’s strawberry season! And time to hit the U-Pick. Judy Henry and her family have owned The Berry Patch for many years. In addition to growing apples and tomatoes, and of course berries, the family operates a Pick Your Own segment of the business. With heavy rains and other items on the schedule, I didn’t get out there until yesterday – a Saturday morning. Me and everyone else! Even with a detour of a few miles on gravel roads (muddy roads is more like it) the place was packed – with just about every demographic represented. The Henry’s have a routine down and the place operates smoothly with the help of many student age helpers. Cars are greeted as they drive in and directed where to park, another person provides a harvest flat if needed, and another tells which rows to pick. They use hay to mulch around the plants and I didn’t see any dogs, thankfully, which increased my trust good agricultural practices were followed. That is not to see I didn’t sample a few on the way home – unwashed (gasp!). But if it is just for me, I am a risk taker!

Judy, who has the heart of a teacher and helps those new to the experience connect with food at its roots, patiently provides instruction on “how to” pick and what to look for (full color, etc). I can only take a guess at the number of times she has given her spiel – but clearly she enjoys it. Many families were hard at it albeit some family members not quite as into it as mom and dad. I picked in a row next to a mom with two early teen daughters, who just weren’t enjoying the experience (“It’s hot”, “The weeds are scratching me”, and “It’s dirty”). While most moms can relate to the scene, this mom did get points for trying, but the chance to have a better understanding where and how food is produced was ignored. But other kids were having a great time and on a mission to fill their flat. Me too – I came home with roughly 10 pounds of strawberries. We tried a strawberry bruschetta last night and it was great! You can guess what’s on the menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Strohbehn house in the near future! I hope you have a strawberry field close to you with opportunities for folks to connect with farmers. Happy Berry Picking!




SafeFood© The Humorous Side of Hair Restraints

June 6th, 2015

My husband has always enjoyed listening to the Bob and Tom radio show, me not so much. However, we were out running errands the other day and of course the radio was tuned to Bob and Tom. My ears perked up when the topic turned into a somewhat humorous discussion about hair and beard restraints, with a focus on beard restraints. While the conversation was quite funny, I thought the point of needing to cover facial hair was well made. As a former foodservice director, I lost count of the number of times I would need to remind employees all hair needed to be covered, leaving bangs unrestrained was not an option. Some staff members took a more stylish approach choosing to wear colorful scarves to secure their hair. Nevertheless, it was everyone’s responsibility to make certain hair and beard restraints were correctly being worn. During employee training, the importance of hair restraints was reinforced by reminding everyone how gross it is to find a hair in a meal when dining at a restaurant. This technique did seem to hit home. While chefs in most cooking shows never seem to properly secure their hair, I always chuckle when a distinguished judge finds a hair in her or his dish. The chef responsible for this faux pas always seems to be duly embarrassed. The Food Code is very clear regarding proper restraint of hair and beards, so I wonder if a bit of humor really does help to emphasis the importance of keeping hair out of everyone’s food.
June6hair restarins


SafeFood© Food Trends – Opportunities for Extension Specialists

May 31st, 2015

I read with interest an article in the Newsroom link on the Institute of Food Technologists’ website which highlighted an April 15 story written by Contributing Editor A. Elizabeth Sloan called “Top Ten Food Trends for 2015”. As I read through the list, I thought of the many opportunities being created for Extension Specialists to have a positive impact on countless numbers of consumers. The article stated studies showed almost 9 in 10 adults believe fresh foods are healthier. In addition, shoppers are buying more fresh ingredients. This is wonderful, however, my question is, do consumers know how to safely prepare fresh ingredients, such as fresh produce? In addition, are they aware of the best preparation techniques needed to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, preserve quality, and nutrition; such as rinse don’t soak fresh produce and steam, do not boil fresh vegetables. Another trend listed was the impact of food allergies on food purchases. Do consumers understand the importance of and how to read ingredient labels? Do consumers know about and how to prevent cross-contamination not only as a measure of food safety but also as a way to prevent allergic reactions when preparing foods for someone with a food allergy? There were a variety of different food preparation techniques trends mentioned such as pickling, fermenting, and smoking foods. Do these techniques have any food safety concerns of which consumers need to be made aware? “Rethinking Nature” was another trend mentioned which focused on the increased numbers of local and organic purchases. Are there opportunities to provide the public information about local, sustainable foods? Two other trends, “Reasonable Snacking” and “Diet Watching” create opportunities to provide science based nutrition information. As I reviewed the ISU Food Safety website I found numerous resources which offer valuable food safety and food preparation information for consumers. Of the 10 trends discussed in the article, each one certainly provided opportunities for Extension Specialists to positively impact all Iowa families.

Top 10 Food Trends

top ten foodtrends


SafeFood: Where’s the Beef in the Proposed 2015 Dietary Guidelines

May 8th, 2015

Many of you may recall the infamous advertising campaign from Wendy’s in the 1980’s with the little old lady asking “Where’s the Beef”? Well, all of us may be asking that question if proposed Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) are accepted. The DGA propose a diet lower in red and processed meat – a change from the DGA in 2010 that recommended consumption of nutrient dense foods, including lean meats because of the bang for the calorie buck.
As you know, I’ve been part of a family that raises beef cattle for a few decades – so of course am hearing (a LOT) about the proposed dietary guidelines which currently include recommendations to reduce consumption of lean and processed meats. And part of the uproar has been on inclusion of sustainability aspects of the food items with some arguing the Committee working on the DGA overstepped their charge. Of course the challenge is to find evidence that addresses all aspects of sustainability with inclusion of dimensions related to social, economic and environmental factors (a pretty common definition of sustainability).
So back to the reduction of meat in the diet – I wonder whether this is necessary. Why bash the beef, and other red meats? The DGA 2010 recommendations led to the My Plate approach of making half the plate fruits and vegetables, a fourth protein and a fourth grain, preferably whole grain. With the 2010 recommendations, the center of the plate entrée from days of yore was no more; that advice made sense as protein recommendations of about 5 ½ oz. a day would fit with this design. And Americans currently consume close to this recommendation (but unfortunately the other 3/4th of the plate advice is not being followed). Americans would benefit from greater consumption of fruits and vegetables and whole grains – and less consumption of fats and processed foods (note less consumption lean meat is not an issue). But check out the shopping carts of others at the grocery store on your next trip and assess how close there is a match between what should be there and what is there. (Full disclosure – my cart will include some convenience foods too!). I like beef – not just because we have a freezer full of it but because of the taste and the nutrients obtained from it. Beef has ZIP – Zinc, Iron, and Protein. As someone who has iron poor blood, I know beef is good for me. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 included consumption of meats because it is a fundamental part of the American diet as a protein source and a nutrient dense food – what research has been published in peer reviewed journals that shows it is unhealthy to consume lean beef? We now know that lean red meat can be part of a heart healthy diet and aid in weight management. Consider taking the Protein Challenge – a 30 day trial to help people consume an optimal amount of protein (see
Historical dietary advice has been that all foods are ok in moderation; for example, what is life without a little chocolate? So, where’s the beef?


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