Yep – it is Super Bowl Sunday! Apparently a lot of people will be gathering around to socialize and/or watch the game. Part of the process is the party – which means all sorts of food goodies. I have seen lots of recipes in media over the past few weeks – apparently guacamole, chili, pizza, wings, chips, dips, and other snacks are part of the line-up. What I haven’t seen featured is service and holding how to’s in order to preserve quality and safety. Holding is an important strategy in the football game and in entertaining. Between pre-game to post-game, a time spread of at least 6 hours is going to occur. This exceeds the golden rule for holding of foods that should be temperature controlled for safety (usually 2 hours after prep) – so, what to do? Here is a play: stagger batches of each item served in smaller containers and bring out at strategic times: beginning of the entertaining, after first quarter (so you can watch the half time); and during the third quarter. So, if you have several frozen pizzas for the gang, bake off a third for the open; a second set for first/second quarter; and the remaining for after the half. This will keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold and avoid the “yuck” that forms when food is kept out too long. Another advantage, you can tidy up in kitchen while being the “linebacker” and not have huge serving dishes to clean. If limited service area, this can be helpful. By serving foods in waves, you will avoid any flags on the party (aka post-game incidents experienced by guests!). As the saying goes, a good defense is a strong offense – or something to that effect! Go SafeFood™! May your team win!
Yes, that indeed is the question! For most foods, we know the answer. Dairy foods are generally kept in the fridge. But wait, does that mean butter has to be stored there? Trying to spread straight-from-the-fridge butter on toast is not easy! I confess, I could be called little “buttercup” – I love the flavor of real dairy butter. And I like a LOT of it! Family story time invariably has Mom telling of me as a toddler in the grocery cart seat happily munching on a butter stick unbeknownst to her while she was trying to wrangle my older sisters through the store. (Sidebar – I am a little more refined now!).
The question though of whether it is necessary from a safety perspective to refrigerate butter does come up. (I bet you have participated in a conversation or two on this subject!). One camp says it should be refrigerated because the product is made from milk/cream and salt – which are foods we temperature control for safety. After checking FDA and USDA sources, I am pleased to say the “ok to keep on counter” crowd is not wrong – because amount of fat present (80% folks!), high salt levels and low water activity doesn’t present a viable environment for bacteria to grow. There is no history of food borne illness with butter left at room temperatures. (See FDA report at link below). Most retail settings, generally refrigerate (unless packaged as a shelf stable product) because product will develop off flavors after a few days – so then becomes quality control and protection of inventory investment. At home, we can monitor more closely. I generally keep in refrigerator but pull it before needed (for baking or service) to soften – however, I do keep it covered to protect from air borne contaminants. It certainly doesn’t hurt the product to keep in the refrigerator and will extend shelf life. Even though labels often say keep refrigerated, I suspect that is protective caution but also to ensure quality. I splurged recently and purchased some “hand crafted butter” (for $7+ dollars for 11.4 oz.!!! What was I thinking???) The label clearly states to keep refrigerated. Even cold it spreads fairly well so I may do that mainly to avoid rancidity from the high fat content. Although, chances of the 11.4 oz. lasting long enough to go bad – especially when within my reach – regardless of storage location, are moot!
If you want to continue the conversation – here is the detailed FDA report on determination that butter is not a potentially hazardous food needed to be temperature controlled for safety (light reading!).
Well the times are a changing and so are Convenience Stores – also known as C-Stores. There are plenty of them, for one thing. Another is the scope of services – from gas, to snacks, to meals, and of course restrooms. On road trips I notice differences in C-Stores. Most are newer construction, clean and big! A store in a small town in Iowa is often the gathering spot for coffee klatches and catching up on political news (anyone hear of the Iowa Caucuses!). I noticed the C-Store by my daughter’s former mega apartment complex featured take-out meals, no doubt targeting the Gen Y demographic. On the interstate many advertise on billboards – that is really helpful when planning “G & B” breaks. Much of the food is packaged but most of these C-stores do have some type of foodservice – whether it simply is pizza and donuts or full scale delis and BBQ (the latter more so in Texas!). Are these licensed foodservices that have a Certified Food Protection Manager employed? Likely so. Our Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Human Sciences group provides food safety certification workshops for these types of foodservices and others. Next time you are in a C-Store that provides prepared food, take a look for a Certificate. Especially if traveling – because a food consumed many miles and several states ago might be the cause of gastrointestinal distress! In today’s world with much of our food intake taken “on the go”, it is nice to know there is some SafeFood™ oversight!
Cleaning out a few file drawers at the office and an article I had stashed in a folder many moons ago caught my eye. It was entitled You’ve Got to Measure to Manage. I must have saved this during the era I taught Human Resources Management (circa late 1990s) when I struggled with how to communicate to students how they must communicate with staff. It is not enough for the person in charge to know what is what – they have to delegate to others. This is particularly true with food safety practices as a manager can’t be everywhere all the time. There is a lot of trust placed in the line food handler (yes, there is trust the high schooler assembling your sandwich at the sub shop is wearing gloves and changing them as needed!). So trust but verify, right? (I do seem to be stuck in the 90’s!). How can a manager verify or measure that gloves are worn or changed? Tracking inventory is one way certainly. Estimates of pairs of gloves needed by each employee each shift can be done be a manager followed by tracking. If hand soap containers for dispensers in kitchen seem to remain in the store room, that is a clue they aren’t being used! Of course a watchful eye or monitoring actions is another part of the equation – maybe I will find another gem of an article in the files titled You’ve Got to Monitor to Manage!
Visiting family in Texas outside town of Brennan, home of the Blue Bell Ice Cream company, yes the company which you may recall has been recovering from shut downs due to outbreaks of listeria monocytogenes traced back to their product. Local and national papers have covered the story; more recent news has focused on another beloved chain tainted by outbreaks. That would be Chipotle – the fast growing quick service chain based on the concept of “food with integrity”. A look at their website reveals their commitment to “meticulously” sourcing products with defined production practices – such as “pork from pigs allowed to freely root and roam outdoors or in deeply bedded barns.” All of that is well and good and certainly the company has been successful in their 22 years of fast paced growth. Perhaps the problems identified in the investigations of the illnesses – unclean practices in the kitchen, employees working with health issues, and contamination of foods – are from that fast growth. A similar situation was seen with Blue Bell – since the new century began, the company grew from one with a regional focus to become a major player in national ice cream games. Too much too soon? Without a plan for managed growth that encompasses training for staff, establishment of infrastructure such as clear mission guided by written policies and standard operating procedures, or lack of specifications for purchases of equipment and ingredients, it is difficult to ensure product and brand integrity. It could be there is pressure to focus on the here and now rather than a long term view. Chipotle founder, Steve Ells, wrote a full page letter which appeared in major news publications and made the TV news rounds with mea cuplas for the “glitches” in their system. He identified steps in the action plan that focus on mitigation of risk from farm to fork. One of these is “new sanitation programs’ in the restaurants. Not sure what “new” means. Cleaning and sanitizing is not complicated, however it does take some training on how to clean (ask parents if their children automatically know what clean means!) and then additional communications on how to effectively sanitize work surfaces and equipment, and not re-contaminate these. Food Code outlines these clearly. It is good there is awareness and action being taken – certainly fans of this restaurant and other food companies want, hope, and expect not to become ill. Recognizing that there is no silver bullet or magic wand which can solve all issues is the first step. Next is setting the stage so all know SafeFood handling is practiced here!
In our food safety classes we talk a lot about the importance of water – the safety of the source and the availability. Certainly California knows what I’m talking about! Water has been called the stealth ingredient – because it is used in growing of food, in preparation, and for cleaning purposes (kinda hard to clean things with dirty water!). While it is clear this is a finite resource (in fact water has appeared on several top 10 ag issues), it is hard to balance needs with supply. Some of the smaller scale farmers who use a rural water supply, rather than a well on the property, have complained about the high cost of water (they need for irrigation, as well as washing of product and product surfaces to avoid cross contamination). In restaurants and other foodservices, public health laws require dishware and equipment be cleaned and sanitized – this is often done with high temperature water – lots of it. Are disposables better? Maybe short term for the operation but not necessarily for the environment. I have noticed myself doing “quick” washes with running water rather than taking time to fill the sinks with wash and rinse water respectively – this strategy would prolly use less water over all. One student from New Mexico told me how she grew up learning that showers were taken with water turned on and off as needed – another tip that might be useful to adopt to curtail water use. However, on a recent family trip to Phoenix, we saw the sidewalks being watered! In Texas, there are tales of companies buying water rights from smaller rural areas and transporting to the metro areas. All of this is pretty clear that judicious water use is needed by everyone – those who produce and consume food but also in everyday life. Being mindful of our own actions can only help!
Holiday season is in full swing – the magazines I get at home tell me so! And according to them, it all started early November! Of course, there are a few articles about time saving, stress reducing tips to ensure full appreciation of the season. One of these is a Cookie Swap party. You prolly know about these – each person brings dozens of cookies and in exchange for their contribution, can take home different types. Holiday entertaining is focus of many other articles – yes cookie swaps can save time and parties are fun, BUT are there risks?
Most hosts know of risks with overserving the rum punch, but what about time temperature controls for the meat balls and cheese platters? Where was the family cat when apps were prepared? Can you trust common sense hygiene practices are commonly followed by other guests (really, did he just double dip with his chip)? I realize I sound like a Food Scrooge – and yes, I do snack at holiday events (like many others I tend to gain a little during the season – but I don’t worry because the January magazines all tell me how to lose weight!). But back to the present. Remember there are cautionary practices each of us can take – whether we are the food preparer or a fellow guest – to minimize risk of spreading germs or causing a foodborne illness. Happy Holidays!
Yes – washed leafy greens are now one of those foods – items to which we should pay attention to temperatures and handling practices. Outbreaks of foodborne illness caused by fresh produce, and specifically leafy greens are not uncommon. It all began in 2006 (prolly began before but the national recall of bagged salad greens made headlines everywhere); unfortunately there are still outbreaks. In spring of 2010, an outbreak impacting 26 confirmed and 7 probable cases of Escherichia coli (E. coli) O145 linked to shredded Romaine lettuce was investigated. Of the 30 people who were hospitalized, 3 developed a type of kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. This outbreak was linked to a processing facility and farm in Yuma, Arizona. A nine state foodborne illness outbreak in the fall of 2011, caused by Escherichia coli serotype O157:H7 in which 58 people became ill, was connected to Romaine lettuce. And then, in 2012, there was an outbreak strain of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 (STEC O157:H7) which affected 33 individuals in 5 different states. While 13 people were hospitalized, fortunately no one died. This outbreak was linked to organic spinach and spring mix blend.
Unfortunately, there are glitches in food safety practices from farm to fork. That is why it is really important that the last link of the food chain – whether it be in a foodservice operation or at home – be cognizant of safe practices. When shopping, check the expiration dates, especially if bagged greens. Keep the washed greens cold – below 41 F; these are newer recommendations based on newer science so don’t hesitate to share the info (especially at family gatherings over the holidays! To help get the word out, the Retail Food Safety Project Team at Iowa State (with funding from USDA) developed a set of visual-based (that means minimal text) posters. Managers in retail setting can use these to train employees (even those with literacy or language challenges) on how to safely handle, prepare, and serve fresh leafy greens – both bagged and unwashed leafy greens purchase forms. The set of nine Leafy Greens posters, available in English, Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish can be downloaded at no charge (remember, USDA funding that originated with you – the taxpayer!).
For probably over a year, there have been some wonderful pre-packaged specialty chopped veggie blends available in the g
Large bowl of fresh greens
rocery store which my husband and I really enjoy eating. I like mixing the chopped veggies with baby greens and kale while we both enjoy them when imitation crab is added. So why am I now hesitant about buying them? Those living in the southern states typically have more year round access to fresh produce grown locally, yet we in the Midwest have fewer options so we rely on produce grown elsewhere. Often the elsewhere is other countries – we know from the Country of Origin Labels at the grocery store. But what about the convenience forms of produce – where does it come from?
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to tour a fresh cuts produce processing plant and was amazed at the many food safety steps taken to ensure the wide varieties of produce being processed into ready to eat choices were safe to eat. As I weigh my options (and time!), I have decided I will continue to buy and eat these wonderful chopped veggie blends, with the belief the facility in which the produce is being processed does indeed have many steps in place to ensure a safe product is being made available to consumers, and knowing it undergoes regulatory oversight. Is convenience worth it? To me, yes it is!
As most of us recover from the offerings at the bountiful Thanksgiving celebrations we enjoyed on Thursday, it is important to keep in that not everyone was so lucky. A successful harvest season recently came to a close – here in Iowa it is hard to miss, and Farmers Markets provide a showcase for much of the bounty even for those living in the city. Yet even with this seemingly abundance and easy access to nutritious safe food and drinkable water, hunger and malnutrition continue to be a major concern in Iowa as well as throughout our nation and the world.
Diane recently attended the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE®) and listened to some informative and thought provoking sessions on hunger and wasted food. Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joes, shared his innovative solution to hunger in which he opened a grocery store called Daily Table in a low income Philadelphia neighborhood. The pricing structure for the food sold in the store is based on a family’s weekly SNAP allocation. Other speakers addressed topics such as strategies for reducing food waste in foodservice operations – such as batch cooking, which is really a win-win as operator controls food cost and avoids excessive holding. Many events surrounding the World Food Prize were held in Des Moines mid October 14-16. This award recognizes achievements of individuals who have “advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.” “The World Food Prize emphasizes the importance of a nutritious and sustainable food supply for all people.” The forecast is pretty clear that we still need farmers to provide food for an increasing world population.
The issues of hunger, poverty, food access and availability, sustainability, environment, and malnutrition are complex. While there is no one fix, there are actions each of us can take. One step is to practice controls in amounts of food purchased and prepared – food waste can be prevented! When you were children, most of you prolly had moms tell you to clean your plate because there were children starving in other countries. The connection between consuming the lima beans on my plate (which were not a fave food) and helping some hungry child in some third world country was not clear. Fast forward a few decades and it becomes more obvious that each of us can make a difference.