SafeFood©: It’s All About the HANDS!

August 29th, 2014

Correct handwashing is one of the key steps in preventing foodborne illness. Endless resources, especially posters with visual images and easy to understand instructions can be found in the restrooms of every foodservice operation, restaurant, and school. As I was organizing Extension food safety materials, the majority of the publications either focused on or contained handwashing information along with great visual images. With all these resources and messages, which people see on a daily basis, you would think controlling outbreaks such as Norovirus would be relatively easy. In fact, the first step listed on the CDC’s Norovirus home page of how to protect yourself is “Wash your hands often”. Yet, as we traveled out to Arizona on our summer vacation, I continued to be amazed as to how difficult correct hand washing was. There were either the c-stores and/or rest stops with no soap in the dispenser, or no paper towels, or only cold water, all of which made hand washing a challenge. Thus “where’s the hand sanitizer” became a frequent statement. Of course, our alcohol based hand sanitizer, like most, certainly did not contain a high enough alcohol concentration to have any effect on killing norovirus. According to the CDC, in the United States, norovirus is a leading cause of illness from contaminated food. With students heading back to school, handwashing messages becomes even more important. As food safety professionals, continued training, messaging, and reinforcement of the importance of proper hand washing continues to be a priority. Just think of the positive health benefits if everyone just correctly washed their hands, after all, it’s all about the hands.


SafeFood at the Fair!

August 18th, 2014

It is that time of year – the Iowa State Fair. Of course you have heard of this and all of the excitement – beginning with the parade, the Governor’s Steer Show (raising funds for Ronald McDonald House), rides, and of course, food!
Food prepared and served in a number of ways – in a cup, bowl, wrap, and on a stick! There are over 200 food vendors and each one is inspected by the local regulatory team to ensure sanitary and safety standards are met – there is no pass because it is a temporary gig. Some foods are riskier than others, like the capresse salad on a stick over the fried butter. For many, a big highlight of the fair is the food (yours truly included). My friend has her “free for all” with fair food on her annual visit – a corn dog, buttered popcorn, handmade fresh lemonade, and a funnel cake. To each their own. Thank goodness the health team is on the job to make sure fair food is fun and safe!



No More Gloves

August 9th, 2014

As I was reading through the July 29, 2014 news postings on the Food Safety News web site I was intrigued by the NEWS DESK article “Hawaii Could Follow California by Repealing Glove Law”. I also read the story link regarding the repeal of the glove law which was passed by the California legislature back in June. Reasons for repealing the law included difficulty created for some chefs while preparing certain items, such as sushi, increased trash, and slowing preparation time. All I can say about increased difficulty in preparing foods is if surgical teams can perform delicate operations while wearing gloves, I hope someone could make sushi with gloved hands. The caveat to the no more glove rule is meticulous documentation of hand washing. The bill “would require employees to use utensils, as specified, to assemble ready-to-eat food or to place ready-to-eat food on tableware or in other containers” and would “authorize food employees to assemble or place on tableware or in other containers ready-to-eat food in an approved food preparation area without using utensils if hands are cleaned in accordance with specified provisions” as outlined in California’s Health and Safety Code. Section 113952-113961 of California’s code outlines in great detail all handwashing guidelines. With the change in the California code, hopefully foodservice operations in this state will be successful in thorough training and monitoring of employees’ handwashing behaviors. The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach website would certainly be one resource which could provide education and training materials regarding proper handwashing. Hopefully the legislators’ decision to alter FDA Food Code regulations will not negatively impact the health of people in California and perhaps, soon to be, those in Hawaii.



SafeFood© Lessons from the Mower

August 2nd, 2014

When my sisters and I were growing up, we were never allowed to mow the lawn. Dad seemed to think this was his job and well, that was ok. When I got married, it seemed like a fun thing to try – a chance to ride around soaking up the sun – so I did. But, safety rules were not followed: I wore flip flops and ended up hitting a tree (don’t ask), which caused by flip flop to get caught and twisted my ankle. Lesson learned was that hubby could do the mowing. Fast forward a few decades and an opportunity to mow the lawn presented itself again – hubby was ‘gone fishing’ and grass was getting high. So I took the instruction manual in hand and tried to decipher the code. First off, it wouldn’t start. My diagnosis was the battery was dead. Text message from husband help center was to find the battery charger (the what?) and hook up the clamps (red to red and black to black). I must have missed these days in driver’s ed 40 years ago because this was all new to me. How to find information about the battery? Went to the manual – index said see B -9; B-9 section referenced charging on D-12; charging on D-12 said go to page J-5. Not quite that easy! Once I finally found the appropriate page and section, then matter of interpreting the language – although it was somewhat daunting to read warnings and cautions about avoiding injury – who knew so complicated! Ultimately, with some distance tech text support – mission was accomplished. I am sure this was all perfectly clear to someone with a Y chromosome or experience, but not to me. The point of this story was an “ah ha!” moment in realizing simple and easy info is really the most effective. If we want people to practice safe food handling then the how to’s need to be clearly and simply stated. At this point in my career, I can follow the legalese language in Food Code pretty well, but I guess that for some working in foodservices they are having a similar experience to me reading the lawn mower manual. Help in translating into regular language may help improve safe practices because those working in foodservices better know what and how to follow the guidance. After my lawn mowing experience, I get the importance of this. Our team is working on visual based messages with hope this will help cut through the confusion -because we don’t think you have to be a lawyer to work in retail foodservices! Take a look at


SafeFood© : Tis’ The Grilling Season

July 23rd, 2014

While firing up the grill can be done any time of the year, when I think of summer I think of the endless possibilities for grilling everything from meats, fish, and potatoes to fruits & veggies. While a fun and easy way to cook, following and using safe food practices are very much a priority. I believe my husband has been well trained in the safe art of grilling. For instance, when the burgers go out to be grilled so does a clean plate and thermometer. I also know he is a fanatic when it comes to proper hand washing. I’m not certain the same could be said about the husband of a friend of mine who believes he has a long way to go when it comes to food safety. I have the same thoughts about a former co-worker who, bright and early, would bring in his somewhat frozen lunch entrée, leaving it on the kitchen counter to thaw so it would be ready to re-heat for lunch. I have a future son-in-law who traditionally leaves cut, fresh onions out on the kitchen counter, and simply cuts off the “bad” parts when he needs more fresh onion, he knows this makes me crazy, however he does use a meat thermometer. Based on these variations, I read with interest a recent email from the Partnership for Food Safety Education which shared information regarding a survey comparing safe food handling practices between men and women. Of the 4 items listed (proper washing/cleaning of cutting boards; separating raw from ready to eat foods; using a thermometer to check temps when listed on recipes; and whether or not food containing salmonella bacteria could be made safe to eat) women scored 10 – 13% higher on following the correct practice than did men. Thus, the question becomes, what type of food safety messages will have an impact on both men and women to help ensure a safe, year-round grilling season?


SafeFood©: Seeing in the Dark

July 13th, 2014

Health inspection rules require certain illumination standards in food preparation and storage areas at restaurants and other foodservices – but apparently it is ok to keep customers in the dark! While having a nice dinner at a white cloth restaurant – several of us struggled to read the menu. The “atmosphere” lighting didn’t help nor did the small font size. As I looked around the room – it appeared (at least what I could see!) that most of the diners were of a certain age. Now, given the upscale setting, that makes sense. So, from a practical standpoint, why are font sizes so small and the lighting so dim that the target market can’t see what they are doing? At least our group was prepared!

photo(30)blogflashlight phot


Summer Eats – Temporary Food Venues

July 9th, 2014

Summer is certainly a time to visit fairs, festivals, and concerts. As my husband and I recently took advantage of some of these festivities, I of course gave close attention to the food vendors. As I noticed the variation in the types of stands and operations, I wondered how many vendors were aware of the Extension publication “Food Stand Operations- What you need to know”. While many of the vendors in Culinary Row ran local restaurants, I kept looking for those who were well connected to a source of electricity, using electric equipment for cooking and hot and cold holding. I was a bit leery where it appeared lots of insulated plastic coolers were in use. Then there was the condiment station at yet another event. We had arrived midafternoon on a hot summer day. After wondering around for a while, my husband wanted to grab a bite to eat. While he ordered, I kept looking at the condiment station where flies were feasting on the tops of ketchup and mustard squeeze bottles and the chopped onions sat on the table in an open plastic container. I know summer is a time to enjoy a wide variety of fun foods, let’s just hope those running temporary food venues are well versed and knowledgeable when it comes to using safe food preparation and serving practices.


SafeFood©: Safe Produce

July 4th, 2014

I just graduated from a special week-long program focused on Produce Safety. In fact, the workshop is called Produce Safety University. It was started five years ago by the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service and Food and Nutrition Services (specifically the food safety and defense group). The workshop covered the ‘farm to fork” control points with special attention to application of information for a child nutrition program, aka hot lunches. With nutrition standards now requiring increased servings of fruits and vegetables, the presence of more and more school gardens and farm to school programs, and the simple fact many kids prefer fresh fruits and vegetables over cooked (cooking is a “kill step” for harmful bacteria), this workshop is very useful and relevant. Great speakers – Chef Cyndie Story who is also an Registered Dietitian and graduate of ISU’s doctoral program, Kathleen Staley, AMS food safety coordinator who has 28 years of experience as an inspector of fresh produce, and Julie Skolmowski from FNS food safety team. These ladies know their fruits and veggies! Plus, we had lots of hands on activities where we could poke and prod and taste! Another good aspect of this program was the bus rides to/from training center and farms and distributors we visited. As the wheels on the bus went round and round, we had time for networking with others who have same goal of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption by our nation’s youth. School is in session!

photo(29)photo (4)


Keeping Produce Safe – a Summer Task

June 26th, 2014

With the passing of the Summer Solstice this past weekend, summer activities are certainly in full swing. This of course means farmers’ markets and summer gardens and thus an abundance of summer produce. I was excited to see the notice regarding the newest campaign from the Partnership for Food Safety Education FIGHT BAC!® LIKE A producepro, The basic steps of Check, Clean, Rinse, Separate, Chill, and Throw Away as related to fresh produce are explained in short, easily understood steps. As I recently strolled through one of our local farmers’ markets, I couldn’t help but wonder how many folks knew the proper food handling techniques needed to safely serve all the abundant, lovely, fresh leafy greens which were being sold throughout the market. Add to this the growers’ need for awareness and practice of good agricultural practices and the opportunity for consumer education is endless. The subject of safe handling of fresh produce for school nutrition professionals is routinely included in staff training. In addition, many resources are available for buying fresh, local produce for the retail market. Hopefully, this new consumer focused produce safety campaign will prove to be another effective tool in helping prevent food borne illness.

Graphic_Stickerproduce fightbac


SafeFood© Packaging

June 15th, 2014

Back in the office after a few weeks away celebrating a graduation and enjoying a road trip with family. What struck me during multiple (daily) trips to the grocery store and a lot of eating at restaurants was the amount of unnecessary packaging materials. Is all that wrapping really necessary? Outings to the grocery store involved buying a variety of foods (remember 15 people with 15 different habits), and there was a lot to choose from -in addition to the oil filters, kid’s toys, and toiletries readily available!. I didn’t get the deal with portion control – will someone who wants to eat a dozen cookies really stop if they are packed into serving units of 3? Does generation of twice the packaging help the cause? Then when dining out, even at the few upscale, “white cloth” restaurants we selected as well as at hotel’s continental breakfasts – packages of ketchup, mayonnaise butter, jams, jellies, cream cheese etc were the norm. I know these foodservices can reuse the unopened packages once served to a table so the food cost considerations are likely driving the decisions, but it is really tacky to have the table littered with all this debris. Plus, it is messy just opening the dang things! How about portioning into small dishes and refilling as needed? There are other ways to control food cost without all this packaging. The individual units are an easy fix, but they come at a cost – extra packaging with resultant waste. Think about impact of the hospitality industry and the waste generated. We all know we should make efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle. These efforts might include reducing waste by printing on both sides of paper, if indeed a hard copy of something is needed. Good stewardship might mean thinking beyond what is easy and convenient. Food for thought.
Cathy index3index2<img