SafeFood© in China: Now What?

September 30th, 2014

When Smithfield Foods Inc. (the world’s largest pork producer) was sold to China’s Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd a deal approved by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment) – there was some controversy. A lot of the controversy stemmed from China’s track record in food safety (think back to 2008 when there were six deaths and thousands of hospitalizations reported from milk spiked with an industrial chemical). Not a lot of trust in the government’s oversight in ensuring the safety of food then – or now. The latest incident (which is having global ramifications as it involves several iconic U.S. based restaurant chains) isn’t exactly reassuring. This isn’t a case of someone accidently forgetting to do something the right way – employees at a processing plant (not Smithfields – this one is Shanghai Husi) were shown on TV of using out of date chicken and beef to make chicken products and beef patties. And if that isn’t enough to make you ill, there was videotape of employees picking up meat that had dropped on the floor and putting it back into the processing machine. Which restaurants was this company processing meat for? McDonalds (which is the second largest food chain in China), KFC and other quick service restaurants in China pulled meat and poultry items off their menus. No quarter pounder for you! OSI, the parent company of Shanghai Husi (based outside of Chicago) called the case an isolated incident – yet suspended all sales and recalled all food processed at the Shanghai plant. Really? How reassuring. Has the country really got their food safety act together? At the time of the outcry in mid-July, Husi did not specify how much food it would recall but promised an internal investigation and new management at the plant. The company also pledged to cooperate with authorities, who have ordered the facility closed and detained five people as part of their own inquires. The safety of food sold in China is not limited to quick service – Retail giant WalMart recently headlined an investigation of (again) changing expiration dates on meat products and (maybe not as serious but pretty gross) not changing oil in fryers. The statement from Wal-Mart said the company was cooperating fully with local authorities and would take “immediate actions” to deal with any issues uncovered. Are you reassured?

China is not alone with challenges to safety of their food supply chains – it happens here in the US of A too. Local health inspectors at points of sale, government agencies charged with oversight of food production and processing, and other food safety advocates do have their work cut out for them – but there is a sense of vigilance. And, if there is a problem, outbreaks are investigated so there is a better understanding of food borne illness prevention. Not a fool-proof system, but certainly pretty effective. By contrast, Professor Don Schaffner, current president of the International Association of Food Protection noted in a July blog written by Michael Moss and Neil Gough compared China’s current food safety system to the U.S. meat packing industry in early 1900s as depicted in Upton Sinclair’s book “The Jungle”.

So, where is the beef today? McDonalds has since switched suppliers and beef is back on the menus – but decision to stay with OSI is not clear. Stay tuned!



SafeFood© Travels a Gravel Road

September 20th, 2014

Listening to Elvis Radio (!!!) and heard a new one (to me) called “True Love Travels a Gravel Road”. Not quite a country song but there is a message in this, which is that life and love are not always smooth going. I happened to be on my way home traveling over my own gravel road (literally) when I heard the song, so it made me think about goals and achievements, and that most of them do involve some sort of bumps, bruises, or exertion. Students who graduate from our doctoral program often say the road to a PhD required a lot more attention to detail than expected. The same might be said of good food – achieving a quality and safe product does take extra care – but a memorable meal that doesn’t cause illness is worth it! Safe traveling along your own gravel roads!



It Is All About the Money

September 11th, 2014

As I was thinking of a topic, it occurred to me legislative initiatives and policy would be appropriate, thus for a bit of light reading, I started delving into the Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law by President Obama January 4, 2011. The law is in the midst of the rule making process. One of the comments I read was of course about needing money and funding sources. There is agreement the law is important due to the fact 1 in 6 Americans suffers from a foodborne illness which is of course a public health cost, yet the question of how to pay for implementation remains an obstacle. As a result of the 2004 Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, schools foodservice locations are required to have 2 health inspections per school year. However, my experience was 2 inspections per year for our production kitchens, one for our non-prep, service only schools. In addition documentation had to be obtained from our local health department to verify why only one inspection was taking place for some schools. This again, seemed to be all about available financial and staffing resources. I realize money is a significant resource and often a barrier. However, when the health and safety of Americans and our food supply is impacted, hopefully finding a funding stream which is agreeable to all involved is a top priority. However, it does seem far too often, it is all about the money.
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SafeFood©: No Way Out!

September 4th, 2014

Last week Diane talked about hand washing supplies. That blog did generate a few funny comments related to alcohol containers and some “but officer, I need the Everclear™ for hand hygiene” jokes. This week I want to take the hand washing a step further and consider how the heck to exit the bathroom without re-contaminating clean hands. Some places make it easy – like airports that have curved wall entrances, automatic faucets, soap and towel dispensers (if you can get the right wave action), and flush toilets. Others aren’t so easy – maybe only hand air dryers are available rather than paper towels. But the door might open in so your clean hands don’t get dirty touching the handle (sad but true not everyone washes their hands!).
On a recent road trip, we stopped at an “almost there but not quite” state of art rest facility. There were auto flushes on toilets, soap (lots of it) dispensed without direct contact, and faucets came on with a brief flash of hands under them. There was both a wave paper towel dispenser and an air dryer. So far, this place was rocking (food safety people’s idea of fun!). But, the only way out was to pull open the door handle. Fortunately in this case they had paper towels. What to do if not available? A sleeve might work – if it isn’t middle of summer and not long- sleeve season. Or, wait for someone to come in or follow on heels of someone exiting. There is a way out – just takes a little strategizing!

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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!

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