SafeFood™ Let it Flow

September 21st, 2015

Let it Flow – That is the theme of National Food Safety Month sponsored by the National Restaurant Association (NRA). Food Safety Month is in September and the theme addresses the critical points in the path food takes from farm to fork, pasture to plate, hen to home, etc., etc., etc. The focus for NRA is steps at the retail outlet – when food arrives on the receiving dock to when it is served to you, the customer. What goes on behind the doors that say Employees Only? Some of you might recall your own previous work experience in the glamorous world of foodservice, say that high school gig at the local burger shack. One estimate is 25% of the U.S. population has had a stint working at a place where food is prepared and sold to others. If we include all places where food is served (not necessarily sold, such as class parties at schools or volunteer shifts at booster club concession stands), that estimate would be higher. So attention to food flow really isn’t someone else’s concern – all of us own it. Points in the flow of food: are purchasing, receiving, storage, preparation (which includes assembly and/or cooking), holding until served, service, and then handling remaining foods (storage or reheating). Most of these steps are followed at home too.
At each of the steps, attention should be paid to the health and hygiene practices of the person handling the food (don’t cough ON the food), time and temperature controls (don’t run errands after hitting the grocery store), and cleaning and sanitizing practices (use that soap!). Sounds easy, but it does take mindfulness to become a habit. Once these practices become a habit, it becomes SOP (standard operating procedure). Practices like ALWAYS washing hands before handling food and eating; ALWAYS coughing and sneezing into your sleeve; ALWAYS putting cold foods away immediately after grocery shopping; ALWAYS cooking food thoroughly (check by using a thermometer); and ALWAYS cleaning and sanitizing places with detergent where food comes in contact before use and not causing cross contamination.
Habits are good things – let’s call these the Five Habits of Highly SafeFood™ People!



SafeFood™ National Food Safety Education Month!

September 16th, 2015

September 2015 is National Food Safety Education Month. A month dedicated to food safety was created in 1994 by the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) ServSafe® program team in order to increase awareness about the importance food safety education. This year’s theme is “Let It Flow”. Activities during the month are intended to focus on food safety precautions within the food industry and within American homes. Many educational resources have been developed to use for education and training by the ServSafe® program and other organizations. For example, The Partnership for Food Safety Education has numerous resources focusing on such timely topics as myths and facts for home food safety and a campaign dedicated to getting consumers to keep home refrigerators at 40°F or below. A month focused on food safety education is a perfect fit for the role Iowa State University’s Extension and Outreach Field Specialists play when it comes to providing food safety education and easily accessed food safety resources. While working on a bulletin board layout, I wanted to focus on the various “communities” served by ISU Extension and Outreach food safety efforts. The list included every group and everyone from consumers and business and industry to healthcare, restaurants and schools. Obviously the ISU team has created a learning environment in which food safety information flows into every Iowa community. So check out the many food safety resources found at the Food Safety website, and keep food safety education flowing!

foodsafetyeducation month brochure


SafeFood™ at State Fairs

September 6th, 2015

Are all state fairs the same? From my sample of two, I would say no. The Minnesota Fair didn’t have presidential candidates for one wandering around giving helicopter rides etc, but it did have plenty of fair food and many food items presented on a stick (Walleye on a Stick!) and some booths defiantly not going that route (see photo). I was enjoying this fair because my daughter, Marketing Director for the Minnesota Beef Council (see our photo at their display), had invited me to stroll the grounds with her (and a whole lot of other people!) It was hot and crowded (that seems to be a common trait) – but boy was there food! And some interesting beef choices – The Blue Barn featured a “Cluck and Moo” entrée served in a waffle cone. We enjoyed St. Paul Tacos for lunch (beer-braised shredded beef with cole slaw topping) – yum! And of course a malt from the Dairy Barn. We watched little kids (and their parents) witness the miracle of birth in the learning barns and experience how food is grown and taken to market at a “little hands on the farm engagement exhibit”. We strolled the cattle barns and watched the Open Angus Show (throw-back to Kaye’s youth as a 4-Her). What was impressive was that handwashing stations (completely supplied – multiple sinks, counter tops, hand towels and SOAP) were located by these animal exhibit areas! And they were being used! Way to go neighbors to the north!





SafeFood™ On a Stick

August 30th, 2015

State Fair season is in full swing – Iowa wrapped up hers last week. You prolly saw news coverage of presidential candidates strolling the fair grounds and getting down with the good folks of Iowa. Most seemed inclined to try some type of fair food – the Pork Producers Tent provided a photo op for many to showcase their grill skills, and enjoy the famous Pork Chop on a Stick. There are lots of other fair foods on a stick, which given the crowds, heat, animals, etc. maybe helps control for sickness, as unlikely many people wash their hands before snacking. (And in fairness, given the food all around you environment, that would be hard to do. As for politicians, with all the handshaking they do, food on a stick may be a blessing). I do give credit to the custodial crews, restrooms are clean and fully stocked with supplies, no small thing given crowds of 100,000 plus on some days.
Next week, off to the Minnesota State Fair to check out their fair food. Stay tuned

porkchop on stick


SafeFood© and the School Lunch Black Market

August 23rd, 2015

You may have been following recent food fights regarding school lunch nutrition standards. With the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization up for renewal this year – there is a lot of finger pointing as to whether the tougher nutrition standards approved with the 2010 renewal (aka Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act) are working due to reports of increased waste. Recent roll outs of Smart Snacks – nutrition standards for competitive foods (those sold in lunch room outside the reimbursable meal) has impacted offerings for sale. Districts also are required to have local wellness policies, which offer some guides to foods available in schools but these usually pertain to fundraising events etc. Generally, foods brought from home do not have to comply with established nutritional standards. So, some food entrepreneurs see a new market niche! OnSite Foodservice has reported about the school lunch “black market” with stories of kids bringing salt and sugar packets from home (free to their peers or for sale) and in one case, teachers (yes the role models!) selling instant noodles and chips to students. The free market system at work! Of course, student bartering of sack lunch foods goes way back – I even remember back in my time that this was not uncommon. While kids exchange of goodies may ignore nutritional standards, what about the food safety and health risks? Where/how/when was the food item prepared and stored? Which kid sharing a bite has a communicable disease? At ISU, we have some great resources to aid parents in packing a sack lunch – what and how to pack – that address content and food safety concerns. Keep your kids out of the black market! See



SafeFood© Food Safety Hits Home

August 16th, 2015

I think you know how much I enjoy watching cooking shows, especially when I see some famous chef or chef “wanna be” failing to follow safe food handling and preparation guidelines. So, as I was busy in the kitchen the other day, and yes watching one of those shows, I had not noticed my husband was also watching the program. All of a sudden I hear him say “she did not correctly wash her hands after touching the raw chicken, she only rinsed them”. I asked him to repeat himself, where upon he explained this chef had not correctly washed her hands, and therefore, she might have contaminated the towel and other items she touched after touching the raw chicken breasts. (What we had both observed was the splash and dash handwashing technique.) He continued on to say she should have washed her hands with soap and warm water since he would certainly not want to become ill due to poor handwashing. While I always tease him about his lack of culinary expertise when it comes to meal preparation, although he does make great burgers and scrambled eggs, I was certainly impressed with his food safety comments. I’ve had remarks and/or questions from our daughters about food safety practices, however, I did not realize the impact of what has been practiced in our home had also influenced my husband. I’m wondering how many times the food safety practices we have used at various family gatherings and other social events have positively influenced those around us. Each day there are endless educational opportunities, using the resources found for families and consumers on the Food Safety website, can certainly help share food safety knowledge and information with everyone we meet.




SafeFood© and Recycled Food Containers

August 8th, 2015

If you are like me, you have a cupboard in your kitchen devoted to plastic containers from various sources – margarine tubs, ice cream pail and purchased containers (see the secret photo below). This is the cupboard guests are warned not to open! When we cleaned out my in-laws home after their passing, we found many margarine containers (with lids!). I get the hesitation not to toss and thinking these have to be good for something! With emphasis on Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – why not give these containers another go? They sure are handy for leftovers (although the opaque ones do seem to get forgotten on the refrigerator shelf!). In licensed foodservices, reuse of these are not allowed for food as the package is intended as a single use container. It is ok to use the sour cream half gallon buckets for cleaning purposes but not for food storage. This is confirmed in the Food Code and a common caution by many food safety experts as there is concern with bacterial contamination due to inadequate cleaning or chemical contamination due to breakdown in plastic structure.
But sometimes there is a difference between what is advised for places serving the public and what is done at home. For instance, I routinely will pick tomatoes off the vine and eat them without washing (contrary to Diane’s advice last week – but hey, it is just for me and I am willing to take the risk!). And, I do tend to reuse plastic containers for food storage. Am I going to get cancer? Prolly not – at least from this. Upon further review, (ok my sister sent the article and link from Yahoo News – see;_ylt=AwrTccITDcZVXBwArJQnnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByb2lvbXVuBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg )
–I found an article interviewing Daniel Schmidt, a PhD and professor of plastics engineering. He explained that containers with recycling codes of #2, #4 or #5 CAN be safely reused. Most yogurt and margarine tubs are made from plastic #5 – so yes- it is safe to store foods in these! We just have to watch they are not used for reheating to avoid warping them. And we all have heard about dangers of leaching BPA from plastics into food from microwave heating. Schmidt does caution that it is best to store foods with similar characteristics (such as acid content) as the original item in the containers. There is a future for plastics, as we learned in the movie The Graduate! But as with so many food safety issues, it does depend. In this case, the type of material does matter. Of course there is lots and lots more info about plastic like storage containers – see Food and Drug Administrations’ web site about BPA and plastic containers at
So, guess I better go clean out the cluttered cupboard!

Cathyplastic containers


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