The patchwork system among states regarding selling of raw milk (milk that has not been pasteurized) has led to standoffs in church parking lots. A recent incident in Katy, Texas made the news. In this state, it is legal to purchase raw milk directly from the dairy farmer on the farm, and it is legal for a group of people to hire a delivery person to pick up their purchased milk and bring it to them. It is not legal for raw milk sales to occur off the farm. In some states, no sales of raw milk are allowed (Iowa is one of these – about 20 other states also do not allow) – while in others certain retail venues can sell. So it is complicated. And even in states that don’t allow sales of the milk, people may purchase a share of the cow that produces the milk – thus obtaining their fix. Raw milk is not addictive but there are LOTS of consumers who claim there are health benefits and want the right to purchase. Health professionals are concerned that contamination from certain pathogens (such as Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella) make it too risky for at-risk consumers (young kids, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems) to drink. Pasteurization of milk is a quick heat treatment of the milk designed to kill these harmful microorganisms. Hence the standoff: dairy farmers are trying to find niche markets (raw milk sells for about twice that of pasteurized milk) and health officials are trying to rein in risk levels. It is not an overstatement to say that most consumers assume products would not be on the market unless they were safe but with raw milk it really is a case of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware – just in case your Latin is rusty). So back in Katy, about 50 people who had purchased the raw milk from the dairy farmer and arranged for transit from a third party gathered in a church parking lot to collect their goods. County health inspectors and police who called the transactions illegal due to the appearance of a wholesale delivery were waiting for them. The issue was not settled that day – but it is likely this will be on agenda in the state legislature next session (and probably other states as well). BTW – the CDC does not support consumption of raw milk and has prepared a set of FAQ to help in decision making
Here we go again – debating extent of labeling for food items containing ingredients from genetically modified organisms, AKA GMO) such as soybean or corn seeds. Congress is trying to create a national law to avoid market place confusion with individual state laws. (The recent fuss stems from a recently implemented Vermont law – Vermont was the first state to successfully pass a law requiring all foods sold include a label noting inclusion of GMOs.) Currently, it is estimated that about ¾ of packaged/processed foods use ingredients from GMOs, i.e. the soybean and/or corn oils in salad dressing. There are a few genetically engineered whole foods on the market such as Hawaiian papaya which protect the crops (and thus, economic viability) from pest infestation and plant diseases. Same purpose for widespread planting of commodity crops such as corn and soybeans and resultant use in many processed food products. On surface, it may seem reasonable and no big deal for food manufacturers to communicate as some consumers have objections to tinkering with Mother Nature and/or simply don’t want to eat those foods. But with interstate distribution systems it IS a big deal. Imagine companies trying to comply with 50 different sets of food labeling regulations – there go the efficiencies of production and distribution with a potential unintended consequence of increases in market prices. Currently, the only way to avoid foods with GMOs is to purchase organic – yet these foods typically have a premium price tag. Surveys show that consumers perceive non-GMO foods are safer (42% from a recent Farm Bureau survey) even though the FDA (and much of scientific community) have consistently said GMO products are safe. But there is a difference between perception and reality. Right now Congress is sorting through the emotion and the science – attempting to reconcile views of protestors shouting “Monsanto money” (Monsanto is a leading GMO seed company) and industry pleas for common sense. Stay tuned!
Hi! My name is Jill Schechinger. I am a dietetic intern who recently spent time with the Iowa State Extension and Outreach Food Safety Project. This experience was eye opening as it provided a look into a realm of the dietetics profession that I had not had exposure to before! ISU Extension seeks to provide education and partnerships designed to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future through a variety of resources, workshops, and educational programs.
Through research, I also learned a lot about the history of ISU Extension and Outreach. Did you know that it was the Morrill Act that granted Iowa State University the land to establish a college specializing in agriculture? The need for more agricultural research increased, setting the stage for the creation of the Extension and Outreach program that you know today.
My work with ISU Extension focused on food safety and the impact Iowa State Extension and Outreach can have on the surrounding community. Over the past two weeks I experienced several workshops and short-courses related to food safety including courses on ServSafe®, HACCP, and Smarter Lunchrooms. Courses were offered for school food service personnel across Iowa including school nutrition directors and managers. Participants gained important knowledge and skills that could be transferred to their school districts to better improve the school nutrition program. I’m sure you can imagine how important food safety is in keeping your kiddos healthy at school. Can you believe this year marks the 100th year that ISU Extension and Outreach has provided such workshops that positively impact all Iowans? How cool is that!
Did you know that Iowa State Extension also participates in annual 4-H events held on campus? Students get awesome hands-on learning experiences about a variety of topics related to their 4-H activities. Topics included the importance of proper hand washing and personal hygiene through a workshop called “GSI: Germ Scene Investigation”. Students worked together to investigate a viral outbreak on campus, and the actions they can take to promote proper hand washing techniques to ensure safety of all students. Not to worry- it was a fake virus!
This rotation through Iowa State Extension gave me a glimpse of the numerous professional possibilities available related to food and food safety. It also highlighted the immense impact this work has on the surrounding community! I had no idea ISU Extension did so much to promote food safety, did you? The field of dietetics is continually expanding and thriving, and there are hundreds of paths available that can positively transform and influence lives, and who wouldn’t want to do that!
News reports this past spring regarding the unsafe water in the city of Flint, Michigan have certainly raised questions about water. When a potential 12,000 children are at risk for health problems due to lead contamination in the water they drank, the public demands answers. Drinkable water is a basic need. We use it to grow food crops, quench thirst, cleaning purposes, and as an ingredient in other foods, including ice. As one speaker at a food safety conference put it, water is the “stealth ingredient”. In simple terms, the Flint crisis was due to contaminated water source as well as older pipes used for distribution. While Flint became the face of the issue, it really is a national concern. For the last few decades, there has been a campaign to replace metal pipes, used widely prior to the 1970’s, with non-lead materials. Piping from the major distribution valve to the main taps in homes is not cataloged; so the water source for a community may test as drinkable but water coming from tap in home (or workplace or school) may have lead transferring from the piping to the water. In a recent field trip to Baltimore, we were told that the schools do not use the water for drinking or cooking as there is concerns about leeching of lead into the water from the older plumbing. How do you know? Legislative efforts are underway to strengthen current regulations (as well as oversight authority – lessons learned from the Flint crisis) and the Centers Disease Control and Prevention has some “how-to” guidance for consumers.
Like everyone else, I have been on a few airplane rides. As the summer flight traffic picks up, it is interesting the approach taken by different airlines in addressing allergens – food and otherwise. Some still offer peanuts – which is very surprising in this era of peanut free zones. Of course, those who have peanut or nut allergies likely scope out in advance what snacks are offered, and either fly with another carrier or designate need for an accommodation. More recently, I am seeing small pets traveling as companions. Fortunately I am not allergic or even sensitive to pet dander, but a lot of people are. What can they do – have to request a reassignment? Even if you are not sitting close to a pet, would think would be hard to escape in the closed confines of an airplane.
Pet ownership is rising – and many pet owners treat their pets well. Doggy day cares and bakeries are pretty common (more so in urban areas than small towns). Pet insurance sells briskly and there are big box stores devoted to pet supplies. So given this viable market, am sure decision makers advocate for a more inclusive marketing plan. While passengers are always thanked with “we know you have a choice of airlines” etc, etc, etc, I still feel like part of a herd during boarding and deplaning! Hope your “leaving on a jet plane” experience is positive!
I am not in France (although, I wish I were), but I have seen a lot of open air dining in the past few weeks as warmer weather allows for time outside without freezing injury (hey, it has snowed in May before!) Some restaurants’ outside dining areas are nicer than others – some are in front on busy streets so it is hard to have a conversation (not to mention the exhaust fumes that mingle with the aromas of your dish). While the question of air borne contaminants does cross my mind, especially if close to pedestrian walk ways, I try to channel the calming sunshine and redirect my thoughts. It is nice to get outside! The physical safety issues are a concern though. While at a conference in downtown Madison, I walked by an entry area to a restaurant (the sidewalk was positioned between the dining area and restaurant building) and had a close encounter with a server bringing out a tray of hot food. Thankfully the waitress was pretty coordinated with good reflexes (and prolly experience) as she deflected the collision and saved the food (and both of us from burns and a mess!). While I enjoy the great outdoors, when asked whether our group would like to sit inside or out, the answer will depend on the circumstances. As realtors say, Location, Location, Location!
Grab and Go food is all around us – at C-stores, grocery stores, airport kiosks, mobile food trucks, etc, etc. etc. Location of where and how the food is packaged will vary – some will be prepared at a central commissary much like a food processing facility whereas others may be prepped and packed in back of house at retail location. Type of food packaged and type of packaging will affect level of regulatory oversight also. For instance, vacuum or packaging that modifies the atmosphere of the product container (to extend shelf life) will require compliance with more regulation as risks increase. A fruit cup will have less. Grab and Go is more and more common as retailers target millennials – the age group with no time (or skills) to prepare food and lots of disposable income. Other demographics also appreciate the convenience; as an empty nester it is nice to sometimes take advantage of these options, even if eating out or buying prepared food is not a “need”. Depending on complexity of supply chain, the information on the package may have a lot of detail, such as ingredients, potential allergen contact, and use by or sell by dates. Keep in mind most retailers will rotate stock with “first in first out” inventory controls as quality declines over time. Next time you grab food to go, inform yourself to be sure you have SafeFood™ to Go!
The food business is not easy! Just like other products for sale, the food has to look good and be of good quality. But, unlike clothing or furniture or shoes, these products are consumed. The recent intentional contamination of food with some type of DIY poisonous chemical mixture in Ann Arbor really brought home the vulnerability of displayed foods. Who would do such a thing? And, Why??? We used to dismiss actions as pranks. I remember early in my career as a college dining hall manager dealing with a student who placed a small garden snake in the salad bar – as a prank! Ha! At least the snake was visible. But after September 11, 2001, there was raised awareness about potential contamination of food and water supplies by terrorists. Or other groups taking actions to draw attention to a particular cause. Generally foodservices and grocery stores will have a staff member present around displayed food to control for theft but also to keep things looking good and to be readily available if there are questions. This is a good practice, as the “food bar life guard” can also monitor actions of customers or others. Having a presence is a good defense plan. One of my former graduate students, Dr. Carol Klitzke researched food defense in schools. She cited the infamous intentional contamination of salad bars in Oregon restaurants back in 1984 by a religious cult as one example. One of the cult members said they had also tried in schools but were not successful because the school lunch ladies were watching them. A retail owner depends on customers. Most customers are sincere in their intentions with interest in the product – not in causing harm or confusion. But having staff present communicates there is oversight and scores points for customer service. Those who sell foods on display should invest in a staff member present at the point of sale to control for crazy people and dishonest customers. You as a customer should look for the “life guard” next time you are at a food bar!
Finally, it appears spring has arrived. For those who enjoy growing their own fruits and vegetables – it’s garden time! Many community gardens are getting planted as part of efforts to address food security and enhance quality of life. I sometimes wonder about many of urban gardens – what is the history of the land where the garden is located? Often reclaimed land previously was the site of some type of factory or other manufacturing plant. Were there any chemicals leached into the soil? A good way to know this – and to provide information regarding appropriate types of soil amendments to ensure proper pH as well as levels of nitrogen, potassium and lime that will help plants – is through a soil test. The soil test can also tell whether there are harmful contaminants in the soil. Information about soil tests is available at your local county extension office as well. Time to grow!
When you are thinking about spring cleaning, don’t forget the kitchen. Harmful bacteria can be lurking on kitchen surfaces or even in the refrigerator. The kitchen is a warm environment with water and food sources – everything bacteria need to grow and reproduce. Plus, a clean and dry kitchen will prevent pest infestation as well as protecting your family from food borne illnesses.
Some cleaning tips to make your kitchen and meals safer are:
1. Clean food surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water. You can sanitize with a bleach solution (1 tablespoon regular bleach to 1 gallon of water; concentrated bleach use 2 teaspoons). Spray or wipe on clean surface and let air dry. Grilling season may mean you are using wood cutting boards more frequently; these in particular should get the clean and bleach treatment because the cut marks etched in the wood are a nice hiding spot for germs.
2. Launder dishcloths and kitchen towels frequently in a washing machine with hot water. Keep this load separate from other types of clothing, like dirty socks. Damp dishcloths can harbor bacteria and when wet, bacteria may even grow, so be sure kitchen linens are dry.
3. Clean up spills immediately in the refrigerator. To avoid build-up of bacteria, mold and mildew, clean interior routinely with hot soapy water, rinse and then dry with a clean cloth. Doing so just before a trip to the grocery store would be a good time. Chlorine bleach can weaken seals and gaskets, and harm some interior materials so don’t use the bleach solution here.
4. Use the dilute bleach solution after cleaning the kitchen sink and run through garbage disposal once a week or so. Food particles trapped in the drain can create an environment for bacteria to grow.