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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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!

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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.

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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.
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Food Recalls – Staying Alert

June 5th, 2014

Obviously we do not eat sterile food so there is probably a bit of a risk in any food we eat. This is the reason safe manufacturing, food handling, and preparation policies, procedures, and practices are so important. In reviewing recent multi-state foodborne illness outbreaks, three different outbreaks have been reported and investigated since mid-May. As of June 2, 17 people from 5 different states became infected with 2 different strains of Salmonella. These illnesses, which started the end of January, were linked to various brands of organic sprouted chia powder. In May, 7 confirmed and 3 possible infections of Escherichia coli O121 were reported in Idaho and Washington. This outbreak was linked to eating raw clover sprouts. Finally, a voluntary recall of 1.8 million pounds of ground beef was the result of 11 people from 4 different states becoming ill from Escherichia coli O157:H7. These individuals reported becoming ill after eating at a restaurant. These cases and countless more reinforce the need for constant training, monitoring, enforcement of the Food Code, and providing consumer food safety messages at all levels of the food production, preparation, and consumption chain. Consumers need to be made aware of food borne illness risks regardless if the food is fresh, organic, or cooked. Safe food handling practices are always the best defense to help prevent foodborne illness.



SafeFood©: Commencement Address

May 26th, 2014

Tis pomp and circumstance season! Congratulations to all of you newly minted grads with sheepskin diplomas and loans to repay!
Hopefully you had a commencement speaker whose words of wisdom prepared you (along with your family and professors) for what lies ahead. It certainly seemed this was the year in which scheduling a non-contentious speaker was difficult. Speeches I did read or listen to were geared to overarching life strategies such as maintain your integrity. Only a few provided some specifics. I liked the speech by Admiral William H. McRaven given to University of Texas grads. He provided a list of 10 things he learned in Navy Seal camp beginning with “make your bed” every morning as a way to accomplish the first of many tasks throughout the day.
No one asked me to speak, so here in this blog is what I would offer to our new Bachelors of Arts and Sciences My advice is also pretty specific – I have framed it around a food safety campaign called Do Your PART – in which P stands for Plan, A for Act, R for Routine and T for Think. My hope is these specifics will provide you with the how to’s to maintain good health and allow you to contribute to society and be worthy role models.
So, doing your PART means first, to Plan. Setting life goals is one thing but in a day to day perspective, think about what you are eating and when. Nutrition is how you fuel your body. Fill er up with good stuff, not junk food. The research tells us that key reasons that food becomes unsafe is because of time and temperature abuse and/or contamination from unclean hands or other sources. So think about good times to hit the grocery store with your list of real food, and plan on purchasing only what you will need – this avoids waste and prevents consumption of over aged food. Planning is good. Think of a plan as the hangers, rods and hooks in your closet – the plan is your framework. Spontaneity is ok within limits but eating refrigerated foods 8 hours after removing from cold storage because you took a spontaneous detour is not real smart.
Act on the Plan. Indiscriminate eating (that means never saying no thanks) will not only put on the pounds, but could lead to an illness from bacteria or viruses that is transmitted by the food. Sharing beverages or eating off someone else’s plate is a sure way to share germs –be sure you really want to have that type of relationship!
Routinization is a way to make habits of good practices – such as brushing your teeth or making your bed. Add handwashing before eating to that list and you will do yourself a big favor by limiting exposure to stomach bugs and colds.
Finally, THINK about what you are doing. I have heard basketball coaches yell at players to “Keep their head in the game” – well that is really the message here. Be alert, be ready, or be prepared –whatever, think about what you are doing. Maybe there is a better way to build a mousetrap! You are the future so think about your health.


SafeFood©: What’s in the Cupboard?

May 10th, 2014

All of us have at least one can or jar in the cupboard that predates the last presidential election, or maybe several elections! We come home from the grocery store and put things away without rotating inventory or practicing FIFO (first in first out), something that we do by rote working in foodservices. But it is not uncommon to find a gap between what we do at work and what we do at home. Of course, at home, we aren’t necessarily feeding large groups of people, so if there are any consequences for our actions, we take the hit.
But, back to the older cans in the cupboard – how long is it reasonable to expect the food to be safe? Well, it may depend – on the type of product and storage temperatures. More and more companies are date marking, but what do the dates mean? Typically these are along the lines of “best if used by” a certain date – which suggests more of a quality concern rather than a food safety issue. If the can is not bulging (that means an anerobic bacterium such as Clostridium Botulinum is present and growing), then likely a canned good (at least fairly recent) would still be safe, assuming it was canned properly. Dents to cans are indicators product wasn’t handled properly post-packaging, but not necessarily a food safety concern. Any leakage is a clue that the seal has been broken – which could invite contaminants into product.
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So, what do these pictures tell us? Would you eat food from these cans?
Of course, best advice is “when in doubt, throw it out”
Better advice is to manage what you do have on hand – do a quick check before heading off to grocery store and work with a list. Just because you can buy 10 cans of green beans on sale doesn’t make it a good buy – chances are a can or two will resurface in 2024!



SafeBeef© at the Grill

May 1st, 2014

Tra la – It’s May! And that means Beef Month! Fire up the grill and prep your favorite burgers. Peggy did a great blog about cost-effective ways to include beef in the diet – see
Beef has a lot of ZIP – zinc, iron and protein – so it is good for you; so don’t be a grill dud, be sure you handle and cook it right.
What does that mean? Well, easy enough if you follow these 4 tips:
Clean – your hands, utensils, food surfaces, etc
Separate – keep raw from cooked and dirty from clean – that means use a clean plate for cooked burgers!
Cook –be sure internal temp is at least 155 F. Check temps with a calibrated thermometer as color alone is not enough! This is very important for commercially purchased meat.
Chill – thaw frozen meat in the fridge and refrigerate uneaten cooked burgers ASAP



SafeFood: The Public and Food Allergens

April 23rd, 2014

In section 2-103.11 of the 2009 Food Code, “food allergy awareness” has been added as a part of the food safety training of employees for which the Person in Charge is responsible. At a recent presentation, there was a discussion of allergens and how best to inform “customers” of what foods contain what allergens. In the context of this presentation, those involved were food service directors of several state institutions in Iowa. In these settings, it was critical for food service staff to know which individuals had what allergies while abiding privacy guidelines. In the good ol’ days, one of the USDA Foods offered to schools was prune puree which was often used in baked goods, to tell or not to tell children was certainly a question. No more stealth foods with today’s menus. I recently bought 3 mangos at a local grocery store. Since I had brought my own bags, I was surprised when the cashier grabbed a plastic bag in which she started to put them. However, I soon learned this person was allergic to mangos, so couldn’t touch them, so I bagged the other 2. Over the years, as a school food service director, with the emergence of what seemed to be more and more peanut allergies, our district adopted a “peanut free school menu” guideline for elementary student menus. With food allergy awareness now included as part of employee training, new opportunities will be presented as how best to help different types of institutions and restaurants train employees and help develop best practices for serving the needs of customers with food allergies.