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


SafeFood© – Grillin’ Time!

July 4th, 2015

Here it is – the 4th of July and the celebrations are on! Lots of us have some type of backyard BBQ – and hopefully know enough to keep raw meats separate from cooked by using a different plate and know enough to cook the meats thoroughly. Oh, and wash hands before handling food (of course!) Enough said – right?
But what’s this about the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding a $15,000 project by University of California Riverside to limit emissions that result from backyard barbecues. The projects’ stated aim is to “research and develop preventative technology that will reduce fine particulate emissions from residential barbecues”. Does that mean the aroma of grilling steaks and burgers may soon be a thing of the past? OR that firing up the backyard grill will be more complicated with regulated bells and whistles technology to prevent the fine particulate emissions? Here is link to award info if want to see for yourself details of the proposed project.

This particular award seemed to hit a nerve – a google search showed LOTS of articles/blogs/tweets etc. reacting to the info, and not in a good way. In fact State Senator Eric Schmitt of Missouri has started a “rebellion” on Twitter (see #porksteakrebellion).

Whether particulate emissions are a risk remains to be seen (yes I am aware of some research that indicates this but there are a lot of conditions), but what we do know is cross contamination between raw and cooked foods and clean and unclean surfaces are leading causes of food borne illness. So, be a SafeFood© Griller as you enjoy the birthday bash of this great country!
Happy 4th!

Steaks on Grill


SafeFood© Taking Care of Leftovers

June 28th, 2015

Not too long ago, my husband had a family birthday lunch celebration for one of his “0” birthdays (although he claims he is holding at 39). His mother had brought him a serving of meatloaf. When we talked later in the day, he asked me what I thought he should do with the meatloaf. Since he has been well educated in food safety, he knew it should have been kept cold during its travels from her home (she lives about 30 miles away) and while they all enjoyed a leisurely birthday lunch. Since it appeared the serving had not had any type of temperature control, the decision was made to throw away the meatloaf. I wonder how many consumers are aware of safe food handling guidelines for leftovers. The first heading on the ISU Food Safety web page link for consumers is “Leftovers” featuring the “4 Day Throw Away” guidance. In addition, there is great information on tips for what to do with leftovers One of these days it will hopefully stop raining and families can begin enjoying picnics with family and friends. These celebrations often include needing to safely transport food to the event and then addressing leftovers. The many consumer friendly Extension resources focusing on safe handling of leftover food will help everyone safely take care of leftovers.



SafeFood©: View from a Visitor

June 21st, 2015

My name is Allysa Ballantini, and I’m a dietetic intern in the Iowa State University Dietetics Internship. I’ve had the opportunity to complete a one-week community rotation with the Iowa State University Human Sciences Extension and Outreach and Dr. Catherine Strohbehn. Prior to my week here, I was unfamiliar with the projects and work conducted by extension specialists. The only experience I have in food service is the course I completed last fall, Quantity Food Production and Service Management Experience class (AKA the Joann Bice Underwood Tearoom). I graduated from Ankeny High School in May 2010, and school nutrition programs have changed since I was a student. Dr. Strohbehn provided a great overview of what my week with her would entail , but I did not realize the amount of information I would gain from this experience.
Throughout the week, Dr. Strohbehn along with consultants from the Iowa Bureau of Nutrition conducted the Summer Workshop Series for school nutrition program managers and employees. This series included Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP), Manager’s Update: Allergens, and ServSafe® Certification. Dr. Strohbehn and consultants from the National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI) and the state agency facilitated these workshops. I was granted the opportunity to present part of the ServSafe® presentation to school nutrition program employees, which was a valuable lesson.
Individuals who attended this workshop were from community school districts all across Iowa, and each brought their own experiences and work environment cultures to the workshop. During the week, I observed and participated with many school nutrition program managers and employees while learning about the various topics. I found it fascinating to see how dedicated the school nutrition program employees are to their students. Countless stories were shared among school nutrition program employees and there were differing opinions as to how to implement certain programs; however, the passion and drive portrayed by these individuals regarding nutrition and health of their students was inspiring. These individuals deserve appreciation for their dedication to the health and wellbeing of students in Iowa! I am appreciative of the opportunity to explore ISU Extension and Outreach in Human Sciences and learn more about school nutrition programs this past week!

Allysa photo(18)