SafeFood© and Dr. Mom

December 14th, 2014

At a recent national food safety conference, a new report from the Center for Food Integrity was shared entitled Moms, Millennials, and Foodies. Study was focused on finding out who is perceived as a trust worthy source – a peer reviewed model (developed by our own ISU Sociologist Dr. Stephen Sapp) was used. Millennial Moms trust scientists who are mothers – maybe that explains the TV advertising featuring moms in white coats hyping this or that health care product. The role of peers and social norms are important also. Most people tend to listen to those they perceive as most like themselves – someone who will “get” their particular issue. There were many other presentations at the conference also that emphasized the need to shift from a top down, DO IT THIS WAY approach to food safety behaviors to a coaching, peer influenced way of “TRY IT THIS WAY, I DID AND IT HELPED” yet the message of trust in the messenger was key. After all, we all know it makes sense to listen to our mothers!

Happy Holidays


SafeFood©: What this research thing is all about

December 7th, 2014

My name is Kelly Abdelmassih, and I’m a PhD candidate in Hopitality Management and dietitian working in long term care. I’ve had the opportunity to work as a graduate research assistant for a few months now, and my perspective on research has changed quite a bit in this short time. Going to school at a land grant institution where a lot of emphasis is placed on research, I am always reminded that research is important. When I think about it, the entire Iowa State University Extension and Outreach program is designed to provide research-based education to improve the lives of Iowans all across the state. But, what does that mean, really?

As a dietitian, I hear the term ‘evidence-based practice’ all the time. Essentially, this means that the decisions I make as a dietitian should align with what science says I should do. To me, these statements were similar to when I was young and my father would pass along his precious pearls of wisdom. I listened (sometimes half-heartedly), and believed the message for the time being because – well, why not? Most of the time, I’d even let that pearl of wisdom guide the decisions I made just because it was the right thing to do. But not until I went through an experience that proved that wisdom true did I understand the gravity of the message and internalize it. This has been my experience with research.

I’m currently assisting a group of researchers examining how leafy greens, like spinach and lettuce, are handled in various foodservice environments. The team visited several foodservice operations (hospitals, restaurants, assisted living, and long term care) and observed how leafy greens were handled. Based on the findings, food safety messages were developed and depicted on a series of posters. The posters were then hung in those same operations, and then researchers visited the operations to observe whether the posters made a difference in how leafy greens were handled. I’ve worked in foodservice for a long time, and have never really thought about what went into developing the food safety posters that hung in the operation. Hours of observation, days of development, weeks of analysis, and months of evaluation. This project has been going on since 2012 – and this important work is not yet completed!

So, only now am I beginning to realize the importance of research and the gravity of the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach mission. The purpose here is not to develop materials and disseminate to the masses on things our professors think they know. The purpose is to conduct pertinent, timely, systematic, and rigorous research that can serve as the basis for educational materials that are useful to people across our state! I am privileged to be part of this project – and am looking forward to doing more important research in my future.




SafeFood© – Giving Thanks for Home Cooked Meals

November 27th, 2014

In an article written for the Health Behavior News, a news link on the Center for Advancing Health’s website, Valerie DeBenedette discussed a research article published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine which found one of the factors contributing to a healthy diet was the amount of time spent on meal preparation. I grew up in a family where my great-grandmothers; grand-mothers, and mother were all fabulous cooks and there was definitely a great deal of time spent on meal preparation, especially during the holidays or for that matter, for any family gathering. Whether it was Grandma’s rice pudding, Nana’ oyster dressing and apple stuffing; or Mom’s sweet potatoes, our family’s holiday meals left me with fond memories. As folks head to the grocery store to buy the final ingredients and supplies needed for preparation of this season’s holiday meals, it is reassuring to know spending time preparing, sharing, and enjoying meals with family and friends not only warms our hearts and souls, but can also help improve our health. So please pass the turkey, dressing, broccoli and carrots, and enjoy time with family and friends!



SafeFood© Countdown!

November 18th, 2014

My “most favorite time of the year” is fast approaching – the day that is all about food, family and friends. I can’t wait! One branch of Strohbehn cousins is hosting this year – so my part is easy: show up with a side and an appetite. That I can do. This gang knows SafeFood so I relish the day. After reading through women’s magazines with suggested menus and planning tips for the big day with few to none tips about food safety, beyond being sure to cook the turkey to 165º F, I hope all of you have the same situation. How hard would it be to include tips about encouraging hand washing before eating or not letting food sit on the counter through all four quarters of the football game? What about some guidance on proper handling of food for those with special dietary needs, say a food allergy? What gentle reminders can be offered by the host and others to be sure food is prepared and served safely? I get it is a holiday – but given the crazy busy days following Thanksgiving, maybe a little preemptive safe food action can keep you from becoming ill. I hope all in your group walks the talk and that you have a Happy SafeFood © Thanksgiving!



SafeFood© Technology to the Rescue

November 5th, 2014

Cathy’s post on the many issues surrounding food allergens certainly hit home regarding the steps foodservice operators can take in order to keep their customers safe. Awareness is obviously a key component. However, what about undeclared allergens? As reported by the FDA, from September 2009 to September 2012, about one-third of foods reported to FDA as serious health risks involved undeclared allergens, and related food recalls. For anyone receiving email recall updates and alerts from, it is clear many recalls are due to undeclared food allergens. As stated by FDA, the five food types most often involved in food allergen recalls are bakery products; snack foods; candy; dairy products and dressings (such as salad dressings, sauces and gravies). The allergens most frequently involved are milk, wheat, and soy. It appears use of an incorrect label is the most common reason for a product recall. As FDA looks for new ways to test for and identify allergens in foods, Mark Ross, PhD and FDA chemist and others are working on identifying allergens based on mass spectrometry. This technology appears to be more effective than the current enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay which Ross states can produce false positives. According to Ross, mass spectrometry is more effective at determining “the allergen protein content of a complex mixture of protein, fats, sugars, and chemicals in a food”. It is clear improved technology will help play a key role in providing an even safer food supply for those individuals with food allergies.



SafeFood© Scary Treats

October 31st, 2014

I just finished preparing a webinar about food allergens and action steps retail foodservices should take to accommodate their customers. Boy, was that eye-opening! It is estimated 15 million Americans have some type of food allergy – and that 8 foods cause 90% of these. In addition to peanuts (who isn’t aware some folks are allergic to this food?) the other 7 major food allergens are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat, and tree nuts (which includes multiple types of nuts and their products, including coconuts). The issue in accommodating is recognizing the presence of these allergens in foods – as someone might not realize a baked cake might have coconut oil in the shortening agent. These products are identified on labels as required by the Food and Drug Administration since 2004, but until recently, many foodservices weren’t as attuned to these risks. Schools and child care centers have been at the forefront in accommodating children with food allergens; colleges and universities are starting to see an uptick. Most little kids learn early on they can’t eat the food they are allergic to; avoidance is the treatment. But come trick or treat night, it might get pretty hard for them to resist the urge to tear open a candy bar or share a treat with a friend. It was interesting to read about the Teal Pumpkin Project – an effort by the Food Allergy Research and Education group, or FARE, to raise awareness about food allergies. Homeowners willing to provide non-food treats, thus avoiding risk of an incident, put out a teal colored pumpkin. Researching food allergies certainly raised my awareness – and sensitivity to the topic. I can appreciate the fears of parents whose children have severe food allergies. Here is hoping that teal becomes the new black (and orange) and the possibilities of scary treats find their own graves! Have a SafeFood© Halloween Boys and Girls (and moms and dads who help test the goods!



Hand in Hand

October 25th, 2014

I recently attended a national conference. While on my travels, I was of course, out of habit, paying close attention to hand washing practices in women’s restrooms. It was not uncommon for those who started washing their hands after me, to finish before me. I don’t think I’m a fanatic, but clearly the 20 second guideline was not always being used. However, I was very impressed with a food service employee who worked in a small food court, where the public restroom was also the employee restroom. Not only did she follow the 20 second rule, she also scrubbed exposed parts of her arms. Clearly, she had received great training and was using what she had learned.
One of the recent news reports summarized a study done by the University of Arizona regarding findings of how contaminated kitchen towels were found to be. All I can say is gross! Findings from this project clearly point to the importance of properly cleaning, sanitizing, and frequently changing kitchen towels. Better yet, single use towels might be the answer as long as the single use guideline is followed. How many paper towel media ads lead consumers to think and believe paper towels are so strong they can be easily be reused?
As posted on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, in order “to keep pace with emerging public health challenges and to address the leading causes of death and disability, the CDC has begun an effort to achieve measurable impact quickly in a few targeted areas. The term “Winnable Battles” describes public health priorities with large-scale impact on health and with known, effective strategies to intervene.” One of the winnable battles is Food Safety. Sharing data and information, and providing safe food handling education are just some of the strategies identified as ways to achieve this goal. Hand in hand with these goals is the Healthy People 2020 initiative which helps direct the work of the CDC. One of the target objectives is to “increase the number of consumers who follow key food safety practices”. The message is clear, consumer education is essential to making Food Safety a winnable battle. Those working in Extension are well positioned with the knowledge and expertise to help make Food Safety a Winnable Battle. After all, quality food safety training and education for consumers do go hand in hand.


SafeFood© in School Lunches

October 18th, 2014

As we wrap up National School Lunch week, it seems appropriate to give a shout out to the thousands of folks involved in supporting child nutrition programs in schools. This includes government staff at federal and state levels who set up the infrastructure and provide oversight to of course those in the districts who plan, prepare and serve nutritious foods safely to our nation’s youth. Did you know over 31 million lunches are served each day throughout the country? Did you know schools have written food safety plans to minimize risks of any intentional or unintentional contamination of the food? Did you know the number of students qualifying for free or reduced price lunches is increasing? The school lunch program has changed A LOT since its formalization in 1946 with the Richard Russell Act; it is not your mother’s hot lunch program! Yet, the goal of ensuring the health and food security of the children in our country has not changed. Kids need good nutrition to be successful academically. Unfortunately, for some kids, meals at school are about the only adequate nutrition they receive; for others, the food offered broadens their exposure to healthy options. The health stats in this country are pretty clear – we have increased cases of diseases and conditions that could be prevented from a good diet. While the home and family are first teachers for kids, the role of schools cannot be overlooked. The school health environment says a lot about a community. What is the story in your school district? Want to know more? Of course you do – it is your tax dollars that support these efforts!
See our publication about school meals



SafeFood© – It Depends

October 12th, 2014

Seems everyone is a food expert these days! Even Dear Abby is getting in on the act providing guidance on shelf life of foods. While there is guidance available (which Abby did use), it is hard to have hard and fast rules simply because each food ingredient characteristics are different (i.e. amount of available water or acidity levels); how it was handled at production, processing and preparation stages; and how it has been stored. Any error (human or environmental) along the food chain could result in an unsafe product – pathogenic levels could be very high yet the product looks just fine. That is the tricky thing with food borne illnesses – it is pretty hard to see harmful microorganisms without a microscope! With concerns about excessive food waste in the US when so many are food insecure, it does make sense to apply a little discretion before tossing leftovers (better yet, think about how to reduce the amount of waste to begin with!). So, the general guidance is a “4 day throwaway” (see info and apps for this at for prepared/cooked leftovers. Other foods, such as condiments have a longer shelf life because of the nature of the product. We found a “canned ham” in the cupboard and are going to have some tests run to determine levels of some potential pathogens. As you can see the can looks pretty good and canning is an effective preservation technique. Stay tuned on what we find!



SafeFood: I’ve Always Done it This Way

October 5th, 2014

I recently attended an outdoor event in which a hot buffet was served. The food was delivered by 5:30 PM with the buffet being set up shortly after delivery. Since it was an outdoor event, hot food was keep warm in chaffing dishes heated with sterno with back-up entrees and sides kept in the insulated holding containers. By about 9:45 PM the hostess decided to take down the buffet. Since she knew the food was by now outside the safe food limit and temps were not being checked, she had decided whatever was still on the buffet should simply be tossed. However, as we were moving food back into the house, a couple of the guests thought it would be fine to save the food for another day, especially the leftover beef casserole entrée. When I mentioned the issue of food safety the response was cold beef is fine and we’ve never had any problems eating leftovers. Food safety also came up a couple of times when thawing a turkey which wasn’t quite defrosted and thawing some leftover Thai food. The initial plan for thawing these foods was to run under warm water. I pointed out to thaw food quickly and safely, the food should be put under cold running water. This was obviously a new concept. I am not certain how to best communicate safe food messages to the average consumer. On my drive between Ames and Iowa City there is a bill board on Highway 30 featuring the Safe Food Family graphic icon. While I know what the icon’s symbols means, I wonder about others who see the billboard. What is the best way to educate consumers and share food safety information? How much food safety information is taught in schools, especially for high school students? Extension and Outreach staff certainly play a valuable role by providing a variety of resources. However, are more social marketing messages and food safety information needed in grocery stores? I certainly what to change the thought from “I’ve always done it this way” to “this is the food safe way”.