SafeFood© and Green Thumbs

April 10th, 2014

PA010033Recent census data showed migration of the U.S. population continues to larger cities. This means fewer and fewer of us are living in rural areas – and further away from where food is produced. In our Iowa field of dreams, planting of fields is just one sign of spring. Many homeowners are plotting their family gardens – some with the goal of harvesting enough to preserve foods for use during winter. And we know farmer’s market season is just around the corner. These venues provide an opportunity for “city folks” to better understand where and how food is produced. This direct connection with growers does provide “food with a face” – an inherent driver of the local foods movement. Of course, just because someone lives in the city, or town or suburbia, doesn’t mean they can’t have a garden. The garden just might not be as large or might be limited to a few containers. That’s alright – go ahead and cultivate! Research has shown that engagement in producing fruits and vegetables leads to increased consumption – something most Americans would benefit by. Worried you might produce too much? No worries – plant, grow and then donate to a local food pantry. A partnership effort in Iowa is called Cultivate Iowa – see more at This effort focuses on having more people garden – at home, or through a community garden, with greater availability and access to fresh produce for all, but particularly those without resources to purchase. Whether you cultivate and consume, or cultivate and donate – be sure to follow good agricultural practices to avoid becoming ill or making someone else sick from this healthy food. See more at



Back to the Basics with Food Safety

March 26th, 2014

In the past few weeks I have seen a couple of posts which send home the reminder of the importance of teaching the basics of food safety. On March 5, TODAY Health posted the video and text of “Smelly, sticky or slimy? Food safety rules you shouldn’t ignore”, in which Alton Brown combined food safety information and a bit of humor to share basic food safety tips relating to food storage in the refrigerator, safely quick thawing food, and washing produce in cold running water with added emphasis on scrubbing fruits and vegetables with any type of skin texture prior to cutting. This week’s update from The Partnership for Food Safety Education focused on Fight Bac! For Kids, in which the resources shared were games developed to help teach children food safety basics. USDA’s Check Your Steps: Food Safe Families campaign shares and teaches the basic concepts of clean, separate, cook and chill Food safety messages are shared using various techniques including YouTube videos and blogs. It seems to me whenever opportunities to teach or share basic food safety information arise, these moments should be seized, especially if basic food safety concepts can be shared in an entertaining and engaging manner.


SafeFood©: Musings from the Front Lines

March 20th, 2014

I liked Diane’s blog about sitting near the kitchen of a restaurant (or not, as per her preference). While it is important folks speak out should they see some possibilities of food becoming contaminated (whether intentional or unintentionally), along the lines of See Something Say Something campaign from FDA, Diane’s practice of waiting until she gets home does have some merit. We have all heard the stories of disgruntled workers messing with our food if we dare suggest the need for some improvement. Thankfully, or at least I hope it is so, this is not most of the people working in foodservice. But face it, for many the job is just a job – and they don’t have much in the way of a customer service orientation. Just for fun I googled about bad employees in foodservice and – oh my! There are quite a few message boards where people tell their tales. So maybe the See Something Say Something should keep in mind the caution of Saying Something to the right person at the right time! Food and Agriculture See Something -small


SafeFood© and Power Outages

March 9th, 2014

Hi Everyone! My name is Allie Bohlman and I am currently a Dietetic Intern at ISU. I am working with the Iowa State Extension and Outreach this week.
This winter has been quite rough (I am crossing my fingers that it is almost over!) with all of the snow and the below zero temperatures. Because of this, many of my friends and family have experienced a few power outages. Food safety can be a major concern for people during an outage, especially when the electric company can’t give you an estimated time for when the power will be back on. There are several things we can do in advance to help keep our food safe in case of a power outage occurs including the following:
• Make sure your appliances have thermometers; it is the best way to ensure your food is safe in case there is a power outage. Temperatures are considered safe if they are 40 F or lower in the refrigerator or 0 F or lower in the freezer.
• Freeze water in quart sized plastic bags or small containers that would easily fit around food in the refrigerator or freezer to help keep it cold. It also won’t make a mess when the ice melts!
• Have a cooler on hand to store refrigerated foods if the power is expected to be out for more than 4 hours.
• Place foods together in the freezer to help them stay cold longer.
• DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT put your food outside in the ice or snow! You never know what kind of animal may be around to raid it or the when the sun comes out, it may heat your food to an unsafe temperature.
• Have plenty of ready to eat foods in the house that do not require cooking or cooling.
If the power goes go out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. The refrigerator can keep food cold for about 4 hours if the door is closed. A full freezer will hold its temperature for approximately 2 days!
When the power comes back on, make sure you check the temperature inside your refrigerator or freezer. Go through items separately and throw out anything that has a strange odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch. DO NOT taste something to see if it is still good, when in doubt, just throw it out!
I learned a lot about food safety while working with Extension. Check out the web site at


Don’t Sit Me By the Kitchen!

February 25th, 2014

When our family goes out to eat, they all know too well, I should not be seated where I have a view of what’s happening in the kitchen. If this does occur, they know I will pay close attention to the food safety behaviors of kitchen staff. Depending on what I see, I will probably mention the concern to a manager. Several years ago, when eating out with friends at a small local restaurant, I had a clear view of food preparation for our meal. On this occasion, the cross contamination behaviors of the cooks seemed to have no end. From handling ready-to-eat food, then touching equipment, aprons, or in and out of refrigerators without changing gloves or washing hands. Then there was the person who took a “smoke break” with equally concerning behaviors once this staff member returned from break. I did not address the issue at the time. However, as soon as I returned to the office, I called the restaurant and spoke to the person in charge. I shared my concerns, suggesting perhaps the staff was just having a bad day, and advised some retraining on safe food handling was needed. In addition, I also called our local health department and shared my concerns. Not too long ago, my husband and I were enjoying a visit to the big city and having the hotel’s lovely continental breakfast. One of the staff was in the kitchen getting the lobby’s ever popular flavored ice water dispenser ready for the day. Being careful not to spill the ice on the floor, each scoop of ice was carefully cradled by the employee’s bare hand. On the way out of the hotel for a day of site seeing, I shared this observation and concern with the front desk staff, who took my concern to heart. Clearly, on-going training of foodservice staff is essential, regardless of the size or scope of the operation. As food safety professionals it is our responsibility to share our knowledge and alert the appropriate person or agency when we see a concern.


SafeFood: Food Safety Whisperer

February 6th, 2014

We have all heard of the Horse Whisperer – the great book by Nicholas Evans made into a movie starring Robert Redford as a rancher who could connect with equines; he was able to translate needs of the animal into actions that could be taken by humans to help. That is kinda what Extension educators do – translate science based information into easy to follow content, albeit on topics related to safe food practices. What is becoming clear is that the translation role is needed to communicate to most of the US population information about where and how food is produced – in essence an Ag Whisperer. The local foods movement has helped raise awareness, and I saw in one of the food professional industry magazines that Real Food will be a trend in retail foodservices this year. Yet, are all those making noise about food production, processing and service practices whispering accurate info? Food myths abound. Dr. Neville Speer, from Western Kentucky University, wrote in a recent issue of Feedstuff Food Links about Food Gossips – isn’t that a great description? We all know what a gossip is – someone who passes on (and on and on) information that may or may not be true just for the juicy pleasure of it or wanting to be seen as “in the know” or just wanting to hear themselves talk. Even among “news” sources, it is not uncommon for information to be passed on based on sources such as “reported in Insert Name Here” rather than a credible and/or source. In other words, once something is out there, it gets circulated and recirculated to the point the perception becomes the reality. Sad but true. Anyway, Dr. Speer’s point was to discuss the “never-ending propagation of misinformation about food and agriculture”. It is worth a read – see

Bottom line – Food Whisperers are needed! Maybe I should change my job title to SafeFood Whisperer – what do you think?




SafeFood and Glove Use

January 29th, 2014

DSC02182I recently read an article by Betty Hallock in the Los Angeles Times Food section titled Chefs hate new law requiring them to wear gloves : “It’s terrible. The article shared a variety of opinions on the new law which excludes bare hand contact with any ready-to-eat food. Comments ranged from those welcoming the law to those who thought it might be potentially dangerous since people might focus less on hand washing.

As stated in 3-301.11 (B) of Food Code 2009: (B) Except when washing fruits and vegetables as specified under § 3-302.15 or as specified in (D) of this section, FOOD EMPLOYEES may not contact exposed, READY-TO-EAT FOOD with their bare hands and shall use suitable UTENSILS such as deli tissue, spatulas, tongs, single-use gloves, or dispensing EQUIPMENT. Having worked in foodservice for many years, training for our employees emphasized both correct hand washing and proper glove use, especially for ready-to-eat (RTE) food.

Several years ago I was in a deli and ordered a fresh veggie bagel sandwich. I stood in awe as the person making my sandwich proceeded to touch all of the fresh veggies for my sandwich without gloves until I could not stand it (especially since I had not seen the employee’s hand washing technique prior to making my sandwich). So, I finally asked that my sandwich be remade after hands were washed and gloves worn.

On the flip side, I recently was at an event where servers were being very diligent about glove use. However, when it came time to serve me a sample of a fresh veggie salad, the server could not find the box of gloves. So the person ended up “borrowing” a pair someone else had been wearing. Since a spoon was being used to serve the salad, gloves really weren’t an issue.

I do welcome the no bare hand contact for RTE food regulation. However, based the examples I shared, I do believe this regulation means employees must clearly understand both the importance of correct hand washing along with proper use of disposable gloves.



Food handling, Food preparation

SafeFood© Smackdown- GMO Debates

January 22nd, 2014

IMG_0926gmoIn last Sunday’s newspaper, there was an article from the New York Times about the process involved with a recently passed ban of genetically engineered crops (aka GMO) on the island of Hawaii. The process described for the vote in Hawaii illustrated the frustrations of one council member who sought science based information to form his decision; information he collected on his own mostly as other council members did not invite scientists from the University to speak. Rather a self-proclaimed expert on GMOs provided information to the group, which ultimately did vote in favor of the ban.
GMOs have been a hot topic since their introduction about 20 years ago, but more recent attention has ensued because of World Food Prize recognition given to the large agri-business company Monsanto for its contributions in development of GMO seeds resistant to certain pests (i.e. Bt corn). Certainly GMO can play a role in improving productivity of crops. In Hawaii the concern was the new ban would forbid use of a genetically modified papaya, which likely will result in increased challenges to farmers. Wonder what the impact of these will be on production costs and ultimately food costs? Granted, I married into a farming family so appreciate advances that improve productivity. But, genetically modified rice adds missing vitamins to this staple food in third world countries – keeping a lot of children from suffering nutrient deficiencies in what may be lower quality diets. I get this is an issue on which reasonable people disagree; I have had conversations with those who have views different from me. Yes, if there were trans-species types of manipulation, that might be a little creepy, but that is not current practice. Personally, I really don’t get the uproar. If people want to purchase non-GMO foods, they can do so by buying organic. They have choices. The January cover of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (I think these folks know science) magazine, shown above, certainly makes a statement. What do you think?


Self-Serve Salad Bars – To Be or Not to Be Safe

January 15th, 2014

I recently ate at a restaurant where a trip to the salad bar was included with my meal. Since I am a big fan of fresh fruits and veggies, I thought, yes what a great option. The salad bar was charming, with all the choices in separate containers, stored in crushed ice; utensils in each different choice. My concern was the equipment used for the salad bar was what appeared to be a re-purposed older style grocery store produce display case. While a clever way to display the many choices, all I could think of was where is the sneeze guard? While sneeze guards are certainly not a full-proof way of preventing food contamination by customers, sneeze guards certainly provide a barrier. Food Code 2009 Section 3-306.13 Consumer Self-Service Operations states:
1. (B) CONSUMER self-service operations for READY-TO-EAT FOODS shall be provided with suitable UTENSILS or effective dispensing methods that protect the FOOD from contamination. Pf
2. (C) CONSUMER self-service operations such as buffets and salad bars shall be monitored by FOOD EMPLOYEES trained in safe operating procedures. Pf
While neither of the guidelines listed above appeared to be in place where I ate, I did make my choices, enjoyed my lunch and salad bar choices, and am certain suffered no ill effects. I have a friend who absolutely refuses to eat from a self-serve buffet or salad bar because of food safety concerns. How many of us feel the same way? As food safety professionals what messages and information can we share to help ensure food safety when self-serve food stations are a choice? I wonder, salad bars – to be or not to be Safe?


SafeFood© – Appearances Do Matter?

January 7th, 2014

Been quite a bit in the news lately regarding Tide’s Pod laundry detergents – apparently a number of young children have been so entranced with the colorful, candy-like look of the product they have eaten it, with severe injury resulting and causing at least one death. As anyone who watches TV knows, these handy pods contain premeasured doses of detergent in concentrated amounts – the plastic wrap dissolves in water so it makes laundry time (a fave activity in many households) a little easier by cutting out a step. There are also Pod types of dishwasher detergents – not as glossy or bright packaging but still a risk for anyone who tries to eat it, typically younger children. Why would they? Well, the cute, squishy little packets seem like a toy and look like candy, and if the kid can’t read – there is trouble waiting to happen. This type of packaging was introduced in the U.S. a few years ago; since then Poison Control Centers cite increases in reports of children exposed to these products. While kids have been trying to eat just about anything since the dawn of time, it is these concentrated formulas that are leading to more severe symptoms. The Tide package clearly shows to keep away from children, yet these incidents still happen. These are sad reminders to all of us that proper storage of all cleaning agents is important – if convenience drives your purchase of these, then be aware of where and how they are stored – which is way above a kid’s reach! Convenience should not trump common sense!