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.
I get a lot of e-newsletters which are interesting to read/skim and help me get a sense of what is important to various stakeholder groups. A consistent and persistent theme is this sense of distrust – distrust of the government, of big business, and basically anyone that a person doesn’t know. This explains partially the continued trend for local food systems – it’s like that song from the TV show Cheers – a place where everyone knows your name. Human scientists get it because this is part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – after basic fundamentals of food and shelter are covered, humans long for a sense of belonging. You can hear it in how people describe connections – “I know a guy” or “My fill in blank can take care of that” – social media has made this a lot easier with Facebook Friends and Twitter followers. The knowing expands to a sense of trust – even without really knowing the foundation for the trust. Because of distrust with food production, some have advocated for full transparency with farm cams – web cameras placed on farms so consumers can see what is going on. Famed animal scientist Dr. Temple Grandin has suggested use of cameras on farms to provide full transparency to Doubting Toms and Tomosinas regarding animal welfare practices. So, let’s take the idea further – how about at other points of the food chain – food in transit and preparation sites – to monitor all aspects of operation, including food safety? 24/7 technology already has security cameras in public venues – streets, sidewalks, and airports to name a few. Some schools have in place. Private companies may have in place for security purposes but maybe these are also used to monitor staff (and customers) but the footage is internally banked. What is the next step? Open kitchens are not new in the restaurant biz – but is anywhere/anytime viewing coming? Food for thought with many issues to digest.
Hello! My name is Emma Vsetecka, and I am guest blogging this week! I have the opportunity to help Dr. Strohbehn throughout the semester with any projects she needs an extra hand with, and as a result, I have become more aware of food safety practices. That is why I was intrigued with an article about the new food delivery service provided by Uber. You have all heard of the company that pioneered a new approach to transportation services (it is like a taxi but regular people sign up to provide the ride in their own vehicles). UberEATS offers different meal services but cannot customize to personal needs, such as food allergies or intolerances. Restaurants have to agree to participate in this new service, which, unlike other delivery options, only takes food to the curbside and not directly to the door. When reading about this new option, as well as thinking about other delivery services, I wondered how safety of the product is assured when it is in custody of delivery person. How clean is the vehicle? How was food protected during the ride from direct (is it covered?) or indirect contamination (can someone lift the cover and put something on it)? It is advertised that any meal will be delivered in 10 minutes, but what if there isn’t a driver available near the locations – is there a chance of temperature abuse? Who is responsible for the food I have purchased – am I? While I am all about convenience – the food safety messages I have been exposed to have stuck so quick and easy aren’t the only criteria any more.
Hi everyone! My name is Kylie and I’m a guest blogger this week. I am an Iowa State University grad and now I’m one of their dietetic interns. As an intern I live quite a busy life and it doesn’t always leave time for me to cook or even eat with my family. Fortunately, I have great parents that will cook for me and leave me a lot of leftovers. It did however get me thinking about how safe it is to eat leftovers. Saving and eating leftovers can be a huge time saver but only if we handle them safely. If we get sick, life isn’t too good. According to the USDA, not cooking food to safe temperatures and leaving food out in unsafe temperatures are the two main causes of foodborne illnesses. The CDC reports that each year 1 in 6 people in the United States get sick. So if you’re planning on having food for leftovers make sure you are cooking the food to hot enough temperatures to kill pathogens. There is tons of info on the Iowa State University Food Safety Project web site too. Extension offers so many resources to Iowans on staying healthy and happy. The USDA also recommends to wrap or store leftovers in airtight containers to help keep out bacteria, retain moisture, and generally help save the quality of food. It is important to get the leftovers into the refrigerator or freezer within two hours to get them cooled to a safe temperature. It is also important to note that food can be left in the fridge for 3-4 days and the freezer 3-4 months. Remember when reheating, to thaw food safely put it in the fridge then cook it and be sure to reheat the food to an internal temperature of 165°F. Another good tip is you can safely refreeze food after thawing or cooking as long as the cooked food has reached 165°F! Safely handling leftovers can result in less food waste and saved time as well as reduced chance of having a foodborne illness! Find out more information from your extension office!
My name is Sophie Delima, and I’m currently a dietetic intern in the Iowa State University Internship program. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to complete a one-week distance community rotation with Dr. Catherine Strohbehn at the Iowa State University Human Sciences Extension and Outreach. Prior to the start of my rotation, I was familiar to some extent with some of the projects and work conducted by extension specialists. Back in Delaware, I had worked as a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP ED) nutrition educator for another land grant university – Delaware State University- with Cooperative Extension for three years. I had the opportunity to collaborate with others and learned about food safety, small farms and 4-H Youth development. I even obtained my ServSafe® certification through extension. Hence, when I found out I was going to have the opportunity to work with the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, I was super excited to learn more.
I reviewed the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach web site to better understand the mission of extension and to learn more about the numerous programs extension and outreach offer in the state of Iowa. Did you know that Extension and Outreach serves all of the 99 counties across Iowa connecting the needs of Iowans with research and resources though Iowa State University? Extension and Outreach offer programs in areas such as 4-H Youth Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Community & Economic Development, and Human Sciences. By participating in these programs, one can learn about economic development, food and environment, health and well-being, and kids and teens. Websites provide great resources. Interested in Food Safety? Check the information on the Food Safety Project website to understand fresh produce risks. Watch educational videos in regards to different topics, learn more about events and conference taking place in your area. Have a concern? You can even ask ISU Extension Experts questions, and contact a specialist in your area. Overall, I learned a great number of information about Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. The experience has broadened my perspective regarding the research, projects, and programs conducted by Extension and Outreach so the people of Iowa can have a better understand the food choices they make and improve quality of their lives. As a future dietitian, I know that is important! #STRONGIOWA
My name is Abby Ginader, and I’m a dietetic intern in the Iowa State University Dietetics Internship. This week, I had a great opportunity to complete a one week community rotation with the Iowa State University Human Sciences Extension and Outreach with Dr. Catherine Strohbehn. I graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead MN this past December with a degree in Food, Nutrition and Dietetics. I entered college with very little idea of what I wanted to do (and without any knowledge that ‘dietitian’ was even a career). Once I discovered the field at the end of my freshman year, I immediately jumped right in and the past 3 years since has been a continual learning process. I am continually amazed by the scope and variety of jobs and facilities that dietitians work in, and my week with Iowa State University Human Extension and Outreach only added to the amazement. I spent this week both getting to know the ISU Extension and Outreach websites and materials to better understand the mission and structure as well as updating educational materials. During my work this week, I was particularly interested in and impressed with www.iowafoodsafety.org. This website is a phenomenal site about food safety for anyone from a producer, to a foodservice organization, to an individual consumer. It covers relevant topics, the most asked questions, and the most important information. Its handouts and resources are visually stimulating as well as educational. The website even contains ‘how to’ videos to help educate the individual. This is an ever growing and changing field, and these resources are indispensable in the midst of it all. Prior to this week, I had no knowledge of the projects, work and resources that the University Extension and Outreach had to offer. Now, I am pleased to know about the scope of resources that are freely available. As I continue the journey of my dietetic internship and become a practitioner, it is good to know about this source of information.
My name is Maria Peterson, and I am guest writing as an ISU Dietetic Intern. This week I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Strohbehn of the ISU Human Sciences Extension and Outreach Program to help update and create educational materials. I had no previous knowledge of the Extension program and was curious to learn what types of information it offered. After spending some time looking through its resources, I was very impressed by the scope of the materials and programs which cover the essentials of food safety at every level of production and consumption. These materials help to remind us that although food safety is the responsibility of the producers and commercial kitchens, it is equally critical that consumers take part in steps to prevent foodborne illness. This program, which provides a reliable source of that information for both regular people and those working in the food industry, is indispensable. The demand for food safety knowledge is increasing as the movement for sustainable local produce grows. Making sure that these initiatives are not halted by avoidable foodborne illness outbreaks is incredibly important. I am glad to have been given the opportunity to help contribute to this valuable community resource, and am excited to see what new developments will come from the recently awarded FDA grant to establish a Regional Center for Food Safety Training. Whatever progress is made to extend the conversation about food safety in our every changing food environment is a worthwhile endeavor.