Most of you are probably familiar with Kathryn Stockett’s popular book and movie. Those who work in hospitality organizations (aka the help) usually have a strong desire to please the customer as this is a service industry. Managers try to hire people with a customer service orientation. But then, sometimes the training wanes – new hires are told what to do but not how to do it in a way that will enhance the guest experience. The right attitude is there, but the practices used can cause can cause concern. Here are some examples: Helpful wait staff ready, willing and able to refill your water glass (a plus not having to ask for this) but do so reaching across you and possibly ruining your entrée or experience (what is dripping from the base of the water pitcher?). A universal care worker who prepares a sandwich for an elderly client (good to address hunger need) after handling soiled linens without washing hands (will the client become ill with a foodborne illness)? Customer service is important – and in fact an expectation in hospitality and other service industries. Managers should help “the help” get it right.
Welcome to my first blog. I’m Janell Meyer and I’ve recently joined the ISU Extension and Outreach team as an Extension Associate working with Catherine Strohbehn. We’ve decided to share the SafeFood© blog, so I’ll be joining in with my food safety thoughts about every other week. For the last 7 years, I’ve coordinated food safety projects and research with Dr. Strohbehn and others in the Hospitably Management program at Iowa State University. Prior to this, I worked in foodservice and restaurant management for 20 years. I’ve always been a foodie, even before it was fashionable. My deepest understanding of food safety in the retail foodservice world has come through the research I’ve helped with. Collecting observational data has taught me just how hard it is to practice safe food handling and still meet all of the demands of a retail food operation.
Keeping in mind I’m now hypersensitive to safe food handling practices, when my husband announced in early November his father had just purchased the oysters for Christmas Eve’s Oyster Stew all sorts of thoughts went through my head. Did they know they should freeze them? Were they keeping them in the 1950’s circa basement refrigerator that I know isn’t anywhere near 40° F? Would we all die on Christmas day? What do dairy farmers from the Midwest know about storing fresh oysters?
These thoughts persisted for all of November and December. Then on Christmas Eve standing in my mother-in-law’s kitchen I tried to inquire in the best daughter-in-law way. “Were the oysters frozen?” I asked. “No”, she answered, adding how hard it is to get the lid off of their container. I started to panic. Then for some reason it dawned on me for the first time: they had ordered/paid for the oysters in early November and picked them up at the grocery store the day before Christmas Eve, thus the last-minute trip to town. Relief flooded over me like warm Kerrygold butter. It turned out to be the best oyster stew my mother-in-law had ever made and I’ve been eating her stew every other year for 26 years. I just needed a little more faith and a less active mind.
Well, we made it past the end of the world scare and reached the end of the year! Along with New Year Resolutions, it is common to take a walk down memory lane to see what worked and what didn’t. With family gatherings including multiple generations and food handling practices, of course there will be some conversations about food safety; at least in my tribe there was. There are family members who remember pulling meat from the freezer and leaving to thaw in the sink all day before cooking for dinner without any worries. Others shared recipes with raw eggs in cake frostings. Still others, who questioned the veracity of the five-second rule regarding safety of food dropped on the floor. (In my opinion, it depends on the food and how clean and how much traffic the floor has seen). My family DNA is wired toward safe food handling. But a lot of the human food handling and hygiene practices have evolved over time. Scientists and consumers know a lot more now than from years ago about safe food handling. Plus our food system is more global, and more streamlined. And technology certainly has allowed for improvements in ensuring safety of the food supply. With the approaching 20th anniversary of the Jack in the Box E Coli outbreak, we can look back over changes in federal regulations (i.e. those affecting the meat processing industry to the Food Safety Modernization Act, specifics still pending BTW) and see how new science impacts the regulatory world. While this oversight is important in controlling for outbreaks of foodborne illness, even more so is what happens locally by consumers and those working to prepare food served away from home. Remember, safe food is in your hands. Make a resolution to make routine at least one good food handling practice – perhaps always washing hands before eating. Happy New Year!
Hope all had a great Thanksgiving! Our gang sure did with lots of yummy food. No major snafus other than my husband’s misinformation that the electric fence was turned off – two of the cousins corrected him when they returned from their hike! And I did remember to get the turkey deboned before going into a food coma on the couch. There was a bit of a food safety dilemma later in the day when I arose from said coma. One family member had brought deviled eggs as an appetizer, which everyone loves, prolly because 1) they are delish and 2) someone else made them. The appetizers went quickly but not completely as later in the day there was one last deviled egg standing. A few were tempted, me included, but wiser heads prevailed with a reminder it had been 6 hours or so without refrigeration. So – saved from egg on my face by a SafeFood© family. With busy holiday season and end of year academic tasks, and no time to be recuperating from a foodborne illness, I was thankful indeed!
As a woman of a certain age, I have made plenty of weekly (or twice weekly) trips to the grocery store. It is interesting to reflect on the changes in products and packaging. One change seen is in how stores present fresh produce to customers. I recall, back in the day, we used to be able to sort through a mound of strawberries to select the good ones. My mother in law used to say she would sample the grapes before purchasing to see if sweet. The trend to prepackage fresh produce does protect from unintentional and intentional contamination so who can complain about that?
Really, I do hope you have a safe and happy 4th! What could go wrong? Families and friends gather together to grill some dogs and burgers and enjoy all sorts of goodies. This is summer living at its best.
While I am sure readers of this blog know the drill to keep food safe, it can be a challenge to maintain safe practices when there are lots of people around. You have prolly seen what I have seen – the person who pets the dog and then grabs a fistful of chips, those who use the serving spoon to taste a bite, those who put grilled meat on the plate used to carry out the raw, those who don’t think there is need to keep the salads cold, those who use their used forks to stab another tomato (fresh off the vine!) and those who roll their cob of corn across the communal butter stick – after working through a side!
Yes, more people around provide more variations on how food can get contaminated or temperature abused. Have no worries, though. You can implement some controls to mitigate the risks. Invite guests to wash hands or have hand wipes available (they are better than nothing!). Prominently display serving utensils and have backups ready. Keep the cook happy with a serving platter coupled with the raw meat. And because of my love of butter, I recommend having lots of it on hand!
Have fun and enjoy food, family, friends and the 4th!
Ah – we know summer is here with openings of seasonal Farmers’ Markets. These are THE places to be to catch up with neighbors and enjoy some farm fresh produce and home baked breads. Who thinks food safety might be an issue? Most consumers interviewed at various Farmers’ Markets in Iowa didn’t consider produce from Farmers’ Markets as risky. (See Leopold Center Sustainable Agriculture for more details on a recent project).
Maybe there wasn’t awareness that fresh produce can be a vehicle for food borne illness – most folks know dairy and meats are potentially hazardous and need to have temperature controls but fruits and vegetables aren’t perceived as needing that kind of attention. Or, maybe the trust issue was higher because they knew who grew the product. We have had national outbreaks from fresh produce items – green onions, tomatoes, lettuce, melons, and peppers – occurring at different links of the food chain (farm, processing and retail) so there is cause for caution.
I am not saying don’t go to Farmers’ Markets (support your local farmers!) nor am I saying don’t eat fruits and vegetables (I am a Dietitian after all, and it is clear Americans are way behind in consumption of these healthy foods). I AM saying take precautions and wash your hands and the fresh produce before eating it regardless of where you purchase it.
Unprocessed fruits and vegetables are raw agricultural foods and it is hard to completely control for contaminants in the soil and air or for contaminants from birds and deer. We can control the human side. So enjoy the stroll around the Farmers’ Market and try some unique varieties of produce grown locally. It will make your day!
Most people in the USA do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, in any form -fresh, canned, frozen, juice, etc. etc. etc. In fact, fewer than half of Americans included the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables in their diets, as reported in a CDC study conducted in 2005. Why not? Is their fear of a food borne illness? Headlining outbreaks from spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions and melons could make some wary – but actually, if proper control measures are taken, the risk is greatly mitigated. Simple steps of rinsing produce in cool running water, and rubbing if the item is not fragile, will remove much pathogenic matter and/or pesticide residues. Health professionals will tell you it is worse NOT to eat fruits and vegetables. Plus, who wants to miss the taste of a fresh berry or vine ripened tomato? So, in the spirit of summer, go ahead and enjoy fruits of the vine and the earth’s produce. It tastes so good and is so good for you!
Making the rounds in blogs is story of a recent article in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Authors William Keene of the Oregon Public Health Division and Kimberly Repp of Oregon Health and Sciences University report on an outbreak of norovirus from … grocery bags! I have been asked before whether these green substitutes for plastic/paper sacks at the grocery store are safe. My thought has always been most food is protected when it goes in the bag, and further washed or cooked before being eaten. And there had been no reported risks…until this case.
What happened was a traveling teenage soccer team was well prepared for snacks with cookies, chips and grapes. These items were kept in a reusable grocery bag – in the bathroom. Most of the team and the adult chaperones were diagnosed with norovirus; matching viruses were ultimately found on the sides of the bag. The authors theorized the viruses (found on hands of healthy people even) were aerosolized in the bathroom and settled on the sack and food items inside.
Much useful information is in this tale. One lesson is how hardy norovirus is – it can move from host to host easily, even without direct contact. The importance of cleaning and sanitizing is also illustrated with this tale – using bleach base solutions (roughly 1 2/3 cup household bleach in one gallon of water) to disinfect after someone who is ill is advised. Keeping hands clean is also crucial to avoid the rapid fire spread of this viral illness – soap and warm water with some lathering action versus hand sanitizers is more effective. Washing grocery bags on a gentle cycle is also a good idea (remove the base liner first) – in fact this is now on my own to do list! And a final take away – don’t store foods in the bathroom!
Yes – Mother’s Day is on Sunday! Be sure to thank mom for her part in making you who you are today. If you are someone who is mindful of safe food practices, then it’s a good bet Mom stressed good hygiene at home. You prolly were told a number of good things to do or bad things not to do: wash up before meals, cough into your sleeve, use the utensils, don’t eat food that fell on the floor, touch ONLY the item you will take, don’t drink out of the milk carton, and wash your hands WITH SOAP after using the bathroom or petting the dog/cat. It IS hard to follow all of these practices all of the time unless they are part of your routine; habits you learned early on. Thanks Mom, your guidance paid off!