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!
One of the hit TV shows this year is the new comedy Two Broke Girls. The setting for much of the shows is the diner where both girls work as waitresses – complete with old time uniforms, booths, order pads, etc. While I have enjoyed some of the zingy conversations, the scenes in the restaurant dining area and kitchen have been so disturbing, I can’t watch the show anymore. What’s my problem? Well, the girls’ attire bothers me – both wear their hair down so it swishes across the food; they wear nail polish and necklaces; and they don’t wash their hands (and plenty of times they should do so!). The scenes in the kitchen are worse. Part of the “humor” is based on the slovenly cook. This cook is the poster child (billboard child?) for POOR PERSONAL HYGIENE (in caps to illustrate how bad it is). His actions are worse – ranging from food handling to girlfriend handling in the food prep areas. I realize not all food places are textbook cases – yes, there are some glitches. But the blatant lack of any attention to how things should be done is bothersome. And sadly, this show reaches a lot of people. My advice to the Two Broke Girls: Go ahead and pursue your cupcake company dream but PLEASE, take a food safety course!
This is a basic philosophical question – is a “stick” approach better than use of the “carrot” to bring about safe food practices farm to fork? The Food Safety Modernization Act has many new initiatives to enhance the safety of our food supply, including increased monitoring of imported foods and proposed standards for fresh produce. One year after signing of the FSMA, FDA report indicated fresh produce standards were still in development, primarily driven by need to hear from farmers and balance the “regulate or educate” approach – which is appropriate given the increasingly high numbers of farmers’ markets and CSAs and interest in local foods. Will more regulations actually solve the problem – many of the incidents that have occurred happened because of a glitch in procedures already on the books. And, as every parent knows, you can’t monitor everyone 100% of the time. Will raising awareness about food safety issues and improving knowledge about correct “how to’s” when handling food make a difference? I hope so. When I teach food safety classes, both to retail operators and to consumers volunteering at food stands, there is usually some push back from someone along the lines of “ what’s wrong with thawing meats on the counter for a few hours?” or “seriously, I can’t wash my hands all the time”. Using the “carrot approach” and raising awareness that recommended practices are recommended for a reason is an integral part of behavior change. Regulations help reinforce the importance of these. Monitoring that recommended practices and regulations are followed is up to the person in charge; but face it, the “stick” in the form of inspection, and consequences is needed. Bottom line, ensuring food safety is not an either/or question: a multi-ingredient recipe including some carrots and some sticks is needed.
Not an original blog title but I am thankful! Thankful for the abundant supply and wonderful quality of food we have here in the U.S. Thankful for the food producers who work hard to provide this supply. Thankful for all who work at various links of the food chain to be sure product is safe and quality maintained. There are many different views about what makes food a quality product – differences based on how food is grown or raised, how it is handled, how much handling occurs, and how it is prepared. On Thanksgiving, we can put these differences aside and appreciate what we have. I like that we have a variety of food available from a variety of sources, and appreciate the food producers and packers who seek out new trends. I take comfort in knowing the turkey I will enjoy has been handled properly from farm to fork. I understand it is my job to be sure it is thawed properly (not in the sink overnight, rather in the refrigerator) and cooked to the correct final temperature (165 F minimum). Food is great and life is good. Happy Thanksgiving to All.
Just celebrated another birthday – yea me! My mom sent a birthday card created by my photo shop skilled sister which has a picture of me at the adorable age of one slobbering over the birthday cake (chocolate of course). The card has this question: Why is Birthday cake the only food you can blow and spit on and everybody rushes to get a piece? Darn good question. Think about that at your next birthday celebration. A one year old can be forgiven but someone who takes a finger to swipe a frosting taste more than once is really licking the frosting and clearly should know better.
A local young group hosts Friday after work events in the park with live music and cold beer. These are wonderful TGIF gatherings. Music is good, beer is cold, weekend is ahead, and life is good. Local restaurants take turns operating the food stand each week and usually, I am ok with what I see (remember, cold beer is served). But one really hot evening, with temps in the 90s, I was startled out of my life is good reverie when I saw the actions of one vendor.
At this stand, only one person was there so she was multitasking: taking orders,cooking dogs, assembling sandwiches, and collecting money (cash only). She had put on a pair of gloves about 5 PM but kept them on the entire time while putting raw dogs on the grill, assembling sandwiches, fixing her hair, handling condiments, and taking money. In addition, the cooler with the raw meat was kept open for long periods at a time, so doubtful those cold foods were kept cold. Think! Why couldn’t she see what was wrong with this picture? I hope all of you see the error of her ways.
We’ve all heard the saying “It takes a village” used when solutions to social problems are discussed. I would argue that more importantly, it takes a family. Families are where social norms are learned. Responsible adult parents teach children about handwashing and personal hygiene. Parents (ideally, or other custodial caretakers if circumstances prevent parental involvement) teach kids what foods are healthy to eat and how to prepare and taste them. A village (community) assists in shaping and providing oversight but the fundamentals begin in the home. The scientific community (experts in respective fields) provides guidance as to what is good personal hygiene and what are healthy foods. Government provides some support but the actual application begins with family. As a family member (you came from somewhere!) – do your part!
As part of several research projects, our team at ISU has conducted focus groups with all ages of managers and workers in all types of foodservices. What comes through loud and clear is no one wants to make anyone sick. So, why are there an estimated 48 million cases of foodborne illness each year? What goes wrong where? What we hear is most folks in retail know what should be done and how to do it properly. The problem is there isn’t enough time or tools to do so. Pressure to deliver products quickly often means shortcuts are taken- by the staff member and the organization. These shortcuts can lead to cross contamination because hands weren’t washed, gloves weren’t changed, and utensils weren’t cleaned. Or shortcuts can lead to temperature abuse because foods are undercooked or products are left at room temperatures for long periods of time. Or organizational shortcuts don’t provide staff with sick days – no work means no pay, which in today’s economy doesn’t take care of rent or food for families. Caring has to trump short term advantages which lead to short cuts in best practice. It is the right thing to do!