Ah ice cream – a favorite summer time treat. An effective motivator and reward for kids of all ages. But the revelation this spring that the 108 year old Blue Bell Ice Cream Company – (based in Brenham Texas and a stalwart leader in ice cream sales in 23 states – was linked to cases of listeriosis shocked many people, myself included. One reason was because the company image and its product was the poster child for wholesomeness. The other reason was that internal testing had found listeria monocytogenes on work surfaces in its plant but the company had not disclosed results to the public. As a result, there have been work stoppages with three quarters of its workforce laid off (close to about 3,000 folks) and very limited distribution of product. Recently, product processed in upgraded facilities that have implemented new and improved cleaning and sanitation programs is back on the shelves. Will the company ever recover? What about the families – the families of those that became ill or died, but also the families of the workers. The company has found support from an investor – talk about saved by the bell, or more accurately, the bell is saved!
This crisis illustrates very well the ripple effect of food borne illness. According to the Voice of Agriculture, about 15 percent of the U.S. workforce is involved in food or fiber production, processing or sales. So, one issue can impact families and their communities. Out of work people don’t go out to eat, go to movies, or do much shopping beyond the necessities – not even for ice cream. This lack of retail activity affects other businesses in the community and a downward spiral begins. Financial insecurity affects family dynamics and health. So, what is the answer? Taking care of business in the food world means more than producing the right product at the right time and for the right price – it also means paying attention to food safety fundamentals. The culture of the work organization must support staff walking the food safety talk! The Iowa State University Food Safety Project has tools to help –being aware of how food is handled is a great first step. However, acting on the knowledge is critical. Stay cool!
Not too long ago, my husband had a family birthday lunch celebration for one of his “0” birthdays (although he claims he is holding at 39). His mother had brought him a serving of meatloaf. When we talked later in the day, he asked me what I thought he should do with the meatloaf. Since he has been well educated in food safety, he knew it should have been kept cold during its travels from her home (she lives about 30 miles away) and while they all enjoyed a leisurely birthday lunch. Since it appeared the serving had not had any type of temperature control, the decision was made to throw away the meatloaf. I wonder how many consumers are aware of safe food handling guidelines for leftovers. The ISU Food Safety web page link for consumers offers great information on tips for what to do with leftovers . One of these days it will hopefully stop raining and families can begin enjoying picnics with family and friends. These celebrations often include needing to safely transport food to the event and then addressing leftovers. The many consumer friendly Extension resources focusing on safe handling of leftover food will help everyone safely take care of leftovers.
My husband has always enjoyed listening to the Bob and Tom radio show, me not so much. However, we were out running errands the other day and of course the radio was tuned to Bob and Tom. My ears perked up when the topic turned into a somewhat humorous discussion about hair and beard restraints, with a focus on beard restraints. While the conversation was quite funny, I thought the point of needing to cover facial hair was well made. As a former foodservice director, I lost count of the number of times I would need to remind employees all hair needed to be covered, leaving bangs unrestrained was not an option. Some staff members took a more stylish approach choosing to wear colorful scarves to secure their hair. Nevertheless, it was everyone’s responsibility to make certain hair and beard restraints were correctly being worn. During employee training, the importance of hair restraints was reinforced by reminding everyone how gross it is to find a hair in a meal when dining at a restaurant. This technique did seem to hit home. While chefs in most cooking shows never seem to properly secure their hair, I always chuckle when a distinguished judge finds a hair in her or his dish. The chef responsible for this faux pas always seems to be duly embarrassed. The Food Code is very clear regarding proper restraint of hair and beards, so I wonder if a bit of humor really does help to emphasis the importance of keeping hair out of everyone’s food.
I read with interest an article in the Newsroom link on the Institute of Food Technologists’ website which highlighted an April 15 story written by Contributing Editor A. Elizabeth Sloan called “Top 10 Food Trends for 2015”. As I read through the list, I thought of the many opportunities being created for Extension Specialists to have a positive impact on countless numbers of consumers. The article stated studies showed almost 9 in 10 adults believe fresh foods are healthier. In addition, shoppers are buying more fresh ingredients. This is wonderful, however, my question is, do consumers know how to safely prepare fresh ingredients, such as fresh produce? In addition, are they aware of the best preparation techniques needed to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, preserve quality, and nutrition; such as rinse don’t soak fresh produce and steam, do not boil fresh vegetables. Another trend listed was the impact of food allergies on food purchases. Do consumers understand the importance of and how to read ingredient labels? Do consumers know about and how to prevent cross-contamination not only as a measure of food safety but also as a way to prevent allergic reactions when preparing foods for someone with a food allergy? There were a variety of different food preparation techniques trends mentioned such as pickling, fermenting, and smoking foods. Do these techniques have any food safety concerns of which consumers need to be made aware? “Rethinking Nature” was another trend mentioned which focused on the increased numbers of local and organic purchases. Are there opportunities to provide the public information about local, sustainable foods? Two other trends, “Reasonable Snacking” and “Diet Watching” create opportunities to provide science based nutrition information. As I reviewed the ISU Food Safety website, I found numerous resources which offer valuable food safety and food preparation information for consumers. Of the 10 trends discussed in the article, each one certainly provided opportunities for Extension Specialists to positively impact all Iowa families.
I admit it, I am not a news junkie. I typically rely on my husband for important news updates, and occasional I catch the 5:30 national news, usually waiting for the last story which often tends to be rather heart-warming and often inspiring. As I was thinking about a topic this week, I went to the Foodsafety.gov website and found under the Recall & Alerts column the headline “Hy-Vee Recalls Summer Fresh Pasta…” dated April 29, 2015. The story provided detailed information about the recall of a fresh pasta salad due to a potential threat of Listeria monocytogenes contamination. Hy-Vee had been notified the frozen vegetables (produced in Georgia) used in the salad were potentially contaminated. Details were given along with a link to the Hy-Vee website for more information. Once on the Hy-Vee website, under the “top news” column, the link “Pasta Salad Recall” provided extensive information about the recall and stores involved. I then started to wonder how most consumers are made aware of food recalls. In this case, the salad recall affected product available in selected stores from April 9 – 27, 2015. A couple of years ago, when I was living in Kansas, I stopped at my favorite grocery store to make a few purchases and was surprised as a very long grocery store receipt began to print. The reason for its length was the fact there had been some recalls impacting deli salads sold at by this chain and apparently based on my customer loyalty card, I had previously purchased some of these items. This of course was the first time I had been made aware of the recalls. I imagine most consumers do not routinely check the Foodsaftey.gov or CDC websites, so unless a food recall makes national news, I do wonder what works when it comes to notifying the public of a recall.
Spring is in the air, gardens are being planted, and farmers markets are starting up again. Local foods are coming to town! Why the excitement? Well, you wouldn’t ask if you had tasted a recently picked vine-ripened tomato – the flavor and freshness are hard to beat. But, are these locally grown fruits and vegetables safer? There are those who think so, (see promo tag line for a Buy Fresh Buy Local chapter) but really, it depends. Safety of any food will depend on a lot of factors – characteristics of the food itself (such as acidity and water activity levels) and how the food was grown, harvested, cleaned, packed, transported and displayed. Fresh produce (and nuts) were identified as causing 46% of reported foodborne illnesses in a recent CDC report. And, at farmers markets, we see a lot of fresh produce. Many farmers market vendors and managers are interested in marketing their safe food practices. Some have completed day long workshops focused on Good Agricultural Practices – look for their certificates. And recently, the ISU Farm Food Safety Team just released four online modules to this audience. These were developed with a USDA Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Specialty Crops Grant – and because of this support, for now, are available free of charge to interested farmers market growers and managers. Enjoy the market!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to eat at a couple of locally owned restaurants as a new customer. From what I knew about each business, one had been in the area for a while, while the other had just opened. I had lunch with my sister, at a cute little place where she had previously eaten, but I had not. Food was very good, however, from what I could see, there was room for improving some basic food safety practices. For instance, bowl of self-serve cut onions set out by the napkins and silverware table, so customers could garnish salads and sandwiches, was neither covered nor chilled. Also, properly securing hair of the prep staff may have simply been a suggestion rather than a requirement. My husband, some friends, and I had lunch at a newly opened restaurant, and guess who had a perfect view of the kitchen which was essentially part of the dining area, since it was on the other side of the bar seating area. In this case, it appeared the norm was for the prep staff to wear disposable gloves regardless of the task at hand, and seldom if ever, change gloves, wash hands, and re-glove. I commented to the chef as our food was brought to our table suggesting his staff could improve upon some of their food handling practices. However, when we returned home, I felt I could have been more tactful with my comments so I called and talked to the chef. I apologized for being so abrupt with my comments, then went on to explain what I had seen. He shared his philosophy of instilling a culture of food safety and was very adamant about providing staff training, in order for the end result to be safe and delicious food for his customers. He invited to come back for a meal, sit at the bar and critique the food safety practices of his staff, something I certainly plan on doing. Since there are so many small, locally owned restaurants across Iowa, hopefully we can all find creative ways to help share the numerous SafeFood™ resources and training materials which are found on the SafeFood website.
Stuff on hands after changing a dirty diaper – proxy for …
This past week there were two political items related to food safety that made the news – one about a merge between USDA’s FSIS and the FDA to streamline oversight of food production, processing and service, and the other suggesting the market should determine hand washing practices at retail. Philosophically, I am not opposed to a reduction in regulations (who is in favor of more rules?) but I fail to see how a merge would result in less confusion. And can we really rely only on the market to establish safe practices? I don’t’ think so. Without defined regulations, based on science, regarding fundamental actions that will protect the public’s health, there could be a lot of chaos. Let’s consider if hand washing (at specific times using identified process) was no longer a defined expectation for those working around food sold to others. Yes, the outdated, fading, torn Employees Must Wash their Hands signs might go Bye-Bye, but it is not clear the market alone could establish a SafeFood™ culture. If regulations aren’t in place, then what is the basis of training? Where is the framework or the infrastructure guidance? While we hope all employees wash their hands after using the restroom – we really don’t know. (See the Yuck photo of why we hope they do!) It appears this market driver would require people to get sick and tell their friends (likely via social media, so LOTS of friends) about their bad experience which would influence business. Wait, doesn’t that happen now? Some preliminary research has found food safety does sell – savvy operators get that there are some customers who consider this when making the dining decision. I know I do! It seems there are more and more restaurants and other foodservices posting certificates of staff who have become Certified Food Protection Managers. Look for these at your favorite food place!
I must admit it, I do like listening to Katy Perry. So when, as my husband was reading the Sunday paper a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned the article about USDA taking advantage of the performer’s half time Super Bowl performance to highlight food safety, I was very excited. What a unique way to deliver a food safety message, thus the USDA blog “Hot N Cold”: A Katy Perry Guide for Food Safe Take-Out. The blog starts with a reference to when our stomachs “ROAR”, then goes on to build on the lyrics of Ms. Perry’s 2008 song “Hot n Cold”. The blog provides guidance on the basics of correct handling practices for take-out and delivery of both hot and cold foods in order to keep you and you guests food safe while watching the big game. We all know the Iowa State Extension and Outreach Food Safety website has many resources for both consumers and foodservices. We also know social media is everywhere. As I ride the bus each day, it seems as if almost everyone is posting or searching for something on an electronic devise. It will be interesting to see what creative ways all of us can use social media channels to share the food safety messages. I believe we can all be super stars when it comes to Sharing the Message
The holiday break allowed for several coffee mornings – sitting around the kitchen table, reading newspapers and sipping java. It was interesting to note new strategies identified by several of quick service restaurant chains in efforts to woo Millenials from competitors of casual dining and grocery retail-to-go outlets. Having spent a little time also at grocery stores, I had seen what groc stores had to offer. Navigating through one of the big chains’ “how to” demos (which cleverly cross-promoted sides and wine to serve with this easy-to-prepare dish if you only purchased the identified items) was quite an interesting experience. Plus, not only wide varieties of food options (for example, have you seen the range of salt choices?), types of production (local, organic, USA, or gluten-free, to name a few) but also levels of service. Today’s food providers are responding to the market demands for natural food (no chemicals please!) and convenience (banks, barbers, and dry cleaner outlets are quite common along with the ready-to-eat foods as well as traditional staples of milk, bread, and chocolate chips). Having made the mistake of hitting a store about normal work quitting time, was amazed at the 20-30-somethings selecting dinner! 2015 is looking to be an interesting year for retail foods – and grocery stores certainly seem to be broadening what they do. I hope food safety messaging tags along! Maybe the Food Safety Project grocery bags have a place????