Jack in the Box restaurant chain is one of the most widely known when we think about food borne illnesses – the infamous E. Coli O157:H7 outbreak of 1993 is forever linked with its reputation chain though has survived and almost a quarter of a century later, is still going strong. As a result of this outbreak, there were widespread changes in regulations and practices across the food chain. Other restaurant chains haven’t fared so well. Some of you may remember the Chi-Chi’s Mexican restaurant chain which declared bankruptcy after Hepatitis A outbreaks from green onions in the early 2000’s affected over 600 people. And then there is Chipotle, which has faced not one but two outbreaks stemming from poor practices. Of course, their fresh fast food model requires greater buy in and attention from staff, not always an easy endeavor in the restaurant realm where 100% + turnover of employees is pretty common. The research tells us that almost half of reported food borne illnesses are traced to fresh produce and nuts – fresh produce doesn’t have the kill step of cooking, which reduces pathogenic load (micro speak for kills the disease causing microorganisms). It will be interesting to see how Chipotle handles the latest outbreak and what changes are made in house, and whether these result in 1) improved market appeal and 2) avoidance of another outbreak. Simply saying cleaning and sanitizing practices are being improved doesn’t mean new procedures are followed! This is a people industry and it takes committed staff at all levels to meet restaurant goals and achieve customer satisfaction. Stay tuned as this plays out.
The recent NY Times article I mentioned in the last blog certainly generated some feedback – so much so that there was a follow-up piece! It is great to see this level of interest by readers. In this follow-up story, work at KSU by our friends and colleagues was cited, and collaborator Dr. Kevin Sauer was quoted. As someone in the academic world, being referenced as an expert by a well-respected publication like the NY Times is a big deal! Let’s just say the audience reach is much more than some of the academic journals, or even, a blog! The study was led by former ISU researcher Jeannie Sneed in which she built upon work engaged in here at Iowa State as part of a USDA study investigating cross contamination in retail foodservices. In that study, we swabbed refrigerator door handles to determine bacterial counts and found high salmonella, staph and listeria counts). We also found “clean” dishware that became re-contaminated when handled by the same person who loaded soiled dishware into machine. One outcome of that project were visuals we called YUCK photos – a photo gallery of WHY prevention of cross contamination is important. These make for some great story telling – especially if trying to make a point to visual learners! One of the recommendations made in the follow-up story was to discard the sponges – the same point I suggested last week. A bout with an illness due to unwillingness to replace a sponge chock full of bacteria is going to be much more expensive (medical costs, loss time from work, not to mention the physical debilitation) than replacing the sponge (remember, a replacement new sponge is only going to run about a dollar). Be safe with your sponges!
The New York Times summarized a recent study warning consumers to STOP “sanitizing” their sponges in the microwave because they were actually doing more harm than good. In their samples of kitchen sponges, Dr. Markus Egert and his colleagues found dense populations of 362 different species of bacteria survived the nuking process with survival at levels Dr. Egert described as similar to stool samples. Sponges have the key ingredients for bacterial growth and survival including moisture and food particles, coupled with heat from the microwave that may not hit all of the sponge at the same temperature levels, findings from the study make sense. Food services do not allow the use of sponges, for this reason and the ease with which they can serve as the “cross contaminator”. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see tables cleaned with the same, tired, soiled cloth. At home, you have greater control. With sponges running about a buck each, maybe it makes sense to swap old sponge with a new one every few weeks. Demote the old kitchen sponge to floor wipes or bathroom detail. Sounds like that is where it belongs!
We all know hindsight is 20/20, right? When things go wrong, most of us try to learn from the mistakes and avoid repeating these. We know what we should do, and usually would do if we could, BUT we get in a hurry, and/or don’t bother to take the time.
Reflect on these laments:
I should’ve washed my hands after putting burgers on the grill and before plating the celery, but I didn’t want to make a trip to the sink. If I had, my guests would not have become ill after our cook-out!
I would’ve cooked the turkey burgers to an internal temperature of 165 °F but everything else was ready and they looked done. If I had, my guests would not have become ill after our cook-out!
I could’ve cleaned the cutting board and knife with soap and hot water after making the turkey patties and before chopping the onions, but the board looked clean after rinsing so I didn’t bother. If I had, my guests would not have become ill after our cook-out!
Could any of these scenarios play out in your back yard? Most food borne illnesses ARE preventable. Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve moments happen every day – our actions do make a difference!
Idly googling one day, a search of the word food safety yielded 253,000,000 results, hair in food listed 191,000,000 hits and chefs with beards resulted in 63,800. I had wondered after seeing in eating establishments as well as on TV the number of chefs with facial hair and noting the irony of a hair bonnet worn by a chef with a full beard. I get it is the cool thing to sport a beard; a beard net is not so cool. And the science tells us hair in food is more of a YUCK factor than a health risk. After all, Food Code doesn’t require eyebrows be restrained – only effective hair restraints for those preparing food. Research documenting hair exfoliation rates does not seem to exist, prolly due to multiple variables involved. For example, black men seem to experience irritation after shaving – this condition is called “barber’s itch” aka pseudofolliculitis barbae (PFB), folliculitis barbae traumatica, or razor bumps. Many food operations don’t allow facial hair but some do – and with the clean shaven look not considered so cool anymore, it may be hard to find staff without the end of day stubble. But face it, folks don’t like hair in their food – and they WILL complain about it. Of course, extent of beard would play into reactions – I would be more grossed out by a chef with a full beard than a shadow. Food for thought though – managers responding to a scene don’t usually sort out how the hair got in the food and who it actually belongs to (yes, there are those folks who will create an incident in order to get a free meal). The typical reaction is to comp the meal. So operations should have clear philosophy and policies (such as no facial hair) to guide employee practices and protect reputation and bottom line.
Have you ever wondered about the proper way to select, store, and handle fresh produce? When I worked as a nutrition educator for the Special Supplement Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (also known as WIC), participants would often ask me questions about the best way of selecting and storing fruits and vegetables. These questions made me realize there is more education on this topic, and not just only for the personal home setting, but in the foodservice industry as well.
Hi, my name is Arlene Weigel and I am currently a dietetic intern through the Iowa State Dietetic Internship Program. I have spent the past two weeks working with ISU’s Human Sciences Extension and Outreach (HSEO), learning more about food safety practices directed at school foodservice staff and the various training programs available. One such training program is USDA’s Produce Safety University (PSU), a one-week training course for school foodservice staff aimed at identifying food safety risks regarding handling and storing of fresh fruits and vegetables. In a past work experience as a nutrition educator in Marshalltown, Iowa, one of my main job duties was to provide monthly nutrition education lessons on different fresh fruit and vegetables to elementary students. I would bring to these lessons, a sample tasting of a fresh fruit and vegetable prepared by the Marshalltown School District Foodservice Department. Handling large quantities of fresh produce daily could very well have presented a food safety concern in the classroom. Fortunately the school foodservice staff is knowledgeable about proper produce handling and storing procedures. With the rise in efforts to provide students locally sourced produce with the Farm to School movement and from school gardens, sourcing fresh produce from growers who practice good agricultural practices as well as in house handling and storing of fresh produce becomes even more challenging. Foodservice workers need to be familiar with aspects of growing, harvesting, selecting, and purchasing of good quality produce from local produce suppliers. With continued interest in Farm to School programs, everyone involved with fresh produce served in schools will to understand management practices to control risks of any food safety concerns.
As a future registered dietitian, I believe there will be an increase in employment opportunities available in the Farm to School realm of practice, which just so happens to be an area of great interest to me. There will be a greater demand for registered dietitians to take on more of an active role in this expanding field, not only as nutrition educators but as a line of defense in the prevention of food safety risks. In my rotation with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, I found there was an online module just for those working with school gardens! It can be found on the SafeProduce page.
Hello All! My name is Megan Lane and I am a dietetic intern here at Iowa State. Over the last two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Now some of you might not know, but the ISU Extension and Outreach works hard to provide education and resources to citizens of our state to help us improve our lives. One of those resources is the College of Human Sciences food safety page where anyone can find videos, trainings, and other tools to enhance knowledge of how to protect themselves from foodborne illnesses. With nearly 48,000 cases each year with 3,000 deaths estimated by the CDC, having resources like Extension can help us protect ourselves from becoming sick from food as many illnesses are preventable.
While exploring the page, I started reminiscing back to my childhood. As the daughter of a chef, I learned very early on the importance of food safety, whether that was making sure to wash my hands after each task or making sure the raw meat plate wasn’t reused later for serving. My mom covered it all! One issue that she was very passionate about was proper thawing of food. When my mom was growing up, my Grandmother wasn’t always the safest of home cooks, in fact often she would leave raw meat out of the counter to thaw all day before cooking it up for dinner that night. My mom is still amazed that she never got sick. Some of the basics I remember is making sure if I’m going to thaw meat to put it in the refrigerator on a plate if I don’t plan to prepare it until later or use the microwave if I will be cooking it right away. When you search the extension page you can also find other methods like thawing in cold running water in a leak proof bag or cooking without thawing. Looking forward to the future I hope to continue to pass these skills on to clients, friends and maybe even my own children so that they too can practice safe food handling and prevent foodborne illnesses from happening.
Being able to work with ISU Extension and Outreach for a rotation has been a truly eye opening experience that will leave me with a great deal of tools and resources. I can use these in my own life and future work experiences and help further its mission of spreading awareness about topics like food safety to improve lives. As future registered dietitian I hope someday to give back to such a program.
Summer is the time I enjoy lap swimming – have turned into a fair weather swimmer over the years after too many early morning workouts in the cold and dark as a youth. During my time at the pool, I have noticed a new campaign by the CDC to prevent recreational water illnesses – these are results of swallowing pool water which, even with the chlorine, may still contain germs. The campaign flyers strongly encourage use of swim diapers for those who need them and showering before entering the water, particularly if there is a lot of sweat and dirt (think of the number of folks who enjoy bare feet in summer time. The chlorine breaks down very quickly when there is more than water to keep clean. Even excessive use of tanning oils (yes I still see these used) and sunscreen (use is strongly encouraged to prevent skin cancer) mitigate effectiveness of the chlorine. Certified pool operators know the chemistry requirements and do their best. Lifeguards are alert to swimmers’ physical risks. Care is taken to keep the pool and grounds as risk free as possible – but those enjoying the pool grounds need to do their part too. The water is great – come on in!
Not only is Memorial Day the kick off to summer, it is also a day to reflect and appreciate those who have passed. We hear a lot in the media about sexual violence rates (reportedly 1 in 5 Americans has been sexually abused) but not so much about food borne illnesses, which, according to CDC, are estimated to hit 1 in every 6 U.S. residents each year. Of these, it is estimated there are 3,000 deaths. Sadly, many of these are preventable. Either those engaged in preparing or serving food aren’t thinking through what and how they accomplish tasks and possible resultant consequences of contamination or cross contamination; or there is a rush and food isn’t cooked to high enough temperatures; or food contact surfaces aren’t cleaned and sanitized; and/or other corners are cut. There have been a few cases where there was a mindful intent to take shortcuts or save dollars that clearly would endanger those eating prepared foods – thankfully those responsible have been held accountable and are now in jail. Mostly though, people get sick because food handlers (whether it be the high schooler at a quick service or your mother in law at a family function) don’t connect the dots and recognize cause and effect. So, as another Memorial Day passes and another summer begins, reflect on your actions as a preparer and consumer of food and follow SafeFood basics outlined by the FightBac program called the four core practices of Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.
At our Easter gathering, a nephew was talking about his “cleansing” process – once a week he whips up a leek-kale-etc shake to purge his body of food “toxins”
I thought of this cleansing process when I was checking whether there was any BBQ sauce on hand. Surely, somewhere nestled among all the jars in the fridge door there was some BBQ love. There certainly were enough containers to choose from! USDA advises storage of open containers up to six months – oops! I am pretty sure some of these were there this time last year – like the BBQ sauce I finally found – along with the open jars of mayo, mustard, pickle relish, and catsup! So, time for a condiment cleansing! I hate to waste food so rather than buying the “value size” I should purchase smaller units more in line with actual use. When I make potato salad, I do like to use a new jar of mayo due to my failure to remember when container was purchased AND wondering whether anyone double dipped with the knife when making a turkey sandwich after Thanksgiving. Note to self is to buy smaller units of condiments – pass up the best value and just buy what I need. Now if I can only remember this approach at the movie theater and avoid the jumbo popcorn and diet soda!