With so many food events, this time of year means LEFTOVERS! Yea! To avoid food waste, freezing some of the goodies makes sense. The bonus is you have go-to foods (think of these as your own convenience brand) ready to thaw, reheat and enjoy. To ensure safety and quality of these bonus foods, proper freezing techniques (when and how) need to be followed. First, let hot food cool a bit before preparing for the freezer. Placing a big container of “hot hot” food into the freezer (or refrigerator for that matter) places an extra burden on the unit to pump out the hot air. Most home refrigerators and freezers do not have the horsepower capacity to do so. Foods don’t have to cool completely as you want to avoid time the food spends in the temperature danger zone (which is between 41 F and 135 F). But ten minutes or so to dispense some of the heat helps cool. Then, portion food into smaller, freezer safe containers and refrigerate – it is obvious I hope that small batches of food will cool more quickly than a big quantity. If product is still hot when place in refrigerator, keep container lid open to allow air circulation for a short time. Then, you can transfer to the freezer. What happens during the freezing process is ice crystals form. If ice crystals are large, because it is a large block of product and takes longer to freeze, this harms quality of food item for re-service – the texture gets soggy and mushy. Also, be sure product is double wrapped to protect from freezer burn AND remove as much air as possible. You can reuse plastic grocery bags to enclose the freezer container. So, if you are fortunate to have leftovers, after the first service portion into a freezer bag or container. Squeeze out excess air and place in refrigerator. After a few hours (or the next morning) double wrap and place in your freezer. I find it helpful to write on the outside bag what is frozen. In foodservice, some operations keep a perpetual inventory of what is in the freezer. If you find you are serious about extending shelf life of foods, consider a sheet of paper stuck with magnet to front of freezer unit that identifies what and when items were store. Happy Freezing
This adage takes on new meaning when the results from a recent survey reported on in Feedstuff Foodlink found that nearly half of consumers say they will pay more for a produce brand that advocates for a held belief. More than half of respondents said they would quit buying a brand that didn’t align with their values. Specifically, respondents think produce brands should advocate for the environment, social issues, and local organizations. And if that isn’t enough, consumers said they want to know how to maximize their purchases with value added information. So, how should a fruit or vegetable grower interpret this? Clearly it isn’t enough to produce a safe, high quality fruit or vegetable item – producers (or the marketing arm of the farm organization) needs to communicate who they are, what they do, and how they do it. While I think it is self-evident a farmer has a vested interest in land stewardship (it is hard to grow safe quality products with poor quality soil and water), this survey clearly indicates consumers want to be told this information. While number of consumers surveyed and methodology used is not included in the report, findings support the increasing numbers of farmers markets and the trending for local food systems with the food with a face movement. Perhaps this isn’t surprising when we recognize the disconnect most consumers have with where and how their food is produced. As this survey showed, clearly people are willing to put their money where their mouth is!
Hope all enjoyed the Thanksgiving Holiday and, of course, all the food! Aren’t we fortunate to have ready access to safe and enjoyable food? During the family chats, a few members were talking about TV coverage of volunteers preparing Thanksgiving Dinner for the homeless. Remember Sally from the Week before Thanksgiving blog? Well the comments focused on how the volunteers were deboning the turkey for the meal USING THEIR BARE HANDS! Maybe the turkey was going to receive a jolt of heat which would knock down the microbial load – maybe. The visual still raised questions. And again, what is done at home is totally different than when serving a crowd, and this crowd (the folks at the shelter) likely already faced enough challenges to their immune systems that they really didn’t need the additional risk. A foodborne illness is not something to be thankful for. As we enjoy the next few weeks of the holiday season, be mindful of practices you can take to avoid risk to yourself and loved ones!
Twas the night before Thanksgiving and all across the land
Families were gathering with members of their clan
The houses were full with people and food
Cause the next day was all about feeding their brood
Young and old and others at risk
Could be part of your gathering’s list
Care must be taken to enjoy the day
Be mindful of kitchen practice and play
But wait, when entering the kitchen, what is encountered?
A big frozen turkey thawing-not in the fridge-but on the counter!
Turkey trot troubles could be this families’ fate
If temperature abuse continues without abate
Bacteria multiply at room temperature by leaps and bounds
Keeping foods in fridge is information that is science sound
Foods like meats, dairy and cooked grains,
If temperature abused, can cause great pain
Use small batches at service time
As it will limit temperature danger zone prime
After enjoying the safely made food
Don’t linger before transitioning to clean-up mood
Put foods away into proper storage space
Even guests’ to-go bags need a place
The day is about being thankful for our gifts
So take control and avoid family rifts
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you
Be a SafeFood Advocate forever true
Here is a tale of how easily the Norovirus can spread. This story was modified from a presentation given by Michele Samarya-Timm, Leslie Barclay and Julia Wolfe at a conference I attended a few years back. As I learned in a recent webinar about Norovirus that was sponsored by Food Handler, we are beginning the Norovirus season. This illness spreads very easily because only minimal contact is needed. The experts say 18 particles can cause illnes or what is termed an infectious dose. Well, there are 30 million particles in a vomiting episode! So more than enough to cause illness if there is contact.
Our story begins with Sally, five days before Thanksgiving. Sally has plans to host her family’s Thanksgiving event and assist at the community dinner for the homeless in the evening. On this day, she is grocery shopping when she begins to feel really bad. What happens next is pretty typical with Norovirus – projectile vomiting. Clean up Aisle Five! Sally is mortified. She abandons her cart and runs out of the store.
Maria is the lucky store employee tasked with cleaning up the mess. Does Maria know how to clean up this mess? Has she received any training? It doesn’t appear so as she has the mop and bucket with the usual cleaning agent. Maria does what she can with the tools she has available trying to wipe off the shelves and products caught in the path and clean the floor. This is her last day working at the grocery store before her planned vacation with family. She has an early morning flight tomorrow to visit her grandmother. Won’t grandma be glad to see her granddaughter and introduce her to all the friends in her independent care facility? Well, maybe not. Fast forward to the next day and we see Maria at the airport clearly dragging while wearily pulling her roller bag. She makes it to the plane and digs out the “barf bag” from the seat pocket. Won’t her seat mate be delighted to sit next to Maria for the two hour flight?
What about Sally? She has spent the last three days at home nursing her illness and overcoming her mortification. Thanksgiving is in two days and she has a lot to do. Sally soldiers on, preparing pies, chopping onions, making stuffing, and other pre-preps.
Thanksgiving Day arrives – the family event is a success. Sally has more energy today so after dinner, she heads to the community center to assist with meal service as she had planned.
Happy ending? Well, not so much. While Sally is to be commended for honoring her commitments, she likely was index case for a Norovirus outbreak in two states. The spread of Norovirus didn’t have to happen. If Sally had gone home and called off her plans, the spread of infection would have been limited. If Maria had known what and how to clean up the mess, she would not have become ill and unknowingly risked the health of her seatmate on the plane and that of grandma, who is at an age where this type of illness can be debilitating. It is estimated 800 people die each year of Norovirus so it is more than a stomach bug. The 21 million people estimated to become ill with Norovirus each year can attest that it is no fun. Norovirus needs bleach, a really strong concentration (up to 5000 ppm which is 25 Tablespoons per gallon of water). Those who are charged with cleaning up after incidents such as Sally’s in the grocery store should be protected and wear protective gloves and clothing and even a face mask.
Hopefully, your Thanksgiving dinner isn’t spoiled by hearing this story. The cautionary take away is to show your love by staying away if you are feeling ill AND wash your hands before dining! Happy Thanksgiving to all.
It seems once we pass Halloween, the Christmas Holiday Season is in full swing. Lights begin to show up on houses, trees and ornaments are being pulled from storage, and of course, the ads for sales are on! But this time of year is also another type of season – that of viruses. Hopefully all of you readers received your flu shot for this year. I won’t wade into the debate of whether they should be required or not (it is a requirement for many health care providers), but to me it makes sense to take a few minutes and get the shot. That is one, easy prevention step we can all take. Colds are another story. It is not a given these have to be a part of the holiday season although there is greater risk due to less time outside, easy transmission of viruses, and more socializing. Handwashing correctly is often cited as a strategy to prevent risk of catching a cold, or other more serious illness, and that is pretty sound advice. At the minimum, wash hands after using the bathroom, before eating, and when coming in from outside. There are other strategies too. I don’t wear a face mask, although sometimes I wish other people would (think of that guy with the bad cold next to you on a plane!). I do try to avoid touching things I don’t have to, like stair rails or door handles. I also BMOP (bring my own pen) when writing checks at stores (yes, that’s me holding up the line). My sister dispenses hand sanitizer (which works on most but not all germs, notably viruses) in restaurants after menus are returned. I am sure there are many other do’s and don’ts used to avoid becoming ill. With the holiday season, no one wants to be sick and miss all the goodies and all the fun. Stay safe!
Yep, it is the time of year EVERYONE loves, Trick or Treat! It is no secret a lot of candy is consumed during the Halloween season, not just on October 31st. No surprise as these have been on market for over a month. Even though we live in the country and likelihood of trick or treaters is very low (like nonexistent), I have purchased a bag (or two) – just in case! While the threats have long been present of intentional or unintentional tampering of Halloween candies, the tradition has continued. I heard a new one this year though. The Wall Street Journal had an article about sugar toxicity. Fortunately, a LOT of candy would need to be consumed in one sitting before this set in, but there are tests to assess the risks. However, as one of the scientists noted, most people would through up before consuming toxic levels. Whew! But sugar consumption is a concern for some parents. Some dietitian friends and I were chatting about how some parents avoid giving their children sugar, and how hard it must be for the kids come Halloween time to fork over all their goodies. I have fond memories of counting and categorizing the haul we got from trick or treating. Back then, there were clear winner and loser treats but all ultimately got consumed! Mom would make us ration it out and used it as a reward/punishment. In my youth, there were warnings of razor blades in apples and other intentional sabotage of treats, but nothing like what is presented today. Parents are cautioned to check each packaged treat for evidence of needle marks or other tampering. While not very high risk, there are some sickos in the world and it could happen. Further, if a child is allergic to a certain food, such as nuts or dairy, there are fewer treats which can be enjoyed. Still, even with these cautions, the festivities go on. Be careful out there and enjoy the treats. As we dietitians say, consume in moderation!
Agri-tourism activities flourish this time of year with pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hay rides, and farms with pick your own apples easily accessed from most population centers. We took our annual tour to the apple orchards outside of Gay Mills, Wisconsin last weekend. We weren’t the only ones there! Note to self: next year try to visit on a weekday! There are varieties of apples we don’t usually see at the grocery store AND the value added foods are wonderful! When the kids were little, their first stop would be the fresh apple sundaes (Yum!), followed by apple cider donuts and apple pizza. It has been interesting to note in recent years increasing attention to food safety practices demonstrated by the vendors. Apple samples are now pre-cut with a dispenser for toothpicks that doesn’t require hand touching. There has also been increased signage warning visitors of moving equipment, limiting access to certain areas, and advising to wash hands after petting animals. This last bit of advice is particularly important for teachers to remember when leading student field trips as there have been outbreaks of E Coli O 157 H 7 following kids who didn’t wash hands after petting animals and prior to the snack. Signage is all pretty smart thinking by the orchard owners. Anytime there are visitors on property, there are potential liability risks. The signs educate guests and provide direction. Given the fact there are more and more people who have never been on a farm, the protective measures put into place make sense and are just good business. I have also observed improvements in the food preparation areas (appropriate attire is now worn) and infrastructure (clean and well-stocked public restrooms are available!). Operators of these agri-tourism ventures provide an opportunity for “city folk” to see where and how food is produced. Those who visit these farms should be respectful of that fact and follow directions given on the signage. This results in a win win for all!
From clean your room, to clean labels, to clean and sanitized – we hear the word clean used quite a bit. It is interesting that it seems to have a different meaning for various audiences! Telling your children to clean their rooms may have a different outcome than what was expected. I remember in my early days of managing a foodservice when a student understood my telling him to wash the apples meant getting a scrub brush and really cleaning them! Food Handlers is a company that offers free professional development opportunities to those interested in retail foodservices. The topic on the upcoming webinar this Wednesday (October 11th) is about Cleaning and Sanitizing, presented by yours truly.
Tune in and gain a better understanding of the fundamentals of the process and some tips on how to make it happen in your foodservice setting.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal described how college and university dining operations, as part of a marketing tool to attract students, are focusing on sustainability. This has been a trending concept for over the last decade as students (and other consumers) ask questions about production practices, origin of product, social justice/fair prices for workers, and perceived safety of product (e.g. GMO, pesticides). Lately Clean Labels seem to be vying with Sustainable as the term de jour. On every campus there seems to be a vocal group of students who advocate for sustainable dining and lobby/demand changes. Some may want a meatless world, while others demand Fair Trade coffee or organically grown fruits and vegetables. There is nothing wrong with advocating, in fact, engagement by students on issues is part of the college experience. Inquiring minds want to know! But the deal is that sustainability is a complex issue. There is no common definition – although most agree the term of sustainability refers to economic, environmental and social impacts that don’t cause harm. Given colleges and university settings are/should be about education based on research or evidence-based information rather than opinions or personal preferences, it is hoped students are advocating for campus dining changes based on sound science. Procurement of foods with specific production characteristics are generally priced at a premium. While there are a number of factors that affect pricing of products, larger organizations have established infrastructures and systems to maximize output efficiently while smaller organizations often can’t. These economies of scale in production and/or transportation will affect price. The WSJ article mentioned some parental push back with the higher price tag for room and board. Rooms are certainly changing which may explain part of this – the post WWII 1950’s style box with the bathroom down the hall and only two outlets don’t meet the needs of many students. But higher food costs also contribute to higher rates. It is clear some students have very specific philosophies and opinions about the food they eat – while others just want to eat. The person in charge of purchasing has to be a good steward of resources, provide quality and safe food, and meet needs of customers. There are likely silent students on campus who like and expect animal protein to be on the menu or who really don’t care where or how their produce was grown. A variety of views on what is quality and safe food and how best to use resources requires conversations with, and input from, all stakeholders (not just the vocal minority) to reach consensus. With concerns for rising costs of higher education, science should certainly be part of the discussion!