I was leafing through the February edition of Wallace Farmer (yes, I am behind!) and an editorial by Alan Newport titled “USDA needs to get out of the regulation business” caught my eye. His beef was that most regulations result in more than raising the cost of doing business and that repealing all specialty-food regulations (such as organic and grass-fed) is needed. His contention is it is the job of the food sellers to define their product and consumers should take personal responsibility for their choices. The editorial was published shortly after USDA withdrew one of its organic rules which attempted to include animal welfare requirements into the definition of organic and resulted in a firestorm of controversy by food activists. Mr. Newport does concede that some regulatory oversight may be needed particularly as it pertains to safety of food. I do not disagree. Yet a suggestion is made that the public should decide the extent of this oversight not elected representatives. Hmmm. Given the free-wheeling information readily available, much of it not vetted for accuracy, I am not sure that is such a good idea. Most people I interact with believe that if a food item is on the shelf, then there has been some oversight somewhere along the farm to fork path to ensure it is safe. There is a faith that unsafe food cannot be sold and fairly high trust in vendors. Much of the trust is assumed because today’s consumer is usually short on time – convenience trumps due diligence. Yet, some personal responsibility is needed. Failure to store perishable foods at correct temperatures, failure to cook to end point temperatures, and failure to cook in a clean environment are not the responsibility of the food producer or seller. Regulations that require meat packages to include education for consumers via meat handling labels has been on the books for over 20 years (a byproduct of the Jack in Box E Coli outbreaks in 1993) and STILL someone somewhere has become ill from improper handling or cooking. Whether the advice is followed is left to the consumer who makes that personal choice. The editorial ends with the comment that rules cannot replace morality; no argument from me. There is also that old saying that you can’t regulate common sense! What do you think?
Word of the day – crazing. It is term for the patchwork of very fine cracks on plastic polyethylene containers that are first signs of deterioration. As mentioned in the recent blog on quality of plastics used in making of bath toys, the same can apply to food containers. Many vendors package products using this material. Who doesn’t occasional reuse a margarine, yogurt, or sour cream carton? At first glance, it seems a shame to toss these. (Sidebar 1: When we cleaned out my in-laws place, we found quite a collection of margarine containers; of course my mother-in-law grew up during the Depression when everything had a second or third life! Sidebar 2: I remember staff talking about excitement when feed bags arrived in their youth as they knew this was fabric that would be used in making a new dress.) The mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle makes sense for many items in our lives. However, keep in mind that plastic containers for food are intended for single use. Repeated washings will result in crazing, which can result in leeching of some harmful components of the plastics into food. I try to reuse the containers but avoid direct contact with food; rather I use them as a double wall of protection, mainly for quality control purposes. The 16 oz. plastic containers work great at storing a half bag of rice in dry storage or a partial bag of frozen vegetables. The container is fairly sturdy and helps in keeping storage areas organized. You can also put them to use outside of the kitchen and keep paper clips or other office supplies organized. All sorts of “Hints from Heloise” suggestions. Go crazy but watch the crazing!
A study recently published in the Journal of Biofilms and Microbiomes (full disclosure: I did not read the actual manuscript, rather a newspaper article’s summary) counted microbes on insides of bath toys, like the beloved rubber ducks. Warm bath water coupled with bodily fluids (like urine and sweat) created a balmy area for some bacteria. The study reported Legionella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (often associated with hospital acquired infections) were present in large numbers (up to 75 million cells per square centime of surface). The difference in bacterial counts depended on quality of the materials used in making the bath toys; the conclusion was higher quality polymers could prevent bacterial and fungal growth. So what does this have to do with Safe Food? Well, cleaning and sanitizing properly are fundamental to ensuring a safe food preparation environment. Typically the concern is with cross contamination – I know I have seen plenty of “cleaning” occur with dirty clothes and soiled water. But what about quality of materials used in making of the cleaning tool? One example that comes to mind is produce wash brushes. Is this an area needing more research or oversight with labeling of products to ensure they are safe to use with food? Most of us recognize we don’t live in a bubble or a sterile world and thankfully, our immune systems protect us most of the time from the presence of harmful microorganisms.
Here in Iowa, home of Music Man Meridith Wilson, most folks recognize the phrase! The song captures the excitement of mail order deliveries in the early 1900’s. Fast forward over one hundred years, and the concept is a hard one to get our heads around. What? No daily mail delivery, no Prime delivery, Fed Ex Overnight of packages or – gasp – no electronic communications? Food shopping has certainly changed too. Until recently, specialty, upscale foods (think Omaha Steaks) were mail delivery based but day to day needs required a trek to the grocery store. Many of the larger chains, and even concept like Super Target and Walmart, will provide online grocery shopping. Go through virtual aisles and pick what you want/need. Amazon’s entry into fresh food delivery, ramped up with its purchase of Whole Foods last year, is likely going to lead to changes throughout the industry. Certainly delivery services are nice – and for some folks with mobility impairments, a necessity. From a food safety perspective, hopefully packaging will protect integrity of food, strict protocols for delivery personnel regarding protection and timelines will be in place, and temperature controls will be provided to ensure limit bacterial growth of products. The times are a’ changing but fundamental food safety precautions are constant.
Yesterday was National Ag Day – one of several national “days” I have recently missed, such as Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk (Feb. 11th) and Clean Out Your Computer Day (February 12th ). While I am quite comfortable kicking the can down the road on deleting old files from the computer, National Ag Day deserves some attention. Why? Well – without ag there isn’t much in the way of food or fiber, necessities daily life. Not to mention the contribution agriculture and ag-related businesses have on local, regional and national economies. Whether big or small scale ag operations, all are important. We are fortunate to have a reliable supply and wide selection of safe food. Hopefully consumers understand what it takes to produce this. Farming is not easy – ask any kid who grew up on a farm and they will tell you they got fed after the animals, that there was no sleeping in or cartoon mornings when chores needed to be done, and that money for extras was seasonal (and only if a good harvest!). Recent movements, like local food sourcing, help connect consumers with agriculture and raise awareness of where and how food is produced. It ain’t easy. Thankfully, there is a crop of farmers willing to keep us supplied with SafeFood.
Hello! My name is Jacque Janning, an ISU Dietetic Intern. The last two weeks, I have had the opportunity to broaden my knowledge about food safety resources from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Farm fresh eggs seems to be a trend. It seems like many people I know are selling their fresh farm eggs. In fact, once my siblings and I left for college, my parents decided it was their turn to build a chicken coop. I loved the idea of cooking up fresh eggs! However, the first dozen eggs my dad proudly left on my kitchen counter were not as clean as I was used to from the grocery store. I thought why in the world would he bring me dirty eggs? Apparently, that is how many Iowa farmers deliver them because of individual preferences and due to the preservation of freshness factors. I was afraid to clean and use the eggs in case there was a chance I could make myself sick! I have since learned that in Iowa, eggs can be sold directly to consumers without the egg producer having a license which means there are no requirements about cleaning. If you have received uncleaned eggs, don’t be scared, just be sure you clean them before cracking. Otherwise, some of the contaminants on the shell will fall into the product or container when the eggs are cracked. You may choose to dry clean the eggs with sandpaper, clean cloth (be sure it is folded during the process to avoid moving the contaminants around) or a clean brush used only for this purpose to remove any extra matter. Other methods are wet cleaning by rinsing or washing. In reading about the methods, I found there are good reasons for each. First, egg shells are porous with a coating on them. A fresh-laid egg has a damp coating which is called the bloom. The bloom acts as an anti-bacterial mechanism for the egg’s contents. The bloom eventually dries or flakes off as the egg moves from the farm to the consumer. If washed immediately, g, the entire bloom is removed, so there must be other protections in place while the egg is transported. If washing the egg, the temperature of the water makes a difference. Warm water causes the inside contents of the egg to expand against the shell to prevent bacteria from entering through the porous shell, while cool water can pull bacteria in. This is physics at work! An additional question I asked myself was how long will the eggs stay fresh? The USDA states that temperature fluctuation is critical to safety and quality of eggs. Most eggs stay fresh within 30 days of being laid. Of course, there are many more food safety guidelines to follow when handling eggs. For instance, many people don’t wash their hands after cracking eggs as part of preparing a recipe. They should! See more about egg safety on the ISU Extension and Outreach Food Safety website! I hope my learning experience was helpful to you!
My sister came back from vacation very enthused about mirrored panels on the kitchen appliances. Not sure if these are trending yet but it did get the creative juices going. What if these were used in commercial kitchens? I can think of several benefits in terms of both food and worker safety. Mirrors would enhance visibility from many angles in the kitchen – everyone’s actions would be on display all the time. No hiding! No shortcuts! This would certainly contribute to an improved food safety culture. And the statistics show that cuts, burns and falls are common causes of injury in foodservice, likely due to presence of sharp knives, hot pans and wet floors in a cramped physical setting that may have blind corners. Mirrors would let staff see themselves and others coming and going, literally. Mirror, mirror on the wall….
Lots of # movements going on that are covered in the evening news and daily papers. So my middle of night musing was – we should have a # about food safety. I googled #SafeFood this morning and found out there is one on Twitter, CDC, Instagram, World Health Organization and many others. Guess this would have been a great idea a few years back! In reading the posts, I was pleased to see and read the level of food safety advocacy! Still, I don’t think this will make the evening news. Why not? There is no celebrity currently wanting to champion this message. I am guessing there is at least one famous person who has become ill from eating contaminated food at least once in their lifetime. Estimates are that each year, 1 of every 6 Americans becomes ill from a foodborne illness. Anyone famous wanting to be the next Voice of SafeFood? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
Articles about a proposal in the UK to add an upcharge to beverages served in disposable cups led to the catchy headlines about a latte levy. In actuality, the proposal is an effort to reduce the cup clutter and steer customers to reusable containers for their beverages. Similar efforts were effective when plastic bags were targeted with a surcharge to customers who forgot their reusable grocery bags. The hospitality industry uses a lot of disposables. It seems that more and more lodging facilities have moved toward plastic or paper cups in the rooms rather than the glasses with the protective paper lid (remember those?) There were a few TV exposes on how housekeepers would simply wipe these rather than carting to a dish machine for proper cleaning and sanitizing. Even if it is just me in the room, I end up using quite a few of the cups. Multiply one room’s use by the entire facility, or by the chain, or by all rooms in the country, and the impact grows. Ironically, the same hotels ask customers to care for the environment by reducing use of linens. Will making someone pay change behavior? I learned in human resources class many moons ago that money is not a motivator per se (Hertzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory; rather it contributes to overall job satisfaction). Recent research findings have been mixed about use of monetary incentives to encourage healthy behaviors. So, whether a “latte levy” catches on remains to be seen. Stay tuned!
I read in news last week that Panera Bread had voluntarily recalled all cream cheese products with an active shelf life (package expiration date of on or before April 2, 2018) sold in the United States. Wow – with 2,000 locations, that is a lot of cream cheese! The decision to recall all of the 2 and 8 ounce packages was made because one 2-ounce variety on one production day tested positive for a disease causing strain of the Listeria bacteria (Listeria monocytogenes). Further, all manufacturing in the associated facility was stopped. Even though no related illness has been reported, Panera Bread took the position that because Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in the young, the elderly or those with weakened immune symptoms, it was best to exercise an abundance of caution. Even those in good health may experience fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea. And there is potential for miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women. The incubation period can be as long as 70 days, so if you have eaten Panera Bread cream cheese, monitor yourself – it may not be flu symptoms you are experiencing!
Panera’s conservative approach may be a corporate lesson learned from the Blue Bell ice cream contamination in 2015. From a risk management perspective, the proactive approach appears successful as a google search today showed no new information posted since the widespread alert was announced January 28th. (Of course, there are still more than two months for an illness to appear). From a financial perspective, this was a hit but facing the potential head on and exercising this “abundance of caution” certainly seems to have avoided backlash, as seen by other retail entities that didn’t face the music as quickly. Am I going to avoid Panera? Nope – in fact their full disclosure and proactive stance raised their rating in my book. Sometimes caution is a good thing!