I have been writing this SafeFood Blog for about ten years now. My, time does fly! Sharing my two cents about safe food along the food chain has been an outreach effort that I have enjoyed. Thanks to those of you who have read this blog over the years and to those who have provided feedback. Having conversations about safe food handling is what it is all about! My last day with Iowa State University as the Extension Specialist focused on retail food safety is August 7th. Until this position is filled, the SafeFood blog will go on hiatus. But wait, there are other blogs for those interested in retail and consumer food safety issues. Our Answer Line blog addresses a variety of consumer issues including food handling and preparation. Another ISU blog is from the Spend Smart Eat Smart team in which they dish out “good to know” tips on getting bang for your food buck. A company that sells disposable gloves (FoodHandler) also sponsors a blog called SafeBites that my friend and former ISU colleague, Dr. Jeannie Sneed, and I will be writing. And yet another blog is called Food Safety News and is sponsored by legal whiz and safe food advocate Bill Marler’s law firm. So, there is no shortage of credible sources for safe food handling updates. All of these can be subscribed to which means a steady helping of reliable info can be delivered to your inbox helping you keep up on what is new with food safety. SafeFood Forever!
Being from Texas, the term chicken ranch has a different definition than currently used today to describe the urban farming trend of raising chickens in backyards. Recently, a national bok-lash (sorry!) is occurring with increasing numbers of people becoming infected from multiple strains of the salmonella bacteria. Since mid-February of this year, over 200 people in 44 states have become ill. Fortunately, there have been no deaths reported, although 26% of infected persons (as of this writing) were children under the age of 5. Hopefully these children will not suffer long term health consequences as a result of this illness. CDC’s investigation has found about three fourths of those who became sick were in contact with baby chickens or ducklings in the previous week. Given the number of communities that do allow backyard flocks, perhaps this should not be a surprise. I remember a contentious issue in a nearby town a few years back over a property owner wishing to keep their miniature horse in the backyard. The city fathers and mothers (and some of the neighbors) did not like this idea, thus, zoning restrictions were imposed. Yet, raising chickens is quite trendy. Yes, fresh eggs (if you can find them all) taste wonderful. But do the town farmers realize the need to follow practices with regards to protection of their health and safety of the product? Have communities provided any guidance with regards to safety controls? What is a reasonable number to have in the flock? What about the early morning wake-up calls? What animal welfare practices are followed? You have all heard of the term “pecking order”, right? A recent study from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, (reported in Feedstuffs) found that different production practices (i.e. caged and free range, to name two) each have benefits and drawbacks with regards to environmental impact, animal welfare, human health effects, quality of food, and safety of product. For those currently raising chickens or those considering joining the flock to do so, this latest outbreak illustrates the need to wash hands, implement action steps to establish control zones, and ride herd in providing oversight that the chickens and the eggs are handled safely.
Yes – it is hot out there! Of course it is mid-summer and I happen to be in Houston (known for its humidity) visiting family so am feeling the heat from sun up until sun down. I usually try to avoid summer visits just because of the heat – although Iowa has its share of hot weather days. Really, is there any place that doesn’t experience a few scorchers? When temperatures push triple digits, you know it’s hot! The hot weather does mean a few changes in how some tasks are accomplished, such as grocery shopping. In winter, we don’t have to worry about temperature controlled for safety foods becoming temperature abused because the outdoors is like a freezer and the inside of the car like a cooler! So, if a reusable insulated grocery sack is forgotten, there aren’t any worries. However in summer, the appliances change (think ovens!), so I do my best not to leave home without an insulated bag and ice packs. Even with the dozens of reusable grocery bags around the house, I have forgotten those at times. In that case, using the plastic bag as an insulator helps. If I forget the ice packs (or stopping at the store on the way home from work), purchasing frozen juice concentrate or frozen fruit works well as a substitute cold source. While most urban dwellers are minutes from the grocery store, living in rural areas may mean a half hour (or longer) trip home. And in this hot weather, once home, put the groceries away ASAP! While we generally say two hours is ok without refrigeration or hot holding of foods, in summer, that window of time is shortened. Plus, quality of product won’t be lost. Stay cool and keep your food safe!
If you have had a take away beverage in the last month or so, you may have noticed the lack of a straw. Some food chains such as A&W and Starbucks (which started in Seattle) are no longer providing these with the beverages served, citing environmental concerns. Yes, the plastic straw has joined the hall of fame as an ecological villain. Some of the internet data notes the US uses 500 million straws each day (apparently enough to circle around the Earth 2 ½ times! The limited number of paper straw manufacturers are giddy with increases in orders – they cannot keep up with the demand. Paper straws are just one alternative to plastic straws. Starbucks released a new type of beverage lid that apparently replaces the need for a straw. This might work for some of their customers but not all. For individuals with limited arm mobility, a sturdy straw is vital; paper straws just cannot provide the support needed. Yes, I get there is a lot of garbage out there and we should limit what we can. I get the distinction between biodegradable materials and those that are not. I get not all recycled items actually get sorted correctly, and that transportation issues may mean they end up floating on a barge at sea indefinitely. Still, a widespread ban does not make sense. From a food safety perspective, I like having a straw as opposed to drinking from side of a glass with unknowns of who and how it has been cleaned and handled. The straw does gives me a sense of security. However false that sense of security is, perceptions do make a difference. I’ll still ask for the straw!
It is that time of year again where social gatherings are becoming more frequent, especially potlucks and picnics. I enjoy attending these events in order to catch up with friends and gobble down some delicious food! However, there can be dangers lurking in every dish. According to the CDC, researchers have identified over 250 harmful foodborne microorganisms that can cause illness, and almost 50 million people get sick from a foodborne illness each year. However, with a few tips it is easy to prevent foodborne outbreaks at potlucks and picnics! Providing safe food at potlucks is crucial, which means using quality ingredients, washing hands and surfaces before preparing, and keeping food at the correct temperatures before and during the event. When preparing your dish, check the final temperature to ensure it is cooked thoroughly. This means using a thermometer that is accurate! After arriving at the potluck, cold foods should be kept at 41°F or below, while hot foods should be held above 135°F. This prevents dishes from entering the temperature danger zone. If foods are kept out 4 hours or longer without proper temperature control, throw them out. Also, you can easily prevent foodborne illness by washing hands before it is time to eat at the gathering. If bathrooms are sparse, such as spending the day at the lake or a football game, setting up a portable handwashing station is easily done with a cooler with hot water, soap, paper towels, and a large bucket to wash hands over (see picture below). If this isn’t possible, then use hand wipes or even bring along wet washcloths in a Ziploc bag. Proper handwashing should take about 20 seconds total, enough to make it through the Happy Birthday song twice! Potlucks can be a nightmare for a person with a food allergy. It may be helpful to label dishes that contain one of the key allergens, in case someone does have a food allergy. The top 8 allergens that account for 90% of the food allergies are soy, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, fish, shellfish, wheat, and eggs. Recognize too that these sometimes sneak into foods or are packaged with a different name. Check out the Food Allergy Research and Education website for details about unexpected sources of allergens in foods.
I hope this helps you enjoy many more picnics and potlucks to come this summer!
Amber Baughman, Dietetic Intern
It’s that time of year where everyone’s enjoying the nice outdoors with family and friends. One of my favorite hobbies during these summer months is grilling in the back yard. I know for myself that when growing up, grilling was an important activity in our household that brought us all together. It is also the perfect way to switch up things in the kitchen! There is no shortage of things you can put on the grill. Pork chops, burgers, steaks and hot dogs are popular but don’t forget you can grill more than just the classics. Fruit, such as grilled peaches, are a good example of something to try out this summer. As you can imagine though, there are food safety rules that should be followed when using the grill. The CDC has some good tips on how to keep food safe. When preparing to grill, set out foods to thaw overnight in the refrigerator instead of thawing the day of on the counter or in the sink with running water. Thawing at room temperature allows for bacterial growth because the product is in the temperature danger zone, which is between 41°F and 135°F. When it’s about time to start grilling make sure you check your hands, the grill and utensils for cleanliness. It is recommended to clean grill surfaces before cooking. If you use a wire bristle brush, like I do, make sure to inspect the grill’s surface after using it to be sure nothing is left behind. There are times where the wire bristles may dislodge or stick to the grill, which may end up in your food, presenting a physical hazard. When cooking make sure there is no cross-contamination between foods you are preparing. Throw out the marinade or sauces that have touched raw meat juices, DO NOT save these for later use on the cooked product! Remember to cook foods all the way through to avoid foodborne illnesses. Having a thermometer on hand to check the internal temperature is the best method in making sure that foods are cooked thoroughly.
- Whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, veal and fish need to reach 145°F
- Hamburgers and other ground beef need to reach 160°F
- All poultry and even pre-cooked meats such as hot dogs and brats need to reach 165°F
Place grilled food on a clean plate. By following these action steps of keeping raw foods away from cooked, and dirty utensils and plate ware separate from clean, you can feel confident that no one will get sick from the foods you have grilled. Sit back and enjoy your burger in the nice summer weather!
Dietetic Intern, Emmeline Huffaker
The New York Times had an article about how to avoid food poisoning! This is great that the topic made it in the popular press, not to mention a media with high circulation numbers. And even better, the information was spot on. Information was framed to reflect changing consumer habits such as increased purchases of prepared foods and globalization of the food system. Points about monitoring for time/temperature abuse and avoiding cross contamination were made. Cautions about not washing raw meats and poultry, and avoiding re-washing of bagged salad greens were clearly presented. I also liked that the author mentioned the concept of planning. Plan what foods to pull from the freezer to allow time for thawing under refrigeration, not on the counter. The article also stressed the importance of reporting to the regulatory agencies if one becomes ill. In Iowa, there is a hotline number with an emoji called Ralph as well as lots of other information. To confirm an outbreak, there is a need for a stool sample, which is off putting for many. (Wait, there are [yes, plural!] YouTube videos on How To do this, which takes away some of the mystery). But without the match of the pathogens in the sample with that in the food, a connection cannot be made. Interestingly, the author suggested tracking one’s personal digestive rate so that the source of the contaminated food could be narrowed. Kudos to the Times for providing this useful and relevant information.
My friend sent this photo the other day and wondered if it was part of my brand. Protection of one’s brand, be it personal or professional, is important. Any number of food companies know the negative impact of foodborne illness on their brands. While some bounce back due to effective crisis management (such as Jack in the Box), others do not fare as well (anyone remember Chi-Chi’s?). Good management is critical but so are staff who fully get the importance of actions they take to control for risks of illness from food. The old saying of “one bad apple spoils the bunch” has some truth in it! Everyone in the operation has a role in protecting the brand.
Another car trip, hence another round of talk radio. Yesterday, Rush was going on about the new, enhanced app for his program. It includes archived shows, podcasts, and quotable quotes with the ability to tweat, email, post on Facebook, or send forth in other ways. In listening to this outreach effort, I thought he is everywhere – and makes it easy for folks to pass it on. Maybe that is key with messaging about food safety – making it easy to forward to others. And presenting in a way that makes folks want to do so. If people see or hear something often enough, true or untrue, it seems to become a fact. With our food safety project at Iowa State University, we strive to present information that is not only credible (science or evidence-based) but also useful and relevant to our audiences. See if there is something you think is worth moving forward!
There have been plenty of books devoted to the power of positive reinforcement. This is based on the principles advanced by behaviorist B.F. Skinner with his reinforcement theory, one of the oldest theories of motivation. It has been used in many areas of study to include animal training, raising children, and motivating employees in the workplace. Simply put, positive reinforcement will encourage continuation of the praised behavior. On a recent car trip in Scotland, we saw this applied with the road signs that tracked your speed. If the car was within the posted limit, a happy face appeared with the message “good job!” Of course, the idea is the driver will want more of that positive feedback and stay within speed limits. Ok, so how can this work in a foodservice setting? Do we really need to have a celebration every time an employee does what they are supposed to do? If that were the case, there wouldn’t be much food served! And the reinforcement message would become meaningless because that was all staff heard. But strategic use of positive reinforcement should be used by management – as well as co-workers. When an employee is observed taking the extra steps to ensure safety of food such as calibrating a thermometer so it gives an accurate reading, or rotating stock in the cooler, or refilling the soap dispense at the handwashing sink – these all minimize the risk of a glitch in the system. Another guru in the world of management, Kenneth Blanchard, has a book entitled Catch People Doing Something Right. Although published in 1999, the message is still relevant today. Good Job Everyone!