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December 26, 2007

Sanitation and Safety on the Road

SafeFood© - Sanitation and Safety on the Road

It is that time of year for road traveling – over the hill and through the woods and all of that. My family made our annual trek of 1500 miles to grandma’s (and grandpa’s) house recently and a few observations seemed worthy of mentioning.

First off – G and B (gas and bathroom) stops. As fellow road warriors know, most gas stations now are also convenience stores and even quick service chains all in one. Our first stop was a prime location off an interstate, but the facility itself had clearly seen better days as the Salad Bar here sign stenciled on the window was starting to flake off. However, no gas lines and easy access trumped appearances. Fortunately, the ladies room was somewhat clean and did have running water and soap (although I don’t go anywhere without my own stash of Kleenex and mini bar of soap). This stop made me think Mr. Rogers was on to something with his indoor/outdoor shoes routine. Mission accomplished - on the road again.

When selecting restaurants, a short mental checklist is used as the basis for decision making. Exterior checks: clean and maintained; good lighting; available parking; and well-kept trash area (i.e. dumpster lid shut) is the trash area picked up and dumpster lid shut. Are the bathrooms clean and are essential supplies available – toilet paper, soap, warm water, and towels etc. A bonus is if the door handle allows for exiting without recontamination of hands. A few years back, we walked into a place where they were in operation without an available water supply – so there are times when the “rules” are not followed. We choose a casual dining, chain restaurant. I was faced with a dilemma when the hamburger I had ordered arrived pretty rare, rather than the medium well I had requested. Do I send it back and risk the unseen wrath of the cook (who might express his frustration with an action expressly forbidden in Food Code)? What would a SafeFood Advocate do?

Next stop was selection of place for lodging. Because we had gone the corporate route for dinner, we stayed at a locally owned motel with free wireless internet. From the exterior, the place looked a bit shabby but ok. Once we checked into the rooms, it was obvious there had been some renovations a while back but more of surface only – things were a bit sleazy. The smell of smoke clung to the bedspreads (non-smoking room), the sheets were a bit threadbare, and dust flew off the lampshade when it was accidently touched. The dusty ash tray in the bathroom holding the itsy bitsy amenity bottle of shampoo – remember this is a non-smoking room – summed it up pretty well. Next morning’s continental breakfast consisted of coffee and unpackaged bagels, homemade cookies (where and how were they made?) and other items thrown on a shelf in a closet. Not too appetizing. I think I will wait for our G & B break!
Catherine Strohbehn 12/26/07

December 17, 2007

SafeFood During Holiday Time

SafeFood© Blogging

Welcome to the first SafeFood© Blog of Iowa State University’s Food Safety Project. We are hoping this site will further inspire you to advocate for safe food. With global sources of ingredients, centralized processing, and people eating more food prepared away from home, it is important we pay attention to the food we eat. Overall we have a safe food supply but it only takes one glitch – from humans or other sources – to mess up the system.

My name is Catherine Strohbehn and I am a Registered Dietitian and Certified Food Safety Professional who has worked in foodservice operations. I do understand the hectic nature of “back of the house” in foodservices. Part of my job as Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management Extension Specialist is to coordinate food safety training programs and manage the Food Safety Project web site.

My fellow bloggers include Dr Sam Beattie, a microbiologist who is the ISU Extension Consumer Food Safety Specialist; Dr. Jim Dickson, also a microbiologist who has worked extensively with food processors; Dr. Joe Sebranek, an animal scientist who studies effective meat processing systems; and Dr. Jim McKean, a veterinarian who has studied quality assurance in livestock production.

Each week, one of us will share our two cents worth about food safety topics we find of interest. I get to start – ladies first and all that!

It seems food is everywhere during this holiday season – between Thanksgiving and New Year’s I am likely to gain a few pounds from all the snacking that is available. Of course, I could “just say no”, but Kathy in the office makes her special almond toffee only at this time of year. And it is worth the wait – and also, the weight! There are times I do say no though, usually if I don’t know how, where, or by whom food was prepared.

I know my office group will not lick their fingers or have their cats on the counter, so I limit - strange word to use here - “treats to self” to those they have made. Although the sugar and fat content will likely not provide an environment for bacteria to grow and reproduce, viral infections of cold, flu or even norovirus or hepatitis A are concerns. Even healthy options of fresh vegetables pose risks!

But I avoid cookie exchanges, and even samples at the grocery store. The plastic gloves just don’t convince me that the food has been protected. Is this a classic case of “a little knowledge is dangerous”?

In this season of celebration and snacking, different approaches to food safety are evident. We see the risk-takers, like my husband who claims he “challenges his immune system” by eating an apple without washing it (although he does a quick, cursory rub on his chore jeans). He is not completely wrong as there is some research to support his philosophy. But – call me cautious - I question the five second rule (ok to eat dropped food if picked up within 5 seconds).

Everyone laughs at people who are overly cautious (the Felix type of personalities). Granted, we can’t live in bubbles. But we can take appropriate cautions. On behalf of the Felix’s in this world, I encourage a little wisdom and selectivity in food choices over the holiday season. You can possibly save a few pounds and keep yourself healthy. Be a SafeFood© Advocate!