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January 24, 2009

SafeFood© at The Office

No, this is not about the hit TV show, although there are plenty of opportunities to infuse some food safety messages into the scripts. This is about the real-life office kitchen. Most work places have a sink, coffee maker, dish rags, refrigerator, cooking unit of some type, (crock pot, toaster oven or hot plate) and of course a place to eat. Some are kept clean and tidy – and others look like kitchens of college students. A LOT of people usually just eat in at the office lunch room or at their desk rather than heading out – particularly in the tough economy and with increased work responsibilities. And a LOT of people from the office also get sick with colds or flu, or even a foodborne illness – coincidence, or not? So, how did admiral intentions (working at your desk turn into something with bad consequences?

Think about the cleanliness of the office kitchen area – what is extent of dirty dish clutter, soiled cloths (ironically used for cleaning) or food that is way past its prime stored in the refrigerator? Is there joint ownership in keeping the area clean – or does the first to get Yucked usually take care of it?

What can you do? Wash your hands with soap and warm water when you enter the kitchen – consider that the golden rule. Put your food on a paper towel rather than counter. Earmark your own dishware and silver rather than using community items.

Lets go further and help others. Get supplies on hand for cleaning - detergent soap, dish rack, chlorine bleach and sponge. Wipe down counters after use and once a week disinfect with a tablespoon of bleach mixed in gallon of warm water. (Not a bad idea for your own work areas also – the microbial gunk found on computer keyboards was a discouraging finding from a swab study a few years back). Toss all foods left at end of work week. Have a designated cloth washer (someone to take home at least at end of week, if not before). Research findings have also shown high transference of germs from “cleaning cloths” onto food contact surfaces.

There is always someone who needs remedial coaching on good hygiene practices. Put peer pressure to work - encourage personal use of items. Cry “foul” when someone double dips from a common bowl or doesn’t cough or sneeze into their sleeve. Collegiality in the work place is good – but sharing of our germs is not!
Submitted by Catherine Strohbehn, PhD, RD, CP-FS

January 08, 2009

SafeFood© - Good Food

Boy – a trip to the grocery store can sure make a dent in the wallet! Like many, I try to buy foods that have value – that is, they are good for my body and good for my pocketbook. It can be a challenge, but also a fun activity to see if I can outsmart the marketing folks.

Some tips:
Consider store brands for packaged foods as many of these are made in the same place as the name brands. Remember the black and white generic concept of the early 80’s? Well the store brands are similar. Try a taste test at home – I can’t tell the difference for many products and I bet you won’t either. The packaging ends up in the trash, so why pay for the glitz?

Look at what level of convenience you are buying. For side dishes, you still have to cook the rice or noodles at home so your convenience is not having to add the spices – for the money difference, I can add my own spices! And the sodium content is much less typically if make from scratch.

Fresh produce is usually rotated – so reach to the back of the display to get that head of lettuce (dark green rather than ice berg) rather than taking the one positioned in the front. You will get the newest product rather than the oldest – which means it will have a longer shelf life at home.

Read the labels – find out where the product was packaged. Country of Origin labeling should help you in making decisions. The food safety laws in the U.S. are some of the toughest in the world. Didn’t a food safety czar in one foreign country get the death penalty for his actions which resulted in harmful food?

Take control - if a lot of the food you intake is from sources you don’t control – think about taking some food preparation classes. Cooking is not just for Home Ec Beckies – we all enjoy eating and should know how to do it right. A USDA study found that foods with poor nutritional quality are often less expensive than more nutrient dense foods – but smart selections can save money. And with today’s economy, I would just as soon hang on to my money!