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May 11, 2009

SafeFood© is Possible

Unlike my fellow blogger, Bill Marler (yes the highly regarded food liability lawyer who blogs at http://www.marlerblog.com/2009/05/articles/case-news/marler-honored-blessed-hard-work-or-just-damn-lucky/index.html) I DO eat hamburgers. In fact (full disclosure here) my family is active in the beef production industry: my husband and daughter are beef producers and on occasion, I work with the state Beef Industry Council on student education programs. Marler’s recent blogs have commented on President Obama’s cavalier attitude when ordering hamburgers at a restaurant (a restaurant with a low inspection score) and how a “teachable moment” had been missed. I don’t disagree with this – and have long advocated for consumers to take control of situations. Don’t just order burgers cooked to the “medium” stage, specify you want an internal temperature reading of 160° F.

The restaurant should be able to deliver. So if your wait staff member looks confused, gently ask him/her to talk with the manager. You see, according to the licensing guidelines in most states (based on Food Code 2005), a calibrated thermometer should be on hand to check the final temperature. More recent guidelines specify the probe diameter (less than .065 inches) for thin foods (those less than 1/2”). Most hamburger patties fit the less than 2 inch thick description, so the appropriate thermometer should be available to check the temperature. Even better, the restaurant should record that this was done and by whom.

Yes, we have had problems in this country with outbreaks of foodborne illnesses – often due to dubious practices and failure to follow regulations. There needs to be strengthening of compliance – not more rules. Incentives, as Marler suggests, are a great idea – basic motivational research supports that approach. Yet everyone needs to take basic precautions – simply washing hands before eating, avoiding temperature abuse of foods, and cleaning food surfaces properly will go a long way to reducing risks. If President Obama had made a big deal of washing of his hands before eating, and of specifying the temperature of the burgers – that indeed would have been educational. Another food safety blogger (Doug Powell at KSU) once joked about carrying a thermometer to neighborhood grilling events. I guess that is no different than carrying hand sanitizers around. Seriously though, those are logical actions. In my view, these steps are much more logical than avoiding certain foods just because there is an element of risk – a risk that is mitigated by proper cooking. In fact, there are feces from some species of animals (birds, deer, wild pigs, pets etc) on fresh produce. That is why we wash fresh produce before eating. So fire up the grill and enjoy a juicy hamburger – just cook it completely.
Beef – it’s “what’s for dinner” in my house!

Submitted by Catherine Strohbehn, PhD, RD, CP-FS

May 07, 2009

SafeFood© No Time

Remember the classic Guess Who song – No time? That song struck a chord while I helped with a charity dinner recently. While I know a thing or two about safe food handling practices and usually ‘do the right thing’, doing the right thing when there are a zillion other items needing your attention, is a bit more of a challenge.

It is easy to see why there are so many food borne illnesses due to poor personal hygiene and improper food handling. What is the answer?

A logical response is to plan – make sure people know what they are doing and can focus on one thing at a time. This will work for routine daily operations.

Is the answer to have more people working? With volunteer situations, this really depends – how willing are the volunteers to wash their hands properly or not sample the products? Do the volunteers know how to clean or use a thermometer properly? For routine operations, more labor means more money spent for employees – and with the competitive market, mandated hourly wages, and low profit margins – this can make or break a business.
That said, it is a rare business that recovers from a headline about people getting sick from their restaurant so having enough folks on hand to work safely is preventative medicine.

The design of the kitchen could make a difference – having to navigate across the kitchen (dodging hot pans and sharp knives) to wash hands does not make it a user-friendly activity. Available sinks (with soap and disposable towels) for hand washing strategically located could make a difference.

Time for food safety has to be routine. You work time in your busy schedule to brush teeth and other routine hygiene practices (at least your co-workers hope you do)! It must be done for safe food handling - we can’t risk No Time for SafeFood© -

Submitted Catherine Strohbehn, PhD, RD, CP-FS May 7, 2009

SafeFood© Handlers

When watching the video of the pizza chain workers putting cheese up their nose and farting on pepperoni, I kept waiting for the “Surprise, You’re on Candid Camera”!

My second thought was “how could they do this?”
My third thought was “where were they raised?”

What would possess this type of behavior?
• Youthful high jinks? No, these folks were past clearly past that stage of their lives.

• Lack of knowledge? Nope, I am pretty sure the basics of food safety would have been covered in training and that someone at some point in these weirdo’s lives, it would have been mentioned not to pass gas on food.

• Disdain for the public? Am not a medical doctor and I don’t play one on TV, but maybe this was the driver for the behavior.

So, what is a consumer who loves pizza to do? DIY (make our own pizzas)? Isolate our selves from others?

What we can to protect ourselves?
Here are some tips:
• Scope out the look of those working at places where you buy food and eat
• Check out the restrooms to be sure there are hand washing supplies
• Watch the behaviors and, if you see something you find offensive
• Speak out – Let the person and the manager know!

submitted Catherine Strohbehn May 8, 2009