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Summer Time, Flies and Food Safety

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Have you ever walked up to a restaurant where they leave the front door wide open? Well next time turn around! There are probably flies in this establishment.

Flies are not just a nuisance, large flies can present a serious food safety concern. Large flies including houseflies, bottle/blow flies and flesh flies are also called “filth flies” because they breed in filth such as manure, human excreta, dumpsters, garbage, and decaying vegetation, causing a major food safety risk.

What happens when a fly lands on your food?

A filth fly’s mouth looks like a soda straw so it can’t chomp into your hot dog like you do. It lands on your bun, spits on it, uses its legs to mash up what it just spit on, and then sucks it back up through its soda-straw mouth. At the same time, it can transfer E-coli, Salmonella, Listeria, Norovirus, or any number of other bacteria to that hot dog that you are about to eat. Like many pests, a fly doesn’t have any bladder control, so it might also leave excrement on your bun!

Avoid restaurants with open doors

Physical control methods should be prioritized. Flies should be prevented from entering a building in the first instance. All outside doors should never be wedged or held open. The only way to keep flies out of a food establishment is to create a physical barrier between the outside and the food service area. Also the outside of the building should be kept clean.

So before taking a bite of that burger that the fly landed on think about what flies like to land on: Dead things, poop, rotting food, and dumpsters. Next time you see a fly about, kill it quick. You might be preventing your family from getting sick.

Jasmine Davenport-Murray REHS

CEO of ARF Food Safety Consulting Group

Best Buy vs Sell By vs Use By vs Expiration Dates?

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Unfortunately confusion over date labeling leads to billions of pounds of food waste every year.
Why does it matter? Americans are throwing out at least 161 billion dollars in food each year. The average American family throws away 40% of their food. In terms of money, that’s hundreds every year in meats, fruit, vegetables and grain products. We will explain the difference between “use-by,” “sell-by,” and “best-by” dates.

Use-By/Best Buy

“Use by” date has a similar meaning to “best if used by.” It means the product will have the best qualities if consumed by the date noted. The USDA prefers manufacturers to add “best” to this phrase.
It means the product should retain maximum freshness, flavor, and texture if used by this date. It is not a purchase-by or safety date.
Beyond this date, the product begins to deteriorate, although it may still be edible.

Sell-By
This label is aimed to retailers, and it informs them of the date by which the product should be sold or removed from shelf life. This does not mean that the product is unsafe to consume after the date. Typically one-third of a product’s shelf-life remains after the sell-by date for the consumer to use at home.

Expiration Date
This phrasing is often present on packaging for meats and some dairy as some states require an expiration date on meat or milk. It’s best not to use the product past this listed date in those cases as it signifies when the food most likely will spoil. For other food items, the manufacturer may have simply chosen to use “expires by” instead of “best if used by” to warn that the product may be stale or have lost its flavor by that date. Check all food carefully for signs of spoilage.


Safe Handling is Key
Even if a product is well within its “sell-by” or “use-by” date, it can become unsafe for consumption if handled or stored incorrectly. Make sure to keep refrigerated foods below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and keep the unrefrigerated time, such as during transport, to less than two hours.

Fresh meat or produce should be handled safely to prevent cross-contamination from bacteria, which, if allowed to grow, can make any food unsafe, regardless of how fresh it is. Dry goods should be kept away from heat and moisture to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungus, and mold.

If, at any time, your food takes on an off odor or appearance, the packaging begins to bulge, or is otherwise compromised, it is best to play it safe and avoid consumption. When purchasing meat, poultry or fish the flesh should be moist never dry, never sticky and the flesh should spring back when touched. Not all bacteria responsible for food-borne illness produce odors or visual evidence of their presence, so these clues should not be used exclusively to determine the safety of your food.

Condiment Safety: Do condiments need to be refrigerated?

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Well….. The answer to this question is not totally straightforward. This is because acidity, salt and sugar (which ketchup has) tend to keep things safe on the shelf. The higher the salt and sugar concentrations decrease chances of bacterial growth. Let us explore other widely used condiments.

Butter
Even though butter is technically a dairy product and we can all agree dairy should definitely be kept cold, the FDA makes an exception for butter. Why? Unlike its milk and cream relatives, butter is not a Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) food, which means it can be eaten and stored safely at room temperature.

Mayonnaise
You may buy mayonnaise off a non-refrigerated shelf, but the second you pop the top, you must put it in the refrigerator. In fact, the USDA recommends opened mayo be tossed in the trash if its temperature reaches 50 degrees or higher for more than eight hours.

Hot sauce
This pantry staple can stay put. There’s little risk in not refrigerating hot sauce even after its opened, thanks to two key ingredients, vinegar and salt, which act as preservatives for up to eight weeks after its opened. But if you want to extend its shelf life, you can keep hot sauce in the refrigerator for up to six months.

Dijon Mustard
You (probably) paid a pretty penny for the special spicy punch of Dijon mustard—and if you don’t put it in the refrigerator, you could, as mustard giant French’s says, ruin its flavor profile. So while Dijon mustard won’t necessary spoil at room temperature, you’ll get more bang for your buck by keeping it in the fridge after it’s opened.

Honey
Not only is this sweet syrup totally safe to eat straight from the pantry, but you could be making it difficult to use if you put it in the refrigerator. As it cools, honey thickens—and it quickly becomes all-but-impossible to squirt out until it returns to room temperature once more.

Peanut butter
With the exception of natural peanut butters, this nutty spread can be safely kept in your cupboard for up to three months after its opened. But beware: because peanut butter has few preservatives, it can easily degrade. One easy way to keep it in tip-top shape is to use a clean utensil every time you scoop from the jar.

Soy sauce
It is best to move this salty product to your refrigerator once it’s opened. There, it can remain in its cool condition for a good 2 years—even though we know you’ll use it faster than that.

Olive oil
This go-to cooking ingredient last the exact same amount of time whether you keep it in your cupboard or in your refrigerator. (For the record, it’s about 12 months.) So we say keep it in a cool, dark place; it tastes better at room temperature anyway.

Salad dressing
It may be obvious to store creamy ranch dressing on your refrigerator’s shelf, but oily dressings such as Italian or a vinaigrette should be kept cold after opening too. That’s because their key ingredients—think things such as shallots and citrus juice—will go rancid without refrigeration.

JULY 18TH IS NATIONAL HOT DOG DAY!: Understanding Hot dog Safety.

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Food Safety Guidelines
The same general food safety guidelines apply to hot dogs as to all perishable products — “Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.”

Of course, never leave hot dogs at room temperature for more than 2 hours and no more than 1 hour when the temperature goes above 90 °F.

Pregnant women/Older adult precautions:

Although hot dogs are fully cooked, those at increased risk of foodborne illness should reheat hot dogs and luncheon meat until steaming hot before eating, due to the threat of listeriosis.

Listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria that cause listeriosis, can be found in the intestinal tracts of humans and animals, and in milk, soil, and leaf vegetables. The bacteria can grow slowly at refrigerator temperatures. Listeria monocytogenes can be in ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, fermented or dry sausage, and other deli-style meat and poultry, soft cheeses and unpasteurized milk. Symptoms of listeriosis include fever, chills, headache, backache, an upset stomach, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Persons who have ingested the bacteria may take up to 3 weeks to become ill. At-risk persons (pregnant women and newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems) may later develop more serious illnesses. Listeria monocytogenes can also cause miscarriages.

Cut Hot Dogs before Giving them to Children
For children younger than 4, whole hot dogs and other round foods can be a choking hazard. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that to prevent choking, cut hot dogs lengthwise or into very small pieces before giving them to children. If the hot dogs have a casing, remove it before cutting the hot dog into pieces for the child.

Jasmine Davenport-Murray REHS

ARF Food Safety Consulting Group

Does Drinking Alcohol Really Kill Everything?

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How many times have you said or have heard the statement “Alcohol kills everything”.

Remember a couple of years ago when investigations into the cleanliness of lemons used as drink garnishes made front-page news and seemingly every TV news show in the country covered the disgusting facts. Everyone was up in latex-glove-covered arms over the bacteria found on the lemons, leaving many people, even today, refusing a lemon as a garnish. However, it’s not just lemons that can cause such a furor. Yes, lemons need to be washed thoroughly and not handled with unclean hands before used as a garnish, but they’re not the only items that can spread foodborne illness from behind the bar.

There are a lot of foodborne illnesses that can be transferred through employees’ hands alone — E. coli, norovirus, even Hepatitis. Any garnish handled by a bartender not using gloves, tongs, or toothpicks can be contaminated by bartenders hands. Remember that same bartender is handling money, credit cards and taking the bottle opener out of their dirty pants pocket with their bare hands.  In fact, a recent study showed one in 10 bank cards were found to be contaminated with fecal matter. (Uh, gross!) Also researchers swabbed $1 bills to see what was living on paper currency. They found hundreds of species of microorganisms. The most abundant were ones that cause acne, as well as plenty of harmless skin bacteria. They also identified vaginal bacteria, microbes from mouths, DNA from pets and viruses.

But can alcohol kill such pathogens as bacteria and viruses??

Alcohol does not destroy bacterial spores!!!!
Bacterial spores—which can cause anything from food poisoning to anthrax. Bacterial spores also form when food is temperature abused so garnishes such as melons should be held under 41 degrees F.
Some good news, per the CDC, “Ethyl alcohol…is a potent virucidal agent inactivating all of the lipophilic viruses (e.g., herpes, vaccinia, and influenza virus) and many hydrophilic viruses (e.g., adenovirus, enterovirus, rhinovirus, and rotaviruses but not hepatitis A virus.
So no, you’re not safe against polio, but ethyl alcohol kills a bunch of terrifying viruses, right?
Yes, but—here’s the big caveat—only at concentrations over 60 to 80%, anywhere from 50 to 75% above most of the stuff we drink socially. Meaning if you are not drinking a cask strength whiskey (which usually clocks in at around 60 to 65%), you may wanna pass on the glass with garnishes.

Other Helpful Tips
When a cup is used to scoop ice the exterior of the cup which is handled by hands contaminates the ice.

Jasmine Davenport-Murray REHS

CEO ARF Food Safety Consulting Group

Five Keys to Safer Food

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This animated film was developed to explain the Five Keys to Safer Food to general public from 9 to 99 years old, and encourage their practice at home.  The Five Keys to Safer Food is a message that everybody should know all over the world to prevent foodborne diseases and improve health.

It’s Safe to Eat Romaine Lettuce Again, Says the CDC: The Question is “How do you Wash leafy greens?

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a statement  saying the outbreak of E. coli infections that impacted 15 states across the country “appears to be over as of January 25, 2018.” The CDC, along with several states, and the Food and Drug Administration, investigated the outbreak, interviewing 15 people who became sick between November 5, 2017 and December 12, 2017.

Even though the information the organizations gathered indicated that the most likely source of the outbreak in the United States was leafy greens, the specific type of leafy greens that served as the source of infection was not identified. Since leafy greens have a short shelf life, and since the last illness started over a month ago, the CDC says the contaminate is most likely no longer available for sale.

Fifty-eight people in the United States and Canada have become ill from a strain of E. coli bacteria over the past seven weeks, most likely from eating romaine lettuce, according to experts.

In the U.S., infections have occurred in 13 states, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington. So far five people in the U. S. have been hospitalized, and one has reportedly died in Canada.

How do Vegetables become contaminated?

Vegetables can be contaminated if animal feces are in the field or in irrigation or washing water. The bacteria can also be transmitted if a person who is carrying the bacteria doesn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom and then processes or prepares food.

How do you properly wash leafy Greens?

It’s important to note that washing your greens won’t necessarily get rid of dangerous E. coli in nooks and crannies of the leaves. Yet it’s still important to thoroughly wash your leaves before eating them.

The first step in preparation of fresh greens, whether produced organically or conventionally, purchased from a farmers market or supermarket, served cooked or raw, is to wash them properly. Here’s how:

  • Always start with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds or more with soap and warm water.
  • Cut away any damaged areas on leaves or stems before preparing or eating the greens. If something seems rotten, discard it.
  • Thoroughly wash them under running water just before chopping, cooking or eating. This will help reduce the presence of microorganisms. Hint: If you wash leafy greens before storing, you can potentially promote bacterial growth and enhance spoilage.
  • If lettuce has a core, such as iceberg lettuce, remove it before washing.
  • When you have loose leaves, such as mesclun, that can’t easily be held under cold running water, immerse the leaves in a large clean bowl or a salad spinner filled with cold water. Toss them around in the water for 30 seconds or more. Drain and repeat twice.
  • Never wash leafy greens with soap, detergent or bleach, since these can leave residues that are not meant to be consumed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t recommend using commercial produce washes because these may also leave residues.
  • If leafy greens are labeled as “pre-washed” or “ready-to-eat,” use them without additional washing, since it is unlikely to enhance their safety.
  • After washing fresh greens, pat them dry with paper towels or a freshly clean kitchen towel — or use a salad spinner — to help remove excess liquid.

Is it necessary to wash pre-washed leafy Greens?

YES. You can never be sure of how it was cleaned. It is much better to do something yourself.

Washing Meat: Does it Promote Food Safety?

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Historically, we equate washing to cleanliness. We wash clothes, linens, cars, dishes, and ourselves. So, it is logical that many people believe meat and poultry can be made cleaner and safer by washing it. Is this true? Does washing meat, poultry, eggs, fruits, and vegetables make them safer to eat?

Washing Meat and Poultry
Washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb, or veal before cooking it is not recommended. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. We call this cross-contamination.

Some consumers think they are removing bacteria and making their meat or poultry safe. However, some of the bacteria are so tightly attached that you could not remove them no matter how many times you washed. But there are other types of bacteria that can be easily washed off and splashed on the surfaces of your kitchen. Failure to clean these contaminated areas can lead to foodborne illness. Cooking (baking, broiling, boiling, and grilling) to the right temperature kills the bacteria, so washing food is not necessary.

Contamination

 

Using a food thermometer is the only sure way of knowing if your food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria. Cook all raw beef and veal steaks, roasts, and chops to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.

Soaking Meat and Poultry
What about soaking poultry in salt water? This is a personal preference and serves no purpose for food safety. If you choose to do this, however, preventing cross-contamination when soaking and removing the poultry from the water is essential. Meat or poultry should be kept in the refrigerator while soaking.

Sometimes consumers wash or soak country ham, bacon, or salt pork because they think it reduces the sodium or salt enough to allow these products to be eaten on a sodium-restricted diet. However, very little salt is removed by washing, rinsing, or soaking a meat product and is not recommended.

Cross-Contamination
Hand washing after handling raw meat or poultry or its packaging is a necessity because anything you touch afterwards could become contaminated. In other words, you could become ill by picking up a piece of fruit and eating it after handling raw meat or poultry.

Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, tending to a sick person, blowing your nose, sneezing and coughing, and handling pets.

It is important to prevent cross-contamination from raw meat or poultry juices by washing counter tops and sinks with hot, soapy water. For extra protection, you may sanitize with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.

Packaging materials from raw meat or poultry also can cause cross-contamination. Never reuse them with other food items. These and other disposable packaging materials, such as foam meat trays, egg cartons, or plastic wraps, should be discarded.

 

Tips for Fresh Produce Safety

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What is more refreshing than a sweet cold watermelon during the summer time!

While conducting a routine food safety audit for one on my clients I observed a food prep employee cutting a watermelon up to be served and sold at his food establishment. He had just purchased it from a local grocery store, placed it on a cutting board and and started to cut it up.  My role is to train and correct behaviors on site so of course I immediately stepped in to provide guidance on the correct safe way to prep watermelon.

Watermelon grows in the ground, the dirt. All produce grow either in the ground, above the ground or in trees. Either way it grows outside where it is exposed to the environment which includes but is not limited to contaminated air, animal feces, contaminated water etc. etc. It is pertinent that all produce is washed prior to cutting.

There is always a chance for bacteria to grow on the surface of a fruit or vegetable, so washing is important before cutting or peeling your produce, homegrown, or store bought.

Before cutting into them with a knife, hard fruits and vegetables should be scrubbed with a brush under running water, to rid them of soil particles and possible bacteria, viruses or parasites. To clean soft fruits like tomatoes, plums, apples or nectarines, hold them under running water and rub them all over. Berries should be gently washed in cool water and never soaked.

Using detergent to wash produce is a no-no. While washing fruits and vegetables using detergents might remove more bacteria and some pesticides, the soaps may also contain chemicals not intended to be on food.Once detergent gets into some food it is more difficult to remove than from dishes and it can make people sick. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – the three federal agencies involved in food safety activities – all recommend washing fresh fruits and vegetables with plain water and not with soap or other products.”

Below are more tips on buying, storing and preparing fresh produce:

Buying Tips

  • Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged.
  • When selecting fresh-cut produce – such as a half a watermelon or bagged salad greens – choose items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
  • Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products.

Storage Tips

  • Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms) in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40° F or below.
  • Refrigerate all produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled.

Preparation Tips

  • Begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce that looks rotten should be discarded.
  • All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking.
  • Many precut, bagged produce items like lettuce are pre-washed. If the package indicates that the contents have been pre-washed, you can use the produce without further washing.
  • Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first.
  • Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.
  • Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.
  • Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further reduce bacteria that may be present.

Jasmine Davenport-Murray REHS, CEO, ARF Food Safety Consulting Group