By Cecily Walters 2015-10-05 22:05:42
Leafy Greens Safety 101 Is the bounty of green produce you serve students safe to eat? Review proper handling techniques. However long you’ve been working in the school nutrition profession, it’s important to regularly refresh your understanding of different food safety steps—especially considering that your team is likely working to menu more fresh produce today than ever before. Do you and your team know how to correctly handle, prep and serve leafy greens? Whether they are fresh and whole right from a local farm or pre-packaged, cut and bagged from a reputable processor and distributor, leafy greens have frequently been found to be a source of foodborne illness. According to a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, 22% of all foodborne illnesses reported during the time period examined in the study were attributed to leafy vegetables—more than any other of 17 specific food categories. Illnesses associated with leafy vegetables were the second most-frequent causes of hospitalizations. Produce-containing foods were the source for numerous norovirus outbreaks, as well as E. coli O157 infections. Produce-related illnesses often come from improperly washed leafy greens, cross-contamination or hygienic lapses by a food preparer infected with norovirus. To help communicate information about proper techniques for handling leafy greens in foodservice operations, a research team led by Catherine Strohbehn, PhD, RD, CP-FS, extension specialist and adjunct professor at Iowa State University, developed a series of nine food safety education posters. The minimal-text posters to promote safe food handling of both fresh and bagged leafy greens. The procedures described throughout this article reflect the content of the team’s posters and overall safe produce handling procedures. Whole Leafy Greens Before handling or preparing whole leafy greens, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Clean and sanitize the work surfaces you’ll be using. Wash your hands again, then wash the greens very well under clean running water, getting all parts of the leaf and stem. Don’t wash the greens in a dishroom, three-compartment or handwashing sink. Don’t mix more than one type of greens when washing. Produce should be washed just prior to meal preparation and service. After you’ve washed the greens thoroughly, drain or spin the excess water. Wash your hands once more and put on gloves for any meal preparation steps, such as chopping the greens, adding them to recipes or assembling them on sandwiches. Change your gloves anytime you change tasks, as well as any occasion when they may have been contaminated by coming in contact with other foods and surfaces. If you are storing unwashed or washed whole leafy greens for later service, they should hold for up to one week in the refrigerator. To ensure best quality, pay close attention to temperature and humidity levels. Cover and label whole leafy greens with a preparation notation and date (i.e. if and when they were washed) and a use-by date. Store the produce in clean, clear plastic bags or other clean containers. Place in a chiller at 41°F or lower somewhere above other raw and cooked foods. Bagged Leafy Greens Are you working with bagged leafy greens that were washed by a food processor before being bagged and sealed? You still need to take care. Don’t rewash the greens if the bag is labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed” or “triple washed.” Bagged leafy greens can remain in their package until use or you can transfer them (after washing your hands) into a clean and sanitized container that you cover and label. Either way, store these above other raw or cooked foods at 41°F or lower. When you’re ready for service, wash your hands and put on gloves before plating the greens or using them in recipes. To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, observe any “use by” dates printed on bagged leafy vegetables and salad mixes. Prewashed greens from a bag that has been opened should hold three to five days if properly refrigerated. To Have and to Hold Whether you’re serving whole or bagged leafy greens, take note of the beginning time that any cut greens are displayed without refrigeration, such as on a salad or food bar. Cut greens can be held without refrigeration for up to four hours, but any unconsumed greens must be discarded at the end of that period. Do not re-refrigerate to use again. Think Before You Touch When performing any of the steps mentioned in this article, always keep cross-contamination at front of mind. Be sure not to touch your hair or face, tablet computers, kitchen or cell phones, equipment or garbage during any of the steps you’re performing with leafy greens. If you do, stop immediately, wash your hands and change your gloves. Do not alternate tasks without washing your hands, changing gloves and re-cleaning and sanitizing knives, cutting boards and other utensils/equipment. Ready to Serve Will it be spinach, iceberg or romaine that you’ll offer students today? Now that you’ve brushed up on your reminders for handling leafy greens, you can feel confident that you’re providing healthy menu items that have been handled safely every step of the way. Free Food Safety Resources Catherine Strohbehn, PhD, RD, CP-FS, extension specialist and adjunct professor at Iowa State University, and her fellow researchers from that institution and Kansas State University presented “Handling Leafy Greens Safely: Posters for Use in School Kitchens,” a poster displayed at the School Nutrition Research and Best Practices Showcase at SNA’s Annual National Conference in Salt Lake City. The group’s visual presentation detailed their development of a set of posters, which were created with support of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. Before the team developed the posters, they observed employees at eight foodservice sites during times when leafy greens were being prepared and handled. They took samples of leafy greens and contact surfaces within the areas used for receiving, preparation and service. The researchers also interviewed employees responsible for handling leafy greens. From there, Strohbehn and her team began to develop nine posters that contained minimal text and addressed topics related to the safe handling of leafy greens. The primary messages focused on handwashing, produce cleaning, storage, handling and cross-contamination from personnel and food contact surfaces, explains Strohbehn. The team made the posters available in English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, noting that U.S. Census Bureau data indicate that Hispanics and Asians make up a large percentage of the U.S. workforce in foodservice operations. ions. After the poster series was developed, Strohbehn and her team solicited feedback from an advisory board with expertise in food safety and foodservice operations; foodservice managers in a variety of settings; and university students enrolled in hospitality sanitation and safety courses. Employees involved with food handling at the initial sites observed by the researchers, including a subset who read Mandarin Chinese and Spanish as their primary reading languages, also provided feedback. The comments led to some modifications. The posters were placed at the sites of the original research. Data revealed the posters had made a positive impact, with improvement in several safe food handling behaviors among the foodservice workers (glove changes, proper cleaning/sanitizing, cross-contamination avoidance) and increased compliance rates with Food Code best practices. The Iowa State and Kansas State researchers encourage school nutrition operators to download the complete set of free posters in one or more of the available languages at http://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/HS7. They can be printed and distributed throughout your district’s school kitchens. Cecily Walters is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore., and a former managing editor of SN.
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