By Kelsey Casselbury 2016-01-25 21:38:03
In Fall 2015, quick-serve favorite Chipotle was splashed across headline news, but not for its indulgent burritos nor its vow to serve “Food with Integrity.” Rather, the Mexican fast-casual restaurant was in the spotlight because of multiple E. coli outbreaks in several states. As the year ended, more E.coli and Novovirus outbreaks were linked to the restaurant chain. The situation has led to a plunge in sales, a federal investigation into the incidents and, at press time, an announcement of a simultaneous one-day closure of every U.S. site on February 8 to discuss food safety practices. Chipotle wasn’t the only foodservice operation to serve contaminated food in recent months. In Idaho, 290 people were sickened with Salmonella in raw turkey, tomatoes and onions served from a Boise Co-op deli, while 280 fell ill and one person died from a foodborne illness acquired at a Lexington, N.C., barbecue restaurant. The list goes on and on—and that’s just in 2015. In fact, each year, according to federal statistics, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from consuming food or beverages tainted by one of more than 250 recognized foodborne diseases (from bacteria, viruses and parasites). When that sickness afflicts the very young or very old or someone with a compromised immune system, the situation can turn deadly. While school nutrition operations must adhere to more food safety regulatory requirements than commercial foodservice kitchens, incidents still arise. Not only are these devastating to your young customers, but they can decimate the reputation of your entire department. As unpleasant a topic as foodborne illness is, and as vigilant as you already are in your school kitchens and cafeterias, you simply cannot afford to grow complacent about this subject. This month, School Nutrition asked a number of SNA members to identify ingredients that they deem the most problematic and in need of the greatest attention. “In my opinion, any and all food can be hazardous if it is not handled properly from origin to service,” says Mary Klatko, who recently retired after 28 years as the director of Howard County (Md.) Public Schools. “Generally, entree products such as poultry and beef generate the most concern, but risks occur with all foods.” In interviews with other school nutrition professionals, three foods rose to the troublesome top (or sank to the bottom, as the case may be): poultry, melons and leafy greens. The good news: None of the school nutrition professionals that we spoke to reported a serious foodborne illness incident in their districts; however, there have been some close calls. “We did have concern over the sliced cucumbers that were contaminated in the early fall,” reports Suzanne Yamanishi, Food Service manager, Southside Elementary School, Hollister, Calif. “We counted and threw out all the cucumbers that we had purchased, contacted our vendor and got reimbursement, but we did not have any illnesses related to the contaminated produce.” Foodborne illnesses are just one risk of scratch or semi-scratch cooking, but it can be minimized by observation and taking precautions. “There is a lot more work to scratch cooking than buying processed foods, but it is worth it,” Klatko maintains. “Providing safe, nutritious foods with all the food safety aspects covered completely is best for our next generation of leaders, our students.” Food safety hazards lurk in every corner of a kitchen, but if you ask school nutrition professionals, three ingredients pose the greatest threat. What’s Your Go-To Protocol for Keeping Food Safe? “First, we keep our facilities extremely clean. We have developed our own food safety plan, using the guidelines from HACCP, and our supervisors monitor food safety practices in their weekly visits to each site. Our onsite kitchen managers monitor food quality and safety daily. Make friends with your health department—they are not the enemy! They can assist you and help with keeping a situation going from bad to worse.”—Bryan Ehrenholm, executive chef, Manteca (Calif.) Unified School District “We did a lot to make sure our staff knew what to do with all foods. First, you couldn’t handle food until you completed the 16-hour ServSafe course, developed by the National Restaurant Association* but taught by my area field staff. Once we wrote the monthly or cycle menu, we had frequent meetings with the prep managers and handling procedures. We had utmost confidence in our staff, and they never let us down.”—Mary Klatko, retired Food and Nutrition Service director, Howard County (Md.) Public Schools “We follow standard operating procedures, utilizing HACCP. We refrigerate items properly, especially sliced and chopped produce, at 41°F or lower. We also use a produce wash for certain items and, of course, all staff wear gloves when handling food products.”—Paula Angelucci, supervisor of Nutrition Services, Colonial School District, New Castle, Del. “We use different, clean cutting boards and cutlery when prepping food items. Gloves are changed, and hands are washed constantly. All surfaces are clean and sanitized between prepping different food items. All items are held at proper temperatures. All of my volunteers are also required to take a food safety handling course.”—Suzanne Yamanishi, Food Service manager, Southside Elementary School, Hollister, Calif. *For more information on the NRA’s ServSafe courses and certification, visit www.servsafe.com. Poultry Chicken nuggets, turkey sandwiches, chicken tacos—poultry is a verifiable school meal staple. However, it ranked at the top of our food safety hazards list by responding operators—and this perception is backed up by data. Although poultry doesn’t cause the most foodborne illnesses (that designation goes to leafy vegetables, which are often infected with norovirus), it does provoke the most number of food illness-related deaths. At one time, ground beef was the leading source of food poisoning because of deadly outbreaks of E. coli; however, significant food safety improvements have been seen in beef processing and handling, and that’s lessened the risk. A federal report released in 2013 noted that Salmonella, most commonly linked with poultry, is the cause of most food-related deaths, The second-most deadly pathogen, Listeria, is often associated with deli turkey meat (though, frequently, Listeria outbreaks can be traced back to cantaloupe or leafy greens). These pathogens that infect poultry are far more dangerous than viruses such as the norovirus, which are more commonly related to ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recieving and Storage. Although school nutrition purchasing agents can and should insist that all vendors practice appropriate food safety protocols, you have no other control over the handling of food items before they are delivered to you. Once items are in your facility, however, the onus is on you and your team to safely receive and store all deliveries. When you receive frozen poultry (or any frozen food, for that matter), double-check that items are frozen solid, without any signs of thawing and refreezing, such as large ice crystals, solid areas of ice, excessive ice in containers or wet spots on cardboard packaging. HACCP protocols indicate that you should then store raw meats in walk-ins by placing the foods that need the highest cooking temperature—poultry—on the lowest shelf. Thaw Law. Like most foodservice operators, you probably keep your raw chicken and turkey in the walk-in freezer for longer-term storage. Before you get to the cooking stage, you must carefully thaw the poultry in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave—never on the counter. It’s vital to properly thaw foods (or, when appropriate, cook from a frozen state) because, although cooking kills existing bacteria, it does not necessarily kill toxins or bacterial spores. The bacteria can re-germinate when conditions are right (such as when the poultry item is the temperature “danger zone”). According to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, it’s best to allow poultry to thaw slowly in the cooler (it can take one or two days). Incorporate that into the first step of your standardized recipes so a staff member doesn’t find themselves behind on prep and tempted to quickly thaw the food under hot water. You can let thawed chicken or turkey remain in the refrigerator an additional day without cooking, but if you thaw the poultry in airtight packaging in cold water, cook it immediately. Although thawing in a microwave oven is a safe method, it’s not considered a best practice in schools, according to the Institute of Child Nutrition (formerly the National Food Service Management Institute). If you do thaw in the microwave, cook the chicken immediately afterward to the correct temperature. It’s also safe to cook food from a frozen state, meaning that thawing is part of the cooking process. If it’s a frozen, packaged product, check packaging instructions for proper cooking times and temperatures. Otherwise, expect that cooking from a frozen state can take up to 50% longer than cooking fully thawed or fresh poultry, according to USDA. Cross-Contamination Hazards. While you might have learned from your mama to rinse poultry before you prep it, that advice is no longer sound; it boosts the chances that bacteria will be spread to other surfaces or foods. Indeed, a big threat when it comes to raw poultry is not the flesh of the chicken or turkey itself, but rather raw meat or its juices coming in contact with cooked foods or dishes that are going to be eaten raw (e.g. leafy green salads or fresh fruit). The biggest culprits are contaminated cutting boards, knives or gloves. “When you are handling raw poultry and pork, you should wear gloves and change them often,” advises Bryan Ehrenholm, executive chef for Manteca (Calif.) Unified School District. More specifically, according to HACCP standards, you should wash hands and change gloves in each of these situations: • Before beginning food prep • After touching equipment (such as refrigerator doors) that has not been sanitized or has been touched by other staff with bare or gloved hands • After coming into contact with chemicals • After any interruption in food prep, such as if you receive a delivery or answer the phone • After handling money • Whenever a glove is damaged • Whenever a glove could have become contaminated, even through touching your own body, such as when you scratch an itch or push hair back. • When changing food prep tasks to handle other raw or cooked items or the prep tools you are using for those items After cutting raw poultry (or meat or seafood, for that matter), sanitize the cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops used with a solution of 1 tsp. of chlorine bleach mixed with 1 qt. water. Always use separate cutting boards and knives for fresh produce and raw animal products. Cooking, Holding & Serving. Cook all poultry to 165°F (use a food thermometer and test the thickest part of the meat!) and refrigerate promptly, using a proper cooling procedure—that is, of course, unless it’s immediately going onto the hot serving line. In that case, hot foods must be held at 140°F or above. If you’re putting poultry on the serving line cold, such as in chicken salad or on a salad bar, it must be held at 45°F or below. Take the internal temperature of the food every two hours to verify that it’s being held safely. If the temperature reads below 140°F or above 45°F, but it was at a safe temperature at the last temperature-taking two hours ago, reheat or rapidly chill the food to the appropriate temperature. If you don’t know how long it’s been at an unsafe temperature, discard the food. You’re Now Entering… The Danger Zone A key facet of food safety is keeping hot food hot and cold food cold. Failure to do so could cause the temperature of the food to enter “The Danger Zone,” which occurs when cold food goes above 40°F and hot food drops below 140°F for two or more hours. In this zone, bacteria—including Salmonella and E. coli—can grow and cause illnesses. Scary stat: When food is left in The Danger Zone, these harmful bacteria can double in number in as little as 20 minutes. Keep in mind, each individual health department might alter these numbers slightly, so check with your local agency. Safe Food Temperatures To ensure that pathogens are killed, cook foods to the following temperatures and ensure the reading lasts at least 15 seconds: 165°F All types of poultry, stuffing, stuffed meats, stuffed pasta, casseroles, leftovers 155°F All ground meat, excluding ground poultry 145°F Beef and pork roasts, beef steaks, ham, fish, eggs 135°F Ready-to-eat foods from commercially processed, sealed packages; frozen or canned vegetables Leafy Greens Greens such as lettuce, spinach and kale are superfoods, no doubt due to their high content of vitamins and minerals. But they’re also a hotbed for bacteria. The No. 1 tip to avoid contaminated greens, Ehrenholm advises, is to have complete and total faith in your supplier—and cheaper does not mean better in this case. “The school system buys a tremendous amount of fresh produce that is washed, processed and bagged to save time,” he notes. “When you receive your produce, you should check its temperature as soon as it enters your kitchen door, store it in the cooler immediately and then when getting ready for use, do a quick visual inspection to ensure that everything is fresh, green and not wilted.” Paula Angelucci, supervisor of Nutrition Services, Colonial School District, New Castle, Del., echoes the value of reliable suppliers, noting that she discontinued purchasing produce from several vendors after finding that it wasn’t of good quality, nor was it delivered in a safe and appropriate manner. At all stages of the food prep process, from receiving deliveries to putting food out on the line, always separate unwashed fruits and vegetables from those that have been washed, along with other ready-to-eat foods, to avoid cross-contamination. Prep Steps. When you’re handling leafy greens, follow these safety steps: 1) Wash hands with hot soapy water for at least 20 seconds. 2) Throw away the outer leaves for items such as lettuce or cabbage. 3) Wash the greens under running water that is safe to drink. 4) Avoid using bleach or soaps while washing. 5) For items that will be eaten raw, dry the produce with a paper towel. If the greens are going to be cooked, leave them wet. Drying could affect the quality of the finished dish. For more details about handling whole and bagged leafy greens, check out “Leafy Greens 101” in the October 2015 issue of School Nutrition . To Soak or Not to Soak? One school of thought finds sense in leaving greens to soak as a means to help wash away bacteria, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration actually cautions against leaving produce in standing water. Use a sink sprayer or place the greens in a colander to let running water pass through the produce instead. Farm-to-School Produce In Ehrenholm’s district, they operate a large farm as part of the program, from which they harvest fresh produce. In these situations, the responsibility for good safety procedures increases. “When we harvest, [the greens are] first washed right out of the field, then sent to our sites, where it is inspected and triple-washed before it is processed for service,” he explains. (For more advice about school garden food safety, see “Safety From Seed to Service” on page 36.) Better in Bags? Leafy greens that arrive in sealed bags that are labeled “washed,” “triple-washed” or “ready-to-eat” are safe to consume without any additional washing, according to the University of Minnesota Extension. It’s tempting to give it another spray to make sure the greens are clean, but in truth, you just risk cross-contamination from both your hands and any surface contact. Iowa State University offers a series of nine Leafy Greens Safe Handling Posters, free of charge, that you can hang in your kitchen. The posters are full-color, 11-in.x17-in. in size and available in English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. To download your high-resolution, print-ready PDFs, visit https://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/Leafy-Green-Safe-Handling-Posters. When Should You Sanitize? Regularly sanitizing kitchen surfaces, equipment and utensils is vital to ensuring food safety. If you’re wondering when you need to sanitize properly, the fact of the matter is that you can’t really over-sanitize. You should always sanitize sinks, tables, equipment, utensils, thermometers, carts and equipment in the following circumstances: • Before each use; • Between uses when preparing different types of raw animal foods (poultry, meat, fish, etc.); • Between uses when preparing raw animal foods and then ready-to-eat foods; and • Any time you suspect that contamination has occurred. Melons Melons (including honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon and more) might seem an innocuous fruit, but it is one that is frequently being indicted in foodborne illness outbreaks. That may seem surprising, as one might expect their thick rinds to be impermeable to bacteria. But in just one month in 2012, 141 people in 20 states were sickened from Salmonella-contaminated melons that came from just one farm in Indiana. In October of that same year, 30 people died and 150 fell ill from cantaloupes contaminated with Listeria, again from a single farm source. Therefore, it’s become even more important to treat melons with the same care that you would leafy greens and other raw produce. Overall, produce in school meals is getting more scrutiny, Klatko observes. “The fruit and vegetable part of the school meals program is drawing a lot of attention lately, because of errors in the fields that allow for contamination. Farms we buy from should have the GAP (Good Agriculture Practices) certification signifying they have met a whole list of criteria, such as developing and implementing a food safety plan and [performing] the food safety audit, including [providing] restroom and hand washing facilities in the fields. This will stop a lot of the problem with recalled vegetables and fruit,” she notes. Klatko also maintains that the “Buy America” requirement in the federal school meals programs is vital: “Buy America gives you added insurance that foods are properly inspected for food safety along the way, from producer to school receiving,” she says. Why Melons? What it is about melons that make them so risky? It’s typically due to growing methods, as well as unsafe food prep. Melons grow on the ground and come in contact with pathogens via non-composted fertilizers, pesticides and poor handling by farm workers. While those pathogens can’t enter the melon, due to its hardy rind, a knife cutting into an unwashed melon transfers the “icky” stuff from rind to flesh. The nonacidic fruit readily supports the growth of those pathogens on its flesh, which is the part we eat. Handling Procedures. When your supplier delivers a shipment of melons—particularly cantaloupes—inspect it carefully to ensure that it’s not bruised or blemished in any way. Melons that have signs of decay or damaged rinds might already have been contaminated by bacteria. Refrigerate a melon promptly until you’re ready to use it, says Yamanishi, adding that you should wash it with as much care as you would wash dishes. Cantaloupe has a rough texture that provides plenty of attachment points for bacteria to grow, so you should really scrub it vigorously with a clean produce brush. Then, wash your hands again before cutting into the fruit. Merchandising on the Safe Side. Even if you prep the melon safely, bacteria can rapidly grow on cut melons. As a precaution, always refrigerate it after prepping and, if you merchandise fresh fruit on the serving line, place the items in a refrigerated case that’s set to 41° F or below. If, for some reason, you’ve displayed them at above this temperature, they must be discarded after four hours. All melons, even those that have been held at safe temperatures, should be consumed or discarded within seven days. Other Troublesome Ingredients Certainly, food safety risks aren’t limited to these three spotlighted ingredients. When polled, school nutrition professionals also identified the following problematic foods: PORK. The risks for raw pork are very similar to that of chicken, though it’s also susceptible to the foodborne illness trichinosis, which can present in undercooked pork. Safely thaw raw pork the way you would thaw poultry, and always cook it to 145°F for chops and roasts and 160°F for ground mixtures. BEEF. Again, like poultry and pork, raw beef should be safely stored, thawed and cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F. Ground beef is particularly at risk for containing a pathogen like E.coli. TOMATOES. At least one outbreak in the Chipotle fiasco was caused by Salmonella-contaminated tomatoes. A food safety risk can be diminished by washing the tomatoes thoroughly, using a clean, sanitized knife and dedicated cutting board during prep and storing and merchandising the cut produce at proper temperatures (below 41°F). Discard unused cut tomatoes within seven days. AIRY PRODUCTS. Dairy was the second-most-frequent food source for infections in the United States. Much of the risk comes from unpasteurized products—not a problem when ordering for school meals. But the need to keep all dairy items at refrigerated temperatures means they can spoil quickly in the temperature Danger Zone. After delivery, inspect containers for leaks or other damage, refusing to accept the shipment if you spot problems. Store dairy products in their original containers in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Kelsey Casselbury is the managing editor of School Nutrition. Photography by Thinkstock.com.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/The+Big%2C+Bad+Three/2378325/288558/article.html.