focus on » Fresh Produce Handling Especially for school nutrition managers, assistant managers and employees FRESH FRUIT & VEGGIE Challenges Fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables carry a perception of higher quality, improved taste and better nutrition. While some of these attributes may be arguable (and canned and frozen produce certainly offer many benefits), there’s no debating that fresh produce is on the rise in today’s K-12 school cafeterias. As school kitchens receive, store, prep and serve fresh fruits and veggies, employees need to be aware of their unique handling requirements. Fresh produce can: • spoil quickly • carry a higher risk for foodborne illness • require more labor time to prepare • require greater culinary techniques to prepare • appear imperfect and provoke distrust among student customers THE UGLY TRUTH ABOUT FRUITS AND VEGETABLES They say we eat with our eyes first, which explains why some of us avoid imperfect produce—kids and adults alike. Employ strategies to increase acceptability of produce that’s oddly shaped or inconsistent in coloring. • GET INTERACTIVE: Invite a local farmer to talk to students about variations in crops; ask them to highlight how much food gets wasted simply because of how it looks. • GET SOCIAL: Check out the @UglyFruitAndVeg Twitter feed for fun and funny photos of “ugly” fruits and veggies. Share these to help raise awareness that an odd appearance does not mean an unpleasant taste. • GET COMPETITIVE: Have an “Ugly Fruit and Veggie” contest of your own. Ask students to submit funny produce photos to win prizes, and use the images on your social media pages, displays, etc. • GET SERIOUS: Spread the word about food waste! Use signs and posters in the cafeteria, and share food waste stories on your social channels. • GET MOVING: Students learn to love ugly fruits and vegetables when they grow them in a garden or planter. Is it time to start that school garden you’ve been dreaming about? Produce in Schools: At a Glance WE’RE SEEING MORE FRESH PRODUCE IN SCHOOLS than ever before. From school gardens to farm to school initiatives, data shows that access to fresh fruits and vegetables at school is on the rise. The results of SNA’s School Nutrition Operations Report (2016) and the most recent USDA Farm to School Census (2013-14) are revealing: • Nearly 50% of responding SNA member districts implemented farm to school initiatives, an increase of more than 10% since 2014. • 66.5% of SNA surveyed districts offered salad or produce bars. • 57% of districts in SNA’s research reported offering locally sourced fruits and vegetables—a 5% increase from 2014. • 42% of districts surveyed by USDA said they participated in farm to school programs—that’s 42,587 schools in 5,254 districts. • 44% of school districts in the USDA research said they are maintaining school gardens—a 42% increase from previous reports. • In SY 2013-14, schools purchased almost $790 million in food from area farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors and manufacturers—a 105% increase over SY 2011-12. From Field to Fridge Proper storage is essential to preserving the quality of fresh fruits and vegetables, and temperature is the single most-important factor in storage. As with meats and dairy products, temperatures in produce receiving, storage and prep areas must be checked on a regular basis. For every 10 degree increase in temperature, a fresh fruit or vegetable item can lose up to half of its product life! Temperature fluctuates from the front to the back of a cooler due to the location of the cooling unit and the frequency of the door being opened. The graphic at left illustrates how to organize the items that need refrigeration in a way that will best preserve their quality. Note that some fresh fruits and vegetables should not be stored in cold temperatures, but simply cool ones; others do best under room temperature. CHOP, CHOP! Slice: The most basic style of cutting a produce item into small, manageable pieces. Julienne: A type of cut that is stick-shaped and very thin, similar to matchsticks. You will often see this used for carrots, peppers and zucchini. Dice: It can be easier to do if you julienne the item first; then bunch the sticks together to slice the pieces into small cubes. A Brunoise dice produces smaller cubes. Common items for dicing are carrots, onions and turnips. Mince: This comes from a particular knife movement that cuts diced items into the very smallest pieces. Chiffonade: This is used primarily for herbs or leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach or cabbage. Leaves are stacked on top of each other, rolled tightly to form a tube. Slices are cut from the tube to produce ribbon strips. Donna Myers SNA School Nutrition Employee/Manager Representative Making the Most of Your Fresh Produce When I learned that the topic for this issue’s Onsite Insights was on fresh produce handling, I’ll admit that I was a bit mystified about how to go about writing my column. We all love getting fresh produce into our school kitchens, and it’s wonderful to be able to serve these ingredients to our students. What else is there to say? Well, as you can see in these four pages, there’s quite a lot we need to keep in mind when receiving, storing, prepping and serving fresh produce in school kitchens. I’m learning a lot this month! It was recommended to me that I reach out to Chef Cyndie Story, PhD, RDN, CC, SNS, who is a popular trainer in school nutrition and quite the expert when it comes to working with fresh fruits and vegetables. She gave me permission to share with you many of the tips she sent to me. Storage. Chef Cyndie advises storing fruits and vegetables in separate areas of your walk-in. You want to prevent the ethylene gas released by many fruits from damaging your veggies. She also recommends storing potatoes at room temperature, because cold temperatures can turn the starch to sugar—creating a mealy potato. (Yuck!) Prep Musts. Always wash fresh produce under cold, running water before preparation. Some items, such as apples and oranges, may be washed a day in advance to save you time, says Chef Cyndie. However, if you receive pre-cut, washed produce items, you should not re-wash these in your kitchen, she warns. Check these packages when they are delivered to ensure that they have at least seven days or more before the expiration date. Prep Secrets. Chef Cyndie offers several creative ideas! Have your baby carrots turned white and gotten dry? If you steam these for just 30 seconds—and then chill immediately—it will brighten up the color. After washing a bunch of bananas, use a chef’s knife to cut through the stem. This will separate them easily, ensuring a smooth, appealing stem end. Is chopped kale on the menu? With freshly gloved hands, massage the leaves with your favorite vinaigrette dressing to make greens more tender. Stir fry chopped fresh vegetables together with diced frozen vegetables to save labor time. Similarly, “fresh up” your canned fruit inventory with fresh diced apples, blueberries, grapes or sliced strawberries. As we continue to receive new harvests of produce this summer and early next fall, I know these tips are going to come in handy! Bridge the GAP YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE for following strict food safety protocols to reduce the risk of foodborne illness outbreaks linked to the meals you prep and serve. When it comes to fresh produce, this includes such steps as rinsing items with cold, running water, avoiding cross-contamination, keeping items at proper temperatures, wearing gloves, washing your hands and so on. The farmers who deliver their harvest to your cafeteria should also be doing their part. They should be following Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs). GAPs are voluntary practices developed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA for fruit and vegetable growers to improve the quality and safety of fresh produce. GAP protocols describe key steps to minimize the contamination of produce. Farmers should develop a food safety plan with GAPs in four primary areas: soil, water, hands and surfaces. Following are just a few examples: • Manure is one of the most common forms of fertilizer used on farms, and growers should take special precautions such as applying it to soil at least two weeks before planting, at the end of the growing season or at least 120 days before the harvest. • Water used for irrigation, cooling, processing or cleaning equipment and facilities can be another potential source of contamination. Your grower should know the quality of the water used, regularly sending samples to reputable laboratories for analysis. • Food handlers in the fields or in processing facilities need to practice good personal hygiene, just as you do, and farms should be taking such steps as supplying liquid soap, potable water and single-use paper towels. • Soil and manure should be kept out of the processing facility and stored far away from growing and harvested items. Plastic storage totes and bins are easier to regularly clean and sanitize than baskets or bags. • Farmers also need to develop and implement plans to control animal contamination sources. Most of you don’t need to research all the details about a farm vendor’s GAP plan—that’s a responsibility for those who sign contracts with farmers. But it’s good, basic information to have in case you get questions from parents or teachers. GAP principles are good advice for managing school gardens, as well. FRESH PRODUCE MYTHS & FACTS MYTH: You can only get a foodborne illness from animal products, like meat and eggs FACT: Fruits and vegetables can carry many foodborne illnesses. In fact, one recent research study found that they were the source of the most illness outbreaks in the United States. MYTH: All fresh produce items should be stored under refrigeration to preserve quality. FACT: While this is true of many types of fruits and vegetables, there are some that should never be refrigerated, including bananas, onions, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Other items will do well under cool, but not cold conditions (45-50ºF), particularly beans, cucumbers, eggplant, grapefruit, citrus, peppers, potatoes and summer squash. MYTH: You don’t need to wash fresh produce if you are going to peel it; peeling removes any harmful bacteria. FACT: Peeling can actually transfer bacteria from the outside to the inside of your fruits or vegetables. Always wash produce first! MYTH: Using detergent on fruits and vegetables is more effective than just using water. FACT: Soaps and detergents are not safe to consume, and may linger on the produce. Rinsing produce in clean running water is the most effective way to remove bacteria safely.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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