Over 3 million cases of food-borne illness are reported every year in the United States; some cause minor flu-like symptoms and some can be fatal. All food-borne illnesses pose a health threat to consumers and financial threats to the institutions to which they are linked. This is bad news, no matter how you look at it. Food safety is everybody's business and requires no extra special equipment or understanding of advanced technology. The simple messages to get across are: wash your hands, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, and keep raw food and it’s equipment separate (to avoid cross contamination). If consumers and food workers understand these easy steps, much of food borne illness could be eliminated.
Remind your clients that hands should be washed with soap and hot water for a minimum of twenty seconds. I like to have an impromptu "wash-in" every once in a while. Gather everyone handling food, have them remove rings and bracelets (and no nail polish, of course!) and have everyone vigorously "wash" their hands (doing a dry run of the elbow to finger tip motions) for a countdown of twenty seconds. It really heightens awareness! Songs, such as Happy Birthday or the ABCs can be helpful for younger audiences.
Role-playing is another way to get people thinking about how food-safe they really are. Doris the Deli Clerk was a "living tool" designed by the American Culinary Federation to teach food safety to community kitchen cooks. A member of the staff was asked to dress and behave as unsafely as possible; seminar participants were asked to identify all food safety violations. Doris usually displayed chipped nail polish, unwashed hands, missing earrings and generally substandard hygiene. She cross-contaminated and temperature abused food. She was a food safety disaster and an excellent way to get across the idea of handling food correctly. People were able to see the need for food safety vigilance and have some entertainment while they learned. Ask your clients to become Doris and critique each other.
Food Safety Musical Chairs is a fun and fast way to teach food safety. Prepare flash cards with food safety "yes" and no's" and place on chairs. Start with a chair for each client. Have clients circulate to music. When the music stops they all need to grab a chair. Those with safety "yes" on their chairs continue, those with "no's" are disqualified and remove their chairs. Continue until only one food safety client remains. Have food safety prizes, such as antibacterial sponges or food thermometers.
Explain color-coding systems to clients. Cutting boards can be purchased already colored and hand equipment can be coded with colored tape placed around handles. Prepared food can be labeled with colored dots to ensure proper rotation and use. Encourage clients to have separate equipment for meat products and vegetable products.
The USDA publishes a newsletter, The Food Safety Educator, which is free to the industry (see page 95 for information). Information is given on food safety teaching, updates from the Centers for Disease Control, and even marketing tips for encouraging food safety. "Fight Bac!" is a current USDA teaching instrument www.fightbac.org and "Thermy- it's safe to bite when the temperature is right!" is being launched-www.fsis.usda.gov/thermy or 800-535-4555.
Here's an easy way to teach your clients what bacteria needs to grow (and how to keep the foods they prepare safe):
- F= food: no food, no growth, so keep it clean!
- A= acid or pH: bacteria which cause food-borne illness grow in a neutral environment, such as is found in protein foods, cooked grains and rice and dairy products. Pay extra attention to their handling
- T= time: 4 hours is the maximum time for perishable foods to be in the temperature danger zone
- T= temperature: bacteria grow best between the temperatures of 41-140 degrees F, so, keep hot foods hot (above 140) and cold foods cold (below 41)
- O= oxygen: know which bacteria need air ( such as e.coli, listeria and salmonella) and which live without air (such as botulism) and handle foods accordingly
- M= moisture: uncooked rice does not support bacterial growth, but add water, and watch out; bacillus cereus, here we come!
By Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. But after learning that the quality of a croissant directly varies with how much butter it has, Judy sought to challenge herself by coming up with recipes that were as healthy as they were tasty.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.