Activity Idea: Teaching Food Safety

I don’t watch television cooking shows very often, because their food safety practices usually upset me.

I once watched a popular show (the hostess is a household name that I won’t mention) and spotted at least three things that I would consider food safety problems — these included unsafe recipes for food preservation and cooking temperatures that were just WRONG.

I’m not the only one who is concerned about these shows and what they are teaching (or not teaching) their audiences.  Back in 2004, a research project looked at over 60 hours of cooking shows. They spotted an unsafe handling practice every four minutes. More recent research studies have shown similar results.

It isn’t getting better.

All of the studies documented a lack of handwashing, cross-contamination between raw and ready-to-eat food, and not using a thermometer to ensure that the foods have been cooked properly.

Other unsafe practices spotted include: fly-away-hair, chipped nail polish, potential contamination with wiping cloths, not washing produce, touching ready-to-eat food with bare hands (combined with inadequate handwashing), sweating onto food, touching hair, licking fingers, double dipping with tasting spoons, and eating while cooking.

One of the studies noted that — not surprisingly — only 13% of the shows they watched mentioned any type of food safety practice.

While I know that these shows are produced primarily for entertainment, I wish they would do a better job of modeling good food safety procedures.  They have the opportunity to teach millions of viewers, but they don’t.

So I had an idea for those that teach food safety.

Have your students watch a few of these shows and note the unsafe practices. Perhaps you could watch a few together and then discuss what they saw and why they identified those items. Have them check too for any good practices or mention of food safety too.

They’ll never look at a cooking show the same way again.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

References:

  1. Mathiasen, L.A., Chapman, B.J., Lacroix, B.J. and Powell, D.A. 2004. Spot the mistake: Television cooking shows as a source of food safety information, Food Protection Trends 24(5): 328-334.
  2. Nancy L. Cohen, Rita Brennan Olson. Compliance With Recommended Food Safety Practices in Television Cooking Shows. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 2016.
  3. Curtis Maughan, Edgar Chambers, Sandria Godwin. Food safety behaviors observed in celebrity chefs across a variety of programs. Journal of Public Health, 2016.

And here are a few fantastic resources for National Nutrition Month!

Keep Your Family Healthy in the New Year

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Everywhere you look this time of year, someone is suggesting a resolution (or two or three) that you should keep. I’m going to chime in on this, too, with four really simple things that you can do to help keep your family healthy.

  1. Invest in a good tip-sensitive digital-read food thermometer and use it! Cooking food to the recommended minimum internal temperature is the only sure way to destroy bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses such as salmonella and E. coli.
  2. Buy a couple of refrigerator and freezer thermometers and put them to use. Monitor these temperatures frequently. Your refrigerator should be below 40 degrees F and the freezer should be close to zero degrees F. These are also great tools to have in place when determining the safety of foods after a power outage. Proper refrigerator and freezer temps can extend the time food can be kept. Recommended leftover storage is 4 days at 40 degrees or below.
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  3. Get yourself several dishwasher-safe plastic cutting boards. Designating specific colors for different foods (such as yellow for raw chicken and green for fresh veggies) can help prevent cross-contamination. Change mats frequently during food prep and wash them thoroughly in the dishwasher.
  4. Wash your hands frequently and encourage your family to do it, too! You probably don’t need to be reminded to wash after using the restroom, but also think about washing before cooking, before eating (even in a restaurant), after blowing your nose or sneezing and especially after changing diapers. Be extra diligent with handwashing when you are living with someone who is ill or in a confined area with a large group of people, such as a cruise ship or college dorm. Handwashing is the best way to prevent the transfer of norovirus.

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Best wishes for a happy and food safe new year!

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Here’s a free printable handout that features these resolutions. How will you use your copy?

4resolutionsforhealth

And here are some other useful tools from the Nutrition Education Store!

Glove Story

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I like to teach with stories.  I think people learn best when they can visualize or relate to a situation. Here’s a story I tell my restaurant manager food safety classes about glove use…

I was at a grocery store with my aunt after church one Sunday morning. This store had ready-to-eat foods and several small tables that allow people to order food, then sit and eat within the store.

We observed a worker serving a breakfast pizza. Here’s how it went: the customer ordered a slice of pizza, then the clerk carefully put gloves on — using one hand to make sure the glove was on the other. She picked up the pizza slice with her gloved hand and put it in the microwave. While it was heating, she rang the sale up on a cash register and took the customer’s money… with her gloved hands! Then she removed the slice from the oven, put it on a paper tray, and handed it to the customer. As she handed it to the customer, her thumb was firmly touching the pizza slice.

This is a real story — not changed or embellished for the sake of education.

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What did she do wrong? Did she do anything right?

First, she should have washed her hands before putting on the gloves. She may have contaminated the gloves when she touched them with her bare unwashed hands and then potentially transferred a pathogen to the pizza.

Using the cash register and taking money with gloved hands is just wrong. She could have then transferred pathogens from the cash register and money to the pizza.

All of this was happening with someone who thought she was doing the right thing.

I think sometimes people think that once they have gloves on, they can do anything and be “safe.” Contaminated gloves can be just as bad as unwashed hands and bare hand contact with food. In this case, perhaps the cleanest surfaces in this place were her hands inside the gloves. Then again, I didn’t see her wash them, so maybe not.

Unfortunately, this person was not trained well in glove use. In this situation, she may not have even needed gloves in the first place. She could have picked up that pizza with tongs or a deli sheet and put on the tray.

If you’re teaching food service workers about glove use, here are the basic tips to remember from my story…

  • Wash your hands before putting on gloves for food-related jobs
  • Change your gloves when changing tasks
  • Change your gloves after they become dirty or when they are ripped.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Check out this free food safety handout!

fourstepsfoodsafety

And don’t miss these other great resources…

The #1 Way to Prevent Foodborne Illness

Wash Your HandsYou’ve probably seen these signs posted in public restrooms — in fact, health departments in most states require them for restaurant and food service workers.

What signs am I talking about?

The handwashing signs. You know, the ones that state: “Employees must wash their hands before going back to work.”

While I do feel strongly that all employees must wash their hands after using the restroom, I really wonder if the signs make a difference. Would you remember to wash your hands after seeing this sign if you weren’t inclined to do it anyway?

That said, if these signs remind just one worker, it’s a plus.

But now I want to talk about a different sign I saw recently. On the back of the door of a fast food restaurant, I found a sign that said “Our employees wash their hands… and so should you!”

YEAH!

Handwashing is considered the number one way to prevent foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (aka the CDC) call handwashing a “do-it-yourself” vaccine that you can do to reduce the spread of illness.

Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities (like going to the restroom) is one of the best ways to remove germs and prevent the spread of germs to others.

You see, human feces are a source of germs like salmonella, E.coli, and norovirus. These pathogens can get onto hands after people use the restroom. Research by Franks et al. in 1998 showed that a single gram of human feces can contain one trillion germs. If not washed off, these germs can contaminate surfaces like tabletops, door knobs, and handrails, along with getting into food and drinks.

YUCK!

Now I know that this isn’t rocket science, or even new information. I was recently teaching food safety at a local restaurant and they showed me an old sign in their employee restroom. They said it has been there since 1958, before they owned the restaurant. It’s still hanging next to the current version of the handwashing sign.  Perhaps the two signs together will at least catch the attention of their workers.
I like what this older sign say “State law and COMMON DECENCY… require that every food handler wash his hands after a visit to a toilet…” and so should you.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Help spread the word about the importance of handwashing with this fantastic PDF handout!

Wash Your Hands

And here are a few more health and wellness resources, straight from the Nutrition Education Store!

Flu Prevention Poster

Food Safety Video

Healthy Kitchen Poster

Preventing the Spread of Norovirus

Cruise Ship in PortIt seems like every couple of months we hear about a cruise ship that came back to port because of an illness outbreak on board. Does this make you want to think twice (or three times) about getting on a cruise ship?

We went on a fairly long cruise last year that had very few ports of call. We knew that once we got on the ship we were going to be there for the duration.

Yes, I gave this a second thought. What if we got sick? It could be miserable. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a small ship’s cabin when you have diarrhea and vomiting.

Quite frequently the illness found on cruise ships is a norovirus. It can be introduced into a cruise ship by passengers or crew members alike. Why cruise ships? Well, on a cruise, lots of people from all over the world come together to live in confined areas with shared dining rooms and close living quarters.

Norovirus is highly contagious and one of the most common pathogens to cause a foodborne illness. Norovirus is frequently transferred by food handlers dealing with ready-to-eat food.

The symptoms of norovirus include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramps. These symptoms can develop within a few hours or a few days after a person is infected and can last for a couple days. People with norovirus are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill, and they can remain contagious for up to two weeks after the symptoms appear.

Most norovirus illnesses happen when infected people spread the virus to others. It can also be spread through contaminated food or water, or by touching things that have the virus on them.

You think this is scary for a cruise passenger — think how concerned the cruise companies are about it! Turning a ship around because of a norovirus outbreak could cost them plenty, not only financially but also in terms of reputation.

I have to say that I was very impressed with the efforts the staff of our cruise ship made to prevent the spread of an infectious virus.

Sinks for WashingFor example, we saw our cabin steward the first day and then not again. I asked about him and was told he was sick and confined to his cabin for the rest of the cruise. Employees exposed to norovirus need to be restricted from work with food for at least 48 hours from the time of exposure.

Moreover, the cruise directors announced that officers would not be shaking hands at the special Captain’s Reception. This abstention helps to prevent passing the virus from person-to-person — very proactive.

However, I did make a mistake one morning.

I was heading to a container of ice water to refill my water bottle and was stopped by a crew member. He said that I could transfer germs from my previously-used water bottle to the tip of the water container, and then that could spread to others. I hadn’t thought of that — what a good catch!

Here are some more steps that the ship took to help reduce the spread of disease.

  • Signs around the ship and on the television constantly reminded passengers to wash their hands.
  • There were sanitizer dispensers throughout the ship. Some were strategically placed outside the entrances of dining rooms and buffets. While sanitizers should not be used in place of proper handwashing, it was a better option than doing nothing.
  • I found handwashing sinks near some of the out-of-the way eating locations.
  • The burger place near the pool had a sink inside the restaurant and encouraged folks to wash their hands before selecting food and eating. (Unfortunately I didn’t see many people using it).
  • When a higher-than-expected number of passengers or crew become sick, ships implement additional cleaning procedures and use disinfectants to stop the illness. The staff worked tirelessly to keep on top of this.

I didn’t hear of any illnesses on our ship. In reality, only about 1% of all reported norovirus outbreaks are on cruise ships. Visit this website to see the sanitation records of most of the cruise ships that dock in the United States. You’ll want to check it out before you commit to a specific cruise line or ship.

Now let’s take those lessons into day-to-day life.

You can reduce your chances of getting infected with norovirus by making certain to wash your hands often and well. Wash them frequently after touching high-hand-contact surfaces like doorknobs, elevator buttons, and railings.

Wash your hands after going to the bathroom, blowing your nose, and each time you return to your home.

Handwashing before eating and drinking is also important, not just using sanitizer. If water and soap are not available, use an ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizer, preferably in a gel form. The sanitizer should be at least 60% alcohol.

I hope this helps you avoid illness this year!

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Here’s a free printable handout with ways that you can reduce your risk of contracting norovirus and other ills!

Avoid Norovirus

And here are some other amazing resources from the Nutrition Education Store!

Nutrition Poster

Flu Prevention PowerPoint

Nutrition Stickers