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Prairie Fare: Focus on Food Handling During National Food Safety Education Month

Hair in food certainly grabs the attention of guests.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“What’s the worst thing you could find in your food?” I typically ask students in food safety classes.

They always have the same collective answer: hair. Then we discuss why food preparers should cover or tie back their hair to avoid “grossing out” their guests with extra “garnishes.”

As I watched some national cooking shows on TV, I thought about my students’ response to hair in food. Several of the hosts had long hair. Somehow, I don’t envision hosts in hairnets any time soon, but maybe they could tie their hair back.

Hair in food certainly grabs the attention of guests. The true hazards, however, are the ones we can’t see: bacteria, such as E. coli, salmonella and many others.

As I watched the TV shows, I noticed things besides the hosts’ nicely coiffed hair. Some were making major food handling errors. For example, one simply wiped her hands on her apron after handling raw meat before preparing a salad.

Seconds on salmonella, anyone?

Another “double-dipped” the tasting spoon instead of getting a clean spoon. By doing so, she added a “secret ingredient,” a bit of saliva, to the dish.

Researchers have studied food handling on cooking shows. Overall, we can learn many things, but we can pick up some bad food handling habits. Canadian researchers at the University of Guelph watched 60 hours of TV shows and counted 960 food-handling errors. For every positive behavior, 13 errors occurred.

On 96 percent of the shows, the TV chef neglected hand washing. On 86 percent of the shows, the chef didn’t separate cooked food from raw food. Both of these errors are common causes of foodborne illness.

How safely do consumers handle their food when they have volunteered to be videotaped in their kitchens? Utah State University researchers videotaped 99 consumers preparing food at home. The results were eye-opening.

Most neglected hand washing. Only a third of the participants used soap when they washed their hands and one-third thoroughly cleaned countertops and other surfaces. Nearly all of the participants cross-contaminated raw meats with vegetables and ready-to-eat foods several times as they prepared their menus.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind during September, National Food Safety Education Month. For more information about safe food handling, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/food (click on food safety, then consumer information).

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before handling food, after handling food and any time you do something that could contaminate your hands. Count to 20 slowly or sing the ABC song while washing.
  • Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat. Wash cutting boards thoroughly with hot, soapy water after use. Sanitize cutting boards by immersing them in or spraying them with a solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach per quart of water.
  • Change dishcloths at least daily and wash them in the hot cycle of your washing machine.

Here’s a recipe from the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service for a colorful dish.

Apple Salad

2 c. diced red apples with skin

1 c. diced celery

1/2 c. raisins

1/2 c. chopped walnuts

2 Tbsp. light mayonnaise, salad dressing or low-fat, plain yogurt

1 Tbsp. orange juice

Mix orange juice with mayonnaise, salad dressing or low-fat, plain yogurt. Wash apples and celery; dice. Toss apples, celery, raisins and nuts with the dressing mixture.

Makes eight servings. A 1/2-cup serving has 110 calories, 6 grams (g) of fat, 15 g of carbohydrate and 2 g of fiber.

(Julie Garden-Robinson is a food and nutrition specialist and associate professor with the NDSU Extension Service, Fargo.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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