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Miscellaneous/Consumer Safety

February 8, 2012

Stomaching Valentine's Day

So... I am back!  Yay!  We at City-County Health had quite the hustle at the end of last year and things like the blog fell by the wayside once again.  I think I am almost fully recovered from it-- I think.  :-)  But-- good news: I am giving up two programs this year to focus more on the newsletter, FoodLine, food safety training, plan review, and the blog!  I am quite excited. 

Now onto the meat and potatoes! Another "holiday" is almost upon us.  Yes, that day hated by many singles and forgotten by many a significant other: Valentine's Day. I won't tell you my opinion on the day, only that I save a personal day every year so that I don't have to observe others getting flowers and smiling in order to spend it at home cooking, baking, and putting away my Christmas tree (a task that depresses me, might as well get it all done in one day)... and yes, rum may be involved. Which, cooking and baking-- brings me to my point: Valentine's Day is no time to slack on food safety.  Ah ha!  See how I brought that right back around???  Face it.   Nothing would make the day any worse, or for those of you with spectacular plans, nothing would damper the romance more than getting a foodborne illness.  Yes, you can prevent having a sh--, ummm... crappy, Valentine's Day.

Here are my Valentine's food safety tips to make stomaching the day a little easier:

1. Be an educated date.  Look through our food safety inspection database to choose a restaurant that suits your tastes both in cuisine and practice.  Overall, Missoula food establishments do a great job, but knowing the ins and outs of where you are going never hurts.  Also remember to look at several inspections for each establishment.  Inspections are just snapshots, and everyone can have a bad day. It's the repeated concerns noted by inspectors that tells you more about how a place operates.  When looking at reports make sure that you make the distinction between the critical items, or the ones more likely to lead to illness, and the non-critical items, or the items that may indirectly influence food safety.

2. If you take any of your dinner home, and cannot put it in the refrigerator within 2 hours, discard it.

3. If you are going to be an awesome date and cook for your significant other, make sure that you follow the following basic food safety tips at home:

* Wash hands with warm water and soap prior to handling food and between raw meat or eggs and ready-to-eat items.
*Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat items at all times.  Separate them in the cart or basket when shopping; store raw meat below ready-to-eat items like veggies in the refrigerator; and, clean counters, cutting boards, knives, etcetera that you used on raw items before using them for ready-to-eat foods.  If you have a sanitizer available for surfaces, great!
*Temp raw meats to ensure a minimum cooking temperature: 165F for chicken and turkey, 155F for ground beef and pork, and 145F for whole cuts of beef or pork.
*If your date is late, keep cold foods in the refrigerator, or hot on the stove or in the oven.
*Chill anything leftover, and if you make anything in advance of the dinner, make sure that it was properly cooled before you use it.

So there you go... have a good Valentine's Day and be food safety savvy.  I will be doing the same in my kitchen at home as I bake up treats while sipping some Cap'n and singing to Etta James.

Miscellaneous/Consumer Safety
May 9, 2011

BBQ Food Safety

As we gear up for summer we need to keep a few food safety concepts in mind.  Just because the fun increases as we take things outside, it doesn't mean that the risk of food borne illness goes away-- in fact, the possibility of something going wrong increases!  Stick to the following guidelines so that foodborne illness doesn't ruin your summer fun:

1) Keep raw meats separate from ready-to-eat items like fruits, salads, breads, and the veggies you are going to put on your grill creations like the tomatoes and onions.  An easy way to think of it is if the item won't get cooked thoroughly, don't put it next to the raw meat.
2) Pre-prep all of your items in a kitchen before taking them to your favorite campsite or BBQ area.  Potable water and space will be limited at those venues which decreases your ability to wash produce, clean cutting boards and knives, and wash your hands when needed.
3) Cook all meats completely.  Chicken should be 165F and burgers at 155F in their thickest part.  Have a calibrated thermometer with a 0-220F range and know how to use it.  Some thermometers must be inserted 2-3 inches for an accurate reading, a depth which doesn't work well with thin foods like burgers.  Look on your thermometer to see if there is a dimple or mark in the side.  If there is, it must be inserted into the food up to that point.  Make sure you check temps with a clean thermometer!
4) Have a way to wash your hands.  Hand sanitizer is not a good substitute.  Nothing is better than scrubbing with soap and using warm to hot water.  Skipping a hand wash after touching raw meat, or touching an unclean surface can contaminate many meals and lead to illness.  Set up a temporary way to wash your hands.  Get creative!
5) Keep cold foods in a cooler or refrigerator at 41F or lower, no higher than 45F.

For those of you out there who have licensed as a Temporary Food Service, you know that there are additional requirements to those stated above.  Please see our Temporary Food Service Guide for more information.

Temporary Food Service/Outdoor Events; Miscellaneous and Consumer Safety
April 21, 2011

Be The 'Good Egg' at Easter

Yes, Peter Cottontail is currently hopping down the bunny trail.  I however, am hopping up and down on my holiday food safety soap box.  Easter eggs are fun to dye and even more fun to find, but keeping in mind safe temperatures and handling will help keep your holiday fun-filled and illness free.

For egg safety - to stay healthy and avoid foodborne illness — USDA advises:
  • Always buy eggs from a refrigerated case. Choose eggs with clean, uncracked shells.
  • Buy eggs before the "Sell-By" or "EXP" (expiration) date on the carton.
  • Take eggs straight home from the grocery store and refrigerate them right away. Check to be sure your refrigerator is set at 40°F or below. Don't take eggs out of the carton to put them in the refrigerator -- the carton protects them. Keep the eggs in the coldest part of the refrigerator — not on the door.
  • Raw shell eggs in the carton can stay in your refrigerator for three to five weeks from the purchase date. Although the "Sell-By" date might pass during that time, the eggs are still safe to use. (The date is not required by federal law, but some states may require it.)
  • Always wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after handling raw eggs. To avoid cross-contamination, you should also wash forks, knives, spoons and all counters and other surfaces that touch the eggs with hot water and soap.
  • Don't keep raw or cooked eggs out of the refrigerator more than two hours.
  • Egg dishes such as deviled eggs or egg salad should be used within 3 to 4 days.

In addition, MCCHD would like you to keep in mind food safety during Easter egg hunts.  If you hide real eggs that you intend to eat later, only put them in locations that are free from contamination and located away from pets and other animals.  Hide eggs only immediately prior to the hunt, and if you locate some stragglers afterward, throw them away.  We recommend that you split eggs into two batches, one set you color for the hunt and will toss, and the other you will color and refrigerate for eating.  Plastic eggs are also a good substitute for the activity.  Lastly, make sure that you use food-grade dye on any eggs intended for consumption and that eggs are cooked all the way through and promptly cooled.

Miscellaneous and Consumer Safety
December 20, 2010

Inspection Stats for 2010

Some of you may have already seen the electronic version of FoodLine that discusses the breakdown of inspection stats from January 1, 2010 and November 24, 2010.  For those of you who haven't and would like the Cliff's Notes version, this blog's for you!

Routine Inspections:
Average number of violations: 2.7
Average number of critical violations: 1.5
Number of routine inspections: 527

Follow-up Inspections:
Average number of violations: 3.5
Average number of critical violations: 2.0
Number of follow-up inspections: 84

Complaint Inspections:
Average number of violations: 4.6
Average number of critical violations: 3.6
Number of complaint inspections: 10

What this means:
1. Most places do a good job and do not require a follow-up inspection.
2. While not all complaints necessitate an inspection, those that do have a higher number of critical and non-critical violations.  This means that if the public is interested enough to call, there is most likely a valid concern. 

I must comment on the anomaly in the follow-up inspection data.  One would expect the numbers to decrease from routine to follow-up, but instead, the averages are higher.  This doesn't mean that operators do not improve over time.  I can honestly say that establishments do make corrections and want to do a better job with each inspection.  In fact, MCCHD spent 61 hours in the classroom since October 2009, 45 of which were privately commissioned by concerned operators.  The reason for the increase is simple: the smaller number of inspections, populated entirely by establishments with a higher number of violations to start with, skews the mean.  If one looks at each establishment individually, it's easy to see progress over time.

The Top Three Non-Critical Violations:
1. Inadequate sanitizer concentration
2. Hand sinks not adequately Supplied
3. Premises clean and maintained.

The Top Three Critical Violations:
1. Inadequate hand washing
2. Inadequate temperature control
3. Cross-contamination

For more information, see our article in the Winter 2010 Edition of FoodLine!

Miscellaneous/Consumer Safety
November 19, 2010

Holiday Food Safety

It's that time of year again where the cranberry dressing tops the family meal and the meal is followed by the unbuttoning of pants and never ending football games.  While the table maybe surrounded by family and friends, it's important to follow some basic food safety to ensure that you are not welcoming a side of foodborne illness to your feast.

Throughout the process, from the moment you put the turkey into the cart to time the meal hits the table, you need to think separation.  Keep the raw meats in their own section of the cart, ask that the meats get bagged separately from the ready-to-eat items, and store all raw products on the bottom of the refrigerator.  Use separate cutting boards and surfaces when working with raw meats and wash your hands thoroughly with warm to hot water and soap after handling them.  Sanitize countertops and food preparation surfaces after use and allow the solution to evaporate from the surface before further use.

Getting a frozen turkey or roast for the holidays?  Keep in mind that it takes time to thaw a large item in the refrigerator.  Plan one day of thaw time for every five pounds.  Store on the bottom of the refrigerator and make sure the meat is thoroughly thawed before cooking.  It will be difficult to reach safe cooking temperatures if the middle of the bird, or the roast is still frozen solid.

Quick Prep--
It's easy to get ahead of ourselves, especially when there is so much to do, but leaving food out too long during the prep process doesn't lead to efficiency, but illness.  Keep potentially hazardous foods, or foods which require temperature control for safety, in the refrigerator, oven or on the stove top as much as possible to maintain cold foods below 41F and hot foods above 135F.  Only get out the food you can manage at one time and put cold prepped food back into the refrigerator as quickly as possible.  Leave hot foods in the oven until you are ready serve and do not rely on buffet warmers or crock pots to heat items to temperature. 

Cooking Temperatures--
Yes-- there are a lot of temperatures to remember when thinking about safe cooking, but if you are looking to make things easy and safe, the one to remember is 165F.  Anything cooked to that temperature can be considered safe.  This is especially crucial with poultry and stuffed meats.  They must reach 165F in the thickest part.  Make sure you do not hit bone when taking temperatures and that the stuffing inside of the meat reaches 165F in all sections as well.  It is recommended that you cook the stuffing separate for safety.

Do not leave foods sitting out on the table or buffet for longer than four hours, starting from the time the food leaves the oven, stove or fridge; the best practice is two hours.  Chafing dishes, while they do a great job of holding the food warm to taste, do not do a great job of holding it hot for safety.  If you refill a tray for service, do not add the new food to the old.   Encourage the use of utensils and, while keeping the food contact portion of the utensil in the food is great, keeping the handle out of the food is also important.

If you have any-- ha!  When you have leftovers, making sure you handle them correctly is key.  Make sure that foods are placed shallowly in dishes and left vented until fully cooled.  If you have large amounts of something left, use several containers placing the food in them no deeper than 2 inches, or use you kitchen sink to make a cold water bath.  When tapping into your luscious leftovers, reheat them fully to 165F and be cautious of your microwave's uneven heating.

Have a safe and happy holiday season.

Miscellaneous/Consumer Safety
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