Supermarket Madness – Shopping for food safety

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Supermarket Madness – Shopping for food safety
By Douglas Powell | April 16, 2014

Shopping is a competitive sport.

Especially for groceries.

People who would think nothing of laying out $200 for a fancy-pants dinner and atmosphere, will digitally or electronically clip coupons to save $0.10.

I watch people when I go shopping for food, about every second day, and maybe they watch the creepy guy watching them.

My questions may not be the same as other cooks or parents, but I have a lot.

Should that bagged salad be re-washed? Some bags have labels and instructions, some don’t. What about the salad out in bins that came from pre-washed bags? Should it be re-washed?

Is washing strawberries or cantaloupe going to make them safer?

Where did those frozen berries come from? Am I really supposed to cook them and can’t have them in my yogurt because of a hepatitis A risk?

Are raw sprouts risky?

How long is that deli-meat good for? Is it safer at the counter or pre-packaged?

Should I use a thermometer or is piping hot a sufficient standard for cooking meat and frozen potpies? Can I tell if meat is cooked by using my tender fingertips?

Is that steak or roast beef mechanically tenderized and maybe requires a longer cook time or higher temperature?

Are those frozen chicken thingies made from raw or cooked product? Is it labeled? Is labeling an effective communication mechanism?

These are the questions I have as a food safety type and as a parent who has shopped for five daughters for a long time in multiple countries. It has guided much of our research.

I see lots of things wandering through the grocery store, but I don’t see much information about food safety.

When there is an outbreak, retailers rely on a go-to soundbite: “Food safety is our top priority.”

As a food safety type I sometimes see that, but as a consumer, I don’t.

This sets up a mental incongruity: if food safety is your top priority, shouldn’t you show me?

The other common soundbite is, “We meet all government standards.” This is the Pinto defense – so named for the cars that met government standards but had a tendency to blow up when hit from behind – and is a neon sign to shop elsewhere.

Leaving brand protection to government inspectors or auditors is a bad idea.

For a while I started saying, rather than focus on training, which is never evaluated for effectiveness, change the food safety culture at supermarkets and elsewhere, and here’s how to do that.

But now the phrase, “We have a strong food safety culture,” is routinely rolled out but rarely understood, so I’m going back to my old line: show me what you do to keep people from barfing.

Food safety information needs to be rapid, reliable, relevant and repeated. I don’t see that at grocery stores.

The days of assuming that all food at retail is safe are over. Some farmers, some companies, are better at food safety. And they should be rewarded.

Most of us just want to hang out with our kids and get some decent food – food that won’t make us barf.

 

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University. 

 

Restaurant Report – March 2014

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It's the monthly restaurant inspection report for the Bryan/College Station area.

The Brazos County Health Department conducts weekly inspections of all local restaurants and food service establishments. The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety is proud to bring you all those reports in one convenient location each and every month.

By law, these inspection reports are must be posted in the front area of the establishment in plain sight. Typically these forms are yellow and inside a plastic case. Feel free to ask to view the report if you would like.

If you have any questions, please send us an email and we would be glad to help you make sense of it all.

Brazos County Restaurant Report – March 6

Brazos County Restaurant Report – March 13

Brazos County Restaurant Report – March 20

Brazos County Restaurant Report – March 27

Link to previous month’s reports:
Restaurant Report – January 2014
Restaurant Report – February 2014

Research Spotlight: Dr. Julia A. Perez

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Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Julia A Perez

 

This past fall at the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety, we had a visiting researcher from the University of Guadalajara. Dr. Perez sat down with us for a short interview about herself and her life experiences in the food safety field.

Julia Perez: My name is Julia A. Perez  and I am an associate professor at the University of Guadalajara. I was born in Guadalajara, grew up in Octolan, a nearby city, but have lived in Guadalajara most of my life. Some of my former professors include, Dr. Eduardo Fernandez Escartin and Dr. Alejandro Castillo. I did my Ph. D. work under Dr. Elisa Cabrera as well.

CFS: Tell us how you got to where you are and what got you interested in food safety?

JP: I conducted my undergraduate studies in biology and pharmacy, and I was always sure that I liked the food safety field. When I finished my courses, I had to give one year of service back to my university and I decided I would work in the food microlaboratory with Dr. Fernandez Escartin.  It was a highly sought after place of work but I was very tenacious and finally accepted a position with the lab. For the next year, I studied sanitary microbiology, a lab specialty, and it changed my life and my mind. I immediately fell in love with the field. One of the professors at the laboratory was Dr. Castillo and he became very important in my professional formation.

After working in the food industry and with the Ministry of Health, Dr. Castillo invited me to work in his laboratory where I spent the following 16 years. While at the University, I got my master’s degree under Dr. Refugio Torres. Although I liked what I was doing in the lab, I always wanted to do research in food safety and then I had the chance to do just that under Dr. Elisa Cabrera and Dr. Norma Heredia. I obtained my Ph. D. degree at the beginning of 2013 from the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon. I worked for many years before doing Ph. D. studies, and sometimes I thought I would never be a doctor; but this is proof that it is never too late to follow your dream when you have the desire to do so.

CFS: Can you tell us about the work you have done while you have been here at Texas A&M?

JP: Last August, Dr. Cabrera informed me about the possibility of working at the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety, but at the time I did not believe her. After a few weeks Dr. Gary Acuff invited me to come to Texas and work in the lab. It sounded like a great opportunity to learn and get more research experience. It was something I could not miss and it really has been a great experience!

I am very happy with my visit to the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety. Before coming to College Station, I had never been in a BL2 food microbiology laboratory with as much new instrumentation as this one. It was a very exciting experience for me to be involved in a research project, to help run samples and learn different methodologies for detection and identification of pathogens.

I have learned how to use different types of equipment like Roka Atlas, GDS and Vitek, and how they work. I have also had the opportunity to work with samples and other bio-hazardous aerosols in the bioBUBBLE biocontainment enclosure. Working together with Dr. Acuff and Lisa Lucia has been a very valuable experience. I’ve learned so much from both of them. Finally, I had to opportunity to talk with professors from other departments to learn about their research experiences. I am very grateful to Dr. Acuff for inviting me to work at the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety.

CFS: What was it like growing up in Mexico?

JP: I grew up in a town close to Guadalajara. It was very quiet and life was nice, but at the same time it was especially hard growing up in a large family. I agree with Dr. Elisa Cabrera, growing up in Mexico is harder than [in the US], but it is also an opportunity to develop your creativity and an appreciation for what you have.

CFS: What did you enjoy most about experiencing the Texas culture?

JP: I came [to Texas] many years ago and visited the Texas A&M campus; but did not have time to be familiar with the Texas culture. This time, I had the opportunity to go to different restaurants and enjoy different types of foods. The Texas BBQ and hamburgers were a few of my favorites. I also got to meet and share time with the students in the laboratory. They were great and I had very pleasant moments with them.

The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety would like to thank Dr. Julia A. Perez for her time spent here during the Fall of 2013. We wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.

Food Safety Types – Practice What You Preach

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Food Safety Types – Practice What You Preach
By Douglas Powell | March 19, 2014

I dream about thermometers.

In the latest combination of fact and fiction, accuracy and amalgamation, I was at a roadhouse-style restaurant and settling the bill with an assistant manger who had seen it all and stopped having fun years ago, when smoke started billowing from the open grill.

A waitress tried to serve the burger — black on the outside, raw on the inside – when my food safety nerd friend went to intervene.

I joined the fray, and insisted a thermometer was necessary to determine if the burger was safe.

The assistant manager said, “I heard you were the biggest loser in town.”

Then the dream ends.

In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture very publicly began to urge consumers to use an accurate food thermometer when cooking ground beef patties because research demonstrated that the color of meat is not a reliable indicator of safety.

USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety at the time, Catherine Woteki, said, “Consumers need to know that the only way to be sure a ground beef patty is cooked to a high enough temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria that may be present is to use a thermometer.”

At the time, I said, no one uses a meat thermometer to check the doneness of hamburgers. The idea of picking up a hamburger patty with tongs and inserting the thermometer in sideways was too much effort (others insist the best way to use a tip sensitive digital thermometer is to insert into the middle of the patty at a 45 degree angle).

I was wrong.

Shortly thereafter, I started doing it and discovered, not only was using a meat thermometer fairly easy, it made me a better cook. No more extra well-done burgers to ensure the bugs that would make me sick were gone. They tasted better.

By May 2000, USDA launched a national consumer campaign to promote the use of food thermometers in the home. The campaign featured an infantile mascot called Thermy that proclaimed, “It’s Safe to Bite When the Temperature is Right.”

Fourteen years later, the converts are minimal. Canada came to the thermometer table a few years ago, but the laws of physics are apparently different north of the 49th parallel, with a safe temperature for poultry being 180F in Canada, but 165F in the U.S.

The Aussies are slowly warming to the idea of thermometers but the UK is still firmly committed to piping hot (cue Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins).

Science-based depends on whose science is being quoted to whose ends. The fancy folks call it value judgments in risk assessments; Kevin Spacey in the TV series House of Cards would call it personal advancement.

Food safety is losing to food porn with thermometers.

Many celebrity chefs actively denigrate the use of a thermometer when cooking. Some claim to know meat is safe using the finger method, which is akin to a shaman curing a sick child, or dowsing to find water (chance figures heavily –even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while).

Gordon Ramsey says, “A thermometer? The day we need that to cook a breast of chicken — you, get out.”

Seamus Mullen, the chef and an owner of the Boqueria restaurants in the Flatiron district and SoHo in New York City uses a wire cake tester, or any thin, straight piece of metal.
“We stick it in the middle through the side. If it’s barely warm to the lips, it’s rare. If it’s like bath water, it’s medium rare. The temperature will never lie. It takes the guesswork out of everything.”

Why not stick in a thermometer — a thin piece of metal?

I can no longer cook without a meat thermometer; I feel naked, like in a dream.

Yet almost everyone else in the U.S. can, where only 7 per cent of the population report using a thermometer on a regular basis — and some of those are surely lying.

We’ve known the basics for increasing thermometer use for over a decade: people care more about being better cooks than serving safe food, and lead by example.

Tip-sensitive digital thermometers need to be widely available, and food safety types need to use them properly. Not just at home, but at school events with the kids, at potlucks, at any gathering that involves food.

Stop dreaming, start doing.

 

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University. 

 

Texas A&M Center for Food Safety Announces New Monthly Column by Doug Powell of Barfblog.com

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas – March 12, 2014 – The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety is proud to announce a new monthly column by Doug Powell of Barfblog.com, starting March 19. This new feature will be available on the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety’s website, CFS.TAMU.EDU, along with other original content currently in production.

“Dr. Powell offers a unique and sometimes irreverent view of food safety issues – he always ‘hits the nail on the head’ and will challenge your comfort zone,” said Texas A&M Center for Food Safety director, Gary Acuff. “I am thrilled that we convinced him to write a monthly column for us and I know he will be a favorite feature on our website.”

This column kicks off a new initiative of original content designed for academics, industry members and consumers. Look for videos, infographics and additional columns coming very soon.

Join us Wednesday, March 19th as we launch the first piece in our special feature series and keep checking back for more fresh new content from the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety.

 

Restaurant Report – February 2014

AgriLife Logo

It's the monthly restaurant inspection report for the Bryan/College Station area.

The Brazos County Health Department conducts weekly inspections of all local restaurants and food service establishments. The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety is proud to bring you all those reports in one convenient location each and every month.

By law, these inspection reports are must be posted in the front area of the establishment in plain sight. Typically these forms are yellow and inside a plastic case. Feel free to ask to view the report if you would like.

If you have any questions, please send us an email and we would be glad to help you make sense of it all.

For 2014, we are switching to a monthly compilation format for our reports. Let us know what you think!

Brazos County Restaurant Report – February 6

Brazos County Restaurant Report – February 12

Brazos County Restaurant Report – February 20

Brazos County Restaurant Report – February 27

Link to previous month’s reports:
Restaurant Report – January 2014

CFS Director, Dr. Gary Acuff, named 2014 AAM Fellow

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Congratulations to CFS Director, Dr. Gary Acuff, for being named a 2014 AAM Fellow

Congratulations to CFS Director, Dr. Gary Acuff, for being named a 2014 AAM Fellow

Congratulations to CFS Director & Executive Committee member, Dr. Gary Acuff, for being named a 2014 American Academy of Microbiology Fellow.

The American Academy of Microbiology Fellow designation is an honor bestowed upon eminent leaders in the field of microbiology, who are relied upon for authoritative advice and information on critical issues in microbiology.

From the AAM Fellows website: 
Over the last 50 years, 2,700 distinguished scientists have been elected to the Academy. Fellows are elected through a highly selective, annual, peer review process, based on their records of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology. A Committee on Elections, consisting of Fellows of the Academy who are elected by the membership, reviews all nominations for Fellowship and recommends to the Board of Governors what action should be taken.

Each elected Fellow has built an exemplary career in basic and applied research, teaching, clinical and public health, industry or government service. Election to Fellowship indicates recognition of distinction in microbiology by one’s peers. Over 200 Academy Fellows have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, while many have also been honored with Nobel Prizes, Lasker Awards, and the National Medal of Science.

Dr. Acuff will be honored at the 114th ASM General Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts on Tuesday, May 20, 2014.

For more information, please visit: the American Academy of Microbiology website.

Restaurant Report – January 2014

It's the monthly restaurant inspection report for the Bryan/College Station area.

It's the monthly restaurant inspection report for the Bryan/College Station area.

The Brazos County Health Department conducts weekly inspections of all local restaurants and food service establishments. The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety is proud to bring you all those reports in one convenient location each and every month.

By law, these inspection reports are must be posted in the front area of the establishment in plain sight. Typically these forms are yellow and inside a plastic case. Feel free to ask to view the report if you would like.

If you have any questions, please send us an email and we would be glad to help you make sense of it all.

For 2014, we are switching to a monthly compilation format for our reports. Let us know what you think!

Brazos County Restaurant Report – January 9th

Brazos County Restaurant Report – January 14th

Brazos County Restaurant Report – January 23rd

Brazos County Restaurant Report – January 30th

Restaurant Report – 11/21/13 – 12/31/13

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Restaurant Report: presented by the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety

Join us every week as we bring you the latest restaurant report for the Brazos County.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Brazos County Health Department conducts weekly inspections of all local restaurants or food service establishments. The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety is proud to bring you the latest reports as they become available.

Local restaurants must display a copy of their individual report near the entrance of their establishment. Look for a yellow sheet to find out more about your favorite place to eat.

If you have any questions, please send us an email and we would be glad to help you make sense of it all.

Click here to view the Brazos County Restaurant Report for the week of November 14 – 21, 2013

Click here to view the Brazos County Restaurant Report for November 27 – December 31, 2013

At the moment, this seems to be the last Restaurant Report provided to us for the 2013 year. The Restaurant Report will resume as the information becomes available to us, most likely in early 2014. Thanks for visiting!

Restaurant Report – Week of 11/14/13 – 11/21/13

rr-2014
Restaurant Report: presented by the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety

Join us every week as we bring you the latest restaurant report for the Brazos County.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Brazos County Health Department conducts weekly inspections of all local restaurants or food service establishments. The Texas A&M Center for Food Safety is proud to bring you the latest reports as they become available.

Local restaurants must display a copy of their individual report near the entrance of their establishment. Look for a yellow sheet to find out more about your favorite place to eat.

If you have any questions, please send us an email and we would be glad to help you make sense of it all.

Click here to view the Brazos County Restaurant Report for the week of November 14 – 21, 2013