food safety

Environmental Monitoring for Food Safety

worker in a dairy processing facility with a swab and computer taking a sample for food safety
Photo: NCSU Extension

Dairy Processors: Are you interested in designing and implementing an environmental monitoring program (EMP) to improve your food safety program? This course may be for you.

In this eight-hour online course, you will learn alongside virtual dairy processors and apply concepts in the context of a dairy facility. This online course is available on-demand and adapts to your understanding of the materials. These features provide you with the flexibility to progress at your own pace with the confidence you will understand the content.

Dennis D’Amico, our Extension educator in the Department of Animal Science at UConn was one of the educators who developed this course. For more information, or to register, please visit NCSU Food Safety.

Expiration, Use-By and Sell-By dates: What do they really mean?

person's hands holding food and looking at expiration date for food in the grocery store
Photo: Aviano Air Base

Often people open up their refrigerators, cupboards and cabinets to find foods that are beyond their sell- buy and use- buy dates. While it is always better to be safe than sorry, the following guidelines and information should help to take the guesswork out of determining whether or not your food is safe to eat.

Dating is not required by US Federal law, with the exception of infant formula and baby foods which must be withdrawn by their expiration date.  For all other foods, except dairy products in some states, freshness dating is strictly voluntary on the part of manufacturers.  For meat, poultry, and egg products under the jurisdiction of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), dates may be voluntarily applied provided they are not misleading and labeled in a manner that is in compliance with FSIS regulations.  Also stores are not legally required to remove outdated products from their shelves.  In order to ensure you getting the freshest food, it is necessary to scrutinize packaging and purchase the items with the most recent date.  Although most markets are good about rotating their stock, some are not. If a store is properly stocked, the freshest items will be at the back of the shelf or underneath older items.

So what do these terms mean for consumers?

* Expiration Date:   If you have a product with an expired expiration date, throw it out.  While other dating terms are used as a basic guideline, this one is absolute.

*Best if Used-By and Use-By date:

“Use-By” or: Best if Used By” dates are a suggestion for when the food item will be at its best quality.  Food is generally safe if consumed past this date, but may have deteriorated in flavor, texture, or appearance.  “Use- By” dates are most often found on canned goods, dry goods, condiments, or other shelf stable items.  The Food and Drug Administration is supporting the food industry’s efforts to standardize the use of this on its packaged food labeling.

*Sell-By date:

Many fresh or prepared foods are labeled with a “Sell-By” date as a guide for how long the item should be displayed for sale before quality deteriorates.  Items are generally safe for consumption after this date, but may begin to lose flavor or eye appeal.  “Sell-By” dates are chosen with the assumption that the buyer may store or eat the item a few days after purchase.  To be sure your food is fresh and will keep at home, it is best not to buy items that are past their “ sell by” date.

*Guaranteed Fresh

This date is often used for perishable baked goods.  Beyond this date, freshness is no longer guaranteed, although it may still be edible.

*Pack date:

This is the date the item was packed, most often used on canned and boxed items.  It is usually in the form of a code and not easy to decipher.  It may be coded by month(M), day (D) and year (Y) such as YYMMDD or MMDDYY.  Or it may be coded using Julian numbers, where January 1 would be 001 and December 31 would be 365.   These time stamps are generally a reference to the date, time, and location of the manufacture and not be confused with expiration dates.  “Sell-By” or “ Best-By” may also be included on the can code.

So all of this assumes foods are stored at the right temperature.  Foods not refrigerated properly – whether at home or at the store – wont keep as long regardless of what the freshness date says.  So how long are foods good after the package date?  According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service:

  • Milk is good for about a week after the “sell by” date
  • Eggs can keep for three to five weeks beyond the “sell by” date
  • Fresh chicken, turkey and ground meats should be cooked or frozen within two days
  • Fresh beef, pork and lamb should be cooked or frozen within three to five days

Cooking or freezing extends the amount of time a food will keep.  Use your eyes and nose too, to determine if foods are fresh, regardless of the date on the package.

So here are some food storage hints and tips:

  • Once opened, many of the dates become obsolete since the contents now become perishable. It is advisable to use food as quickly as possible after opening them.
  • Be sure to refrigerate leftovers in a covered container (not a can) and use within 3 to 5 days.
  • Some canned foods (like condiments and pickled foods) will have a longer shelf life if refrigerated. Most condiments will have a warning to refrigerate after opening on the label.
  • When buying foods always check the expiration date. Choose the date farthest in the future for optimum shelf life.
  • Like the grocery, rotate your stock at home. Rather than trying to determine the codes on cans, use a marker to write the purchase date on cans and packaged goods.
  • Whatever the expiration date, do not open or use cans that are bugling or oozing from the seams, or those that are heavily dented.
  • Most baking mixes contain fats which will become rancid with time and leaveners that lose their potency. Check the dates.
  • The best storage temperature for canned foods is 65 degrees F. Higher storage temperatures can reduce shelf-life up to 50 percent.  Most canned goods can be stored up to 1 year under optimal temperatures.
  • Canned foods should never be frozen. The freezing expansion can split the seams of the can or break the glass.
  • Generally, foods canned in glass have a longer shelf-life, but they must be stored in the dark since light can accelerate some natural chemical reactions.
  • Look at cellophane, plastic and box packages at the store to be sure they have not been punctured or torn. Once the seal is penetrated, shelf-life of the contents is drastically shortened.
  • Bring food home quickly from the store and store it properly for maximum shelf life.
  • Trust your vision and smell- if it looks and/or smells bad throw it out.
  • A resource available for consumers online with questions about how to keep perishable foods is: The FoodKeeper App (https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/foodkeeperapp/index.html)

 

Resources:

www.fsis.usda.gov

www.nrdc.org/food/expiration-dates.asp

www.urbanext.illinois.edu/thrifyliving/tl-foodfreshness.html

http://www.onthetable.net/freshness_dates.html

http://www.nutrition411.com/patient-education-materials/food-safety/

 

Article by: Sherry Gray, MPH, RD, Extension Educator, UConn EFNEP

Updated: September 30, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Indu Upadhyaya

Indu
Photo: Kevin Noonan

UConn Extension is proud to announce our newest team member, Indu Upadhyaya. Indu accepted the position of Food Safety Extension educator. She is based in our Tolland County Extension Center and started with Extension in June.

Indu obtained her bachelor of veterinary science and animal husbandry (equivalent to DVM) and a master’s degree in veterinary biochemistry from Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Veterinary Education and Research in Pondicherry. She completed her PhD from UConn in Animal Science with a focus on Food safety and Microbiology. She moved to Arkansas as a postdoctoral associate at the University of Arkansas Center of Excellence for Poultry Science, where she worked in collaboration with the USDA Agricultural Research Service Poultry Production and Product Safety Research Unit.

Before coming back to UConn as a faculty, she worked as an Assistant Professor in the School of Agriculture at Tennessee Tech University for one year. She was involved with developing a research program on poultry and fresh produce safety, including writing grants and collaborating with other faculty from various disciplines. She also taught two upper level undergraduate courses and worked on various food safety outreach and recruitment activities in Tennessee.

Indu is excited to serve as UConn’s Food Safety Extension Educator. In her spare time, she likes to read, listen to music and watch tennis. She enjoys trying different cuisines and likes to travel new places.

Washing Raw Poultry: Food Safety Choices

washing hands in the kitchenA study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reveals that individuals are putting themselves at risk of illness when they wash or rinse raw poultry.
“Cooking and mealtime is a special occasion for all of us as we come together with our families and friends,” said Dr. Mindy Brashears, the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. “However, the public health implications of these findings should be of concern to everyone. Even when consumers think they are effectively cleaning after washing poultry, this study shows that bacteria can easily spread to other surfaces and foods. The best practice is not to wash poultry.”
The results of the observational study showed how easy bacteria can be spread when surfaces are not effectively cleaned and sanitized. The USDA is recommending three easy options to help prevent illness when preparing poultry, or meat, in your home.
1. Significantly decrease your risk by preparing foods that will not be cooked, such as vegetables and salads, BEFORE handling and preparing raw meat and poultry.
  • Of the participants who washed their raw poultry, 60 percent had bacteria in their sink after washing or rinsing the poultry. Even more concerning is that 14 percent still had bacteria in their sinks after they attempted to clean the sink.
  • 26 percent of participants that washed raw poultry transferred bacteria from that raw poultry to their ready to eat salad lettuce.
2. Thoroughly clean and sanitize ANY surface that has potentially touched or been contaminated from raw meat and poultry, or their juices.
  • Of the participants that did not wash their raw poultry, 31 percent still managed to get bacteria from the raw poultry onto their salad lettuce.
  • This high rate of cross-contamination was likely due to a lack of effective handwashing and contamination of the sink and utensils.
  • Clean sinks and countertops with hot soapy water and then apply a sanitizer.
  • Wash hands immediately after handling raw meat and poultry. Wet your hands with water, lather with soap and then scrub your hands for 20 seconds.
3. Destroy any illness causing bacteria by cooking meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer.
  • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops) are safe to eat at 145°F.
  • Ground meats (burgers) are safe to eat at 160°F.
  • Poultry (whole or ground) are safe to eat at 165°F.
  • Washing, rinsing, or brining meat and poultry in salt water, vinegar or lemon juice does not destroy bacteria. If there is anything on your raw poultry that you want to remove, pat the area with a damp paper towel and immediately wash your hands.
“Everyone has a role to play in preventing illness from food,” said Administrator Carmen Rottenberg of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). “Please keep in mind that children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk. Washing or rinsing raw meat and poultry can increase your risk as bacteria spreads around your kitchen, but not washing your hands for 20 seconds immediately after handling those raw foods is just as dangerous.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that millions of Americans are sickened with foodborne illnesses each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.
More information about this study is available in an executive summary.
Have questions? Need more food safety information? Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MP-HOTLINE (1-888-674-6854). Live food safety experts are available Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time. Expert advice is also available 24/7 at AskKaren.gov.

Mashantuckets Participate in Food Prep with EFNEP

Under the USDA FRTEP grant we have with Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, on the morning August 15th, Erica Benvenuti, Mike Puglisi, and Alyssa Siegel-Miles of the UConn Extension EFNEP program conducted a food preparation workshop for the tribal youth. There were 13 teens and seven adults at the event. Erica and team did an excellent job engaging and teaching the youth to prepare three sisters meal – corn, squash and bean (tribe’s traditional meal) and salsa. The objective of the workshop was to teach the tribal youth the importance of healthy food and give hands-on training on food preparation (from washing hands to following recipe to serving food). This falls under our goal of improving the overall health of the tribal members. I personally very much enjoyed the workshop.   

Submitted by Shuresh Ghimire, PhD, and PI on the grant

Meet Indu Upadhyaya: Food Safety Specialist

This article was originally published on Naturally.UConn.edu

Indu
Photo: Kevin Noonan

Where did you get your degrees? I received a bachelor of veterinary science and animal husbandry (equivalent to DVM) and a master’s degree in veterinary biochemistry from Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Veterinary Education and Research in Pondicherry. I completed my PhD from UConn in animal science with a focus on food safety and microbiology. (Editor’s note: Her graduate student profile is on this blog.)

What did you do before you came to UConn? Before I joined UConn, I worked as an Assistant Professor in the School of Agriculture at Tennessee Tech University for one year. I was involved with developing a research program on poultry and fresh produce safety, including writing grants and collaborating with other faculty from various disciplines. I also taught two upper level undergraduate courses and worked on several food safety outreach and recruitment activities in Tennessee.

What will your work here at UConn focus on? I plan to work with Connecticut poultry processors and fresh produce growers to promote food safety through dissemination of relevant research findings and associated trainings. I have visited various extension offices in Connecticut and the UConn campuses to begin to learn about food safety education requirements in the state.

For the first six months, I will concentrate on training Connecticut’s growers and producers to comply with the new Produce Safety Rule (PSR), which is part of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

I will conduct other trainings, such as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) training for meat and poultry producers. Connecticut does most of its training sessions in early spring and late fall, but other New England states do their trainings at different times. This provides plenty of options for growers and producers who can attend training anywhere in the region.

In addition, I understand and appreciate that this is a New England effort, therefore, I will be meeting and working alongside extension educators in the region from other states to introduce myself.

Moreover, I enjoy writing grants and would focus on applying to agencies that promote food safety outreach. I believe this would add to a strong food safety research program here at UConn.

Name one aspect of your work that you really like. I love meeting new people, talking to them and making connections. I believe its important to learn about the challenges that poultry processors, fresh produce growers, stakeholders, farmers and workers face to comply with food safety regulations.  I want to know their concerns and help find solutions to their food safety issues. I think this aspect of my role blends well with my personality.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I have a 2-year-old daughter, and I love spending time with her. Also, I am a die-hard tennis fan, and I am glad that Flushing Meadows, NY (venue for the US Open Grand Slam) is nearby.

Say Cheese

cheese productionSmall-scale dairy operations in Connecticut and throughout the country offer cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products direct to consumers and through wholesale distribution. The popularity of local food has increased interest in these operations, and led to a greater need for food safety education and training.

Dennis D’Amico is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Science who focuses on food technology, quality, and safety. His applied research is integrated with his Extension work. D’Amico works closely with the dairy industry to develop risk reduction interventions and technical outreach programs. When he first started at UConn he worked directly with several Connecticut producers, learn- ing the unique issues they face.

D’Amico takes small-scale producers’ challenges back to his laboratory to test and develop interventions to see if they will actually work. He defines an actionable intervention as something a producer can implement without significant expense. A team of undergraduate and graduate students work in his laboratory researching each aspect of a problem.

“My work with Extension is rewarding, there’s nothing better than hearing about a problem, and then making someone’s day by helping them solve their problem. Having that immediate impact is what makes me smile,” D’Amico says. “Extension provides diversity to my day, I meet with different people with various needs and it makes me think about dairy food science and safety from new angles.”

In-person trainings are limited to time and geography in some cases. D’Amico and his colleagues are using technology to address the limitations. An online food safety course for artisan chessemakers was created first, and launched in 2017. A website of resources was built to accompany the course in partnership with the American Cheese Society, and is available to anyone at www.safecheesemaking.org. Feedback for the course is positive, and has led to additional projects.

“We’re building a repertoire of dairy food safety resources,” D’Amico concludes. “Many of the next steps in my research and Extension program build off of previous work. Producers need solutions they can implement now, but there is a gap in education and interventions available, and that’s what we’re trying to fill. We don’t want producers operating blindly.”

D’Amico is currently working with another group of colleagues to build an online course for small- scale ice cream producers. “Recent foodborne illness outbreaks have shown that ice cream is not the safe haven some thought it was,” he says. “There are food safety issues specific to ice cream that need to be addressed.” An accompanying website is also under development for ice cream food safety resources.

Team members know that training people to identify environmental pathogens in a dairy plant is best done in person. However, time and geography constraints still exist. D’Amico is collaborating with his colleagues at North Carolina State University on a virtual reality simulator that will provide this training. The simulation includes case studies to further enhance learning.

A Food Safety Plan Coaching Workshop for small-scale dairy producers helps producers comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The three- year project funded by USDA offers six workshops per year. “We’re focusing the workshop on underserved regions where there aren’t dairy foods specialists avail- able,” D’Amico says.

A core group of trainers, including D’Amico, serve as national coaches and travel to each region, collaborating with regional resources and connecting producers. There is one regional coach for each six participants. At the workshop, participants form groups based on their stage in the FSMA process, and leave the work- shop having made measurable progress on their written food safety plan.

Best Practices guides are another project undergoing a digital transformation. “We first published the Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers in 2015, and it’s updated every two years,” D’Amico says. “However, the next version will be click- able and user friendly. Instead of a 300-page PDF, the user can click directly on the section they need. We are also developing a similar toolkit for retailers. This is another collaboration with the American Cheese Society.”

Consumer demand will continue to drive consumption of dairy products and local food. Even in best case scenarios, food safety issues will arise. Small-scale dairy producers and consumers can be confident that D’Amico and his team of students are searching for solutions and developing tools to share new actionable interventions.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Basic Food Safety Practices at Home

making sauerkraut
Photo: Diane Wright Hirsch

What made you sick? Is it food you cooked at home?

While we continue to blame farmers, processors, food- service and restaurants for making the food that makes us sick, the fact is that home cooks are quite likely to handle food in a way that results in a foodborne illness. The safety of our food supply is the responsibility of all who grow, process, sell, prepare and eat food.

The “rules” for safe food handling can seem overwhelming. However, if you take these five small steps, you can have a big impact on the safety of your food at home. Save these on your fridge for a few days and see if you can make these habits part of your everyday food prep routine.

  1. Keep your kitchen, utensils, and hands clean.
  2. Handle raw and cooked foods with care.
  3. Use a food thermometer.
  4. Use a refrigerator thermometer.
  5. Get leftovers into the refrigerator ASAP after eating.

More detail on each of these food safety tips is in the full article at http://s.uconn.edu/fsathome.

Strawberry Season in Connecticut!

By Diane Wright Hirsch

Senior Extension Educator, Food Safety

 

strawberries
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

One of the best things about early summer in Connecticut is strawberry season. It just makes no sense to buy California berries at the supermarket in June or July. I once saw a post on a local farm’s Facebook page where a customer shared a picture of two strawberries cut in half….the Connecticut berry was deep, dark red in color and looked to be juicy and fresh. The supermarket berry was pale and dry looking. Seriously, it is not a difficult choice!

In an article on the University of Illinois Extension web site, Drusilla Banks and Ron Wolford gathered some facts on the history and lore of the strawberry. Some thoughts to ponder when working on your strawberry patch—or filling your bucket at the local pick-your-own:

  • “Madame Tallien, a prominent figure at the court of the Emperor Napoleon, was famous for bathing in the juice of fresh strawberries. She used 22 pounds per basin, needless to say, she did not bathe daily.
  • The American Indians were already eating strawberries when the colonists arrived. The crushed berries were mixed with cornmeal and baked into strawberry bread. After trying this bread, Colonists developed their own version of the recipe and strawberry shortcake was created.
  • The strawberry was a symbol for Venus, the Goddess of Love, because of its heart shapes and red color.”                    urbanext.uiuc.edu/strawberries

Picking your own berries (PYO)

Strawberries are ready to harvest when they are a bright shiny red color. If they are greenish or whitish, leave them on the vine. They will not ripen further after harvesting. Very dark berries are likely to be overripe—you will need to eat them on the day you pick.

Harvest safely

First, don’t pick if you are sick. Stay home and let someone else do the picking. Before heading out to pick the berries, wash your hands. If you go to a PYO operation, ask if they have handwashing facilities. In a pinch, can you use a hand sanitizer? Hand sanitizer should not be a substitute for washing hands with soap and water. Dirty, wet or sweaty hands are not much safer when rubbed together with a glob of hand sanitizer. In addition, hand sanitizers are not effective against all types of microorganisms: especially viruses such as the Norovirus. So, whenever possible, wash your hands the old-fashioned way.

Pick berries that are bright red and leave those that are overripe, mushy or moldy. If you are planning to make jam or jelly, don’t think that you can get by with shoddy, overripe berries—you might end up with shoddy, overly-soft jam:  you will never end up with a product that is of better quality than the fruits or vegetables that you started out with.

Refrigerate the berries as soon as you can after picking. This will help with shelf life. But, do not wash the berries first. If washed, the berries are more likely to get moldy in your refrigerator.  Store unwashed berries loosely covered with plastic wrap in the coldest part of your refrigerator for two to three days at most. Always wash them before eating. To wash, place berries in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Do not allow berries to soak in water—they will soak up the water, lose color, flavor and vitamin C.

Freezing Strawberries

For the best results, pick fully ripe, firm berries with a deep red color. Throw out any immature or unripe berries or those with rot, soft spots or mold. Wash and remove caps.

You may choose to freeze your berries with or without sugar. While many choose sugar-free because of perceived health benefits, keep in mind that for high quality results, packing in sugar is your best choice. Unsweetened packs generally yield a product that does not have the plump texture and good color of those packed with sugar. The fruits freeze harder and take longer to thaw. While some fruits are acceptable when packed without sugar, strawberries are best packed with sugar. The exception is if you are freezing berries to make into jam at a later date (and of course, if you must use sugar free products as part of a health regimen).

Unsweetened Dry Pack (for making jam later)

Simply pack the washed and drained fruit into a container, seal and freeze. A tray pack is an alternative that may make the fruit easier to remove from the container. Spread a single layer of fruit on shallow trays and freeze. When frozen, promptly package and return to the freezer. Be sure to package the fruit as soon as it is frozen, to prevent freezer burn. Use bags or hard plastic containers made for use in the freezer.

Whole Berries Sugar Pack

Add three-fourths of a cup of sugar to one quart (one and one-third pounds) of strawberries and mix thoroughly. Stir until most of the sugar is dissolved or let stand for 15 minutes. Put into plastic freezer bags or freezer container.

Sliced or Crushed– Prepare for packing as for whole strawberries; then slice or crush partially or completely. To one quart (one and one-third pounds), berries add three-fourths of a cup of sugar; mix thoroughly. Stir until most of the sugar is dissolved or let stand for 15 minutes. Pack into freezer bags or hard plastic freezer containers.

If you want to make strawberry jam, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  You will find a tested recipe for strawberry jam as well as many other canning recipes.  Extension now recommends that all jams and jellies be processed in a water bath canner.  This means that you must use glass jars with two-piece canning lids. The five-minute process will minimize the chance that molds and yeasts will spoil your jam. Shelf life will improve and you won’t waste all your hard work and precious berries.

For more information about safe handling of fresh-picked strawberries, contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at 877-486-6271 or www.ladybug.uconn.eduor the National Center for Home Food Preservation for canning and freezing information at www.uga.edu/nchfp.

Food Safety Webinar for Farmers and Processors

healthy foodWebinar: Food Safety During Planning & Construction of Food Facilities: A Road Map
 
Date and Time: May 16, 2019 at 9:00 AM EST
 
Description: This FREE webinar will feature a panel of industry specialists from the Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center (VMEC), VIS Construction Consultants (VIS) and Neagley & Chase Construction (NCC), who will discuss the recent expansion journeys of three successful Vermont Food & Beverage Companies. Panelists will provide an overview of each of these production projects: an expansion, a renovation and a new construction. By the end of the webinar, attendees will have a better understanding of the scope of each case study, including timeline, program, team, integration of food safety concerns into each project and lessons learned along the way.
 
To request a disability-related accommodation to participate in this program, please contact Omar Oyarzabal at 802-651-0054 ext. 503 or 1-800-571-0668 by May 1, 2019, so that we may assist you.
 
This webinar is organized by the University of Vermont Extension in collaboration with VMEC, VIS and NCC.
 
Don’t wait to register for this FREE webinar http://go.uvm.edu/201903