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Posts Tagged ‘food safety’

Partnerships Create a Food Safety Culture

blossom end rot on tomato

Photo: Ohio Extension

Extension educators from throughout the Northeast consider collaboration essential to the success of their work with fruit and vegetable growers. In 2012, regional food safety specialists from the Universities of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Cornell received a NEED-NERA (Northeast Extension and Experiment Station Directors) planning grant focused on coordinating efforts to address the safety of post-harvest handling of fruits and vegetables on small, diversified northeast farms. Recognizing the limitations of our individual resources, it only made sense to work together. “The Northeast regional partners involved in food safety Extension programming have established a cooperative to better support our stakeholders,” states Amanda Kinchla, Extension Assistant Professor from the University of Massachusetts. “Over the past few years, we have been able to leverage resources and establish supports that help address critical food safety issues.” Produce farmers have benefited from this collaboration as research-based information regarding use of agricultural water, produce washing and sanitation is shared and work-shops, curricula and training videos and material are developed. For more information on programs visit: http://www.foodsafety.uconn.edu

Food Safety Modernization Act Info Session

FSMA logoAre you still wondering how the FSMA Produce Safety Rule will affect your life and your livelihood? The University of Connecticut Extension in cooperation with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture/USDA Specialty Crops program is providing an opportunity for farmers to learn more about FSMA.

 

We will discuss the rule, exemptions from the rule, key provisions, resources for keeping up to date on implementation and training. We can update you on the training programs that will be provided in February and March. There will be an opportunity to ask questions.

FDA Food Safety Modernization Act Information Session

December 15, 2016 (snow date, December 16), 9:30 am-noon

Middlesex County Extension Center, Haddam, CT

We will also be offering this program in a webinar format, using the WebEx program. If you are interested in this option, please let me know when you register.

The info sessions are provided at no cost, but pre-registration is required.

To register, send an email to diane.hirsch@uconn.edu. In the subject line, write “FSMA Update”. In your email include:

  • names of all attendees,
  • their farm or organization names,
  • phone numbers (in case of weather issues)
  • email addresses
  • whether you prefer to be in person or on the webinar

If you prefer to register by phone, or, if you have any questions, contact Diane Hirsch at 203.407.3163.

5 Tips for a Food Safe Thanksgiving

turkeyWASHINGTON — This week millions of Americans will gather family and friends around the dinner table to give thanks. But for those preparing the meal, it can be a stressful time. Not to mention, for many it is the largest meal they have cooked all year, leaving plenty of room for mistakes that could cause foodborne illness.

“Unsafe handling and undercooking of food can lead to serious foodborne illness,” said Al Almanza, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “Turkeys may contain Salmonella and Campylobacter, harmful pathogens that are only destroyed by properly preparing and cooking the turkey. Similarly, leaving leftovers out for too long, or not taking care to properly clean cooking and serving surfaces, can lead to other types of illness. We want to be sure that all consumers know the steps they can take and resources that are available to them to help prepare a safe and enjoyable holiday meal. ”

To avoid making everyone at the table sick, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) offers five tips for a food safe Thanksgiving:

Tip 1: Don’t Wash That Turkey.

According to the most recent Food Safety Survey, conducted by the Food and Drug Administration, 68 percent of the public washes whole turkey before cooking it. USDA does not recommend washing raw meat and poultry before cooking. Washing raw meat and poultry can cause bacteria to spread up to three feet away. Cooking (baking, broiling, boiling, frying or grilling) meat and poultry to the right temperature kills any bacteria that may be present, so washing meat and poultry is not necessary.

Tip 2: Use the refrigerator, the cold-water method or the microwave to defrost a frozen turkey.

There are three safe ways to defrost a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave oven. Thawing food in the refrigerator is the safest method because the turkey will defrost at a consistent, safe temperature. It will take 24 hours for every 5 pounds of weight for a turkey to thaw in the refrigerator. To thaw in cold water, submerge the bird in its original wrapper in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes. For instructions on microwave defrosting, refer to your microwave’s owner’s manual. Cold water and microwave thawing can also be used if your bird did not entirely defrost in the refrigerator.

Tip 3: Use a meat thermometer.

The only way to determine if a turkey (or any meat, poultry or seafood) is cooked is to check its internal temperature with a food thermometer. A whole turkey should be checked in three locations: the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast. Your thermometer should register 165°F in all three of these places. The juices rarely run clear at this temperature, and when they do the bird is often overcooked. Using the food thermometer is the best way to ensure your turkey is cooked, but not overdone.

Tip 4: Don’t store food outside, even if it’s cold.

Storing food outside is not food safe for two reasons. The first is that animals, both wild and domesticated, can get into food stored outside, consuming it or contaminating it. The second is temperature variation. Just like your car gets warm in the summer, a plastic food storage container in the sun can heat up and climb into the danger zone (above 40°F). The best way to keep that extra Thanksgiving food at a safe temperature (below 40°F) is in a cooler with ice.

Tip 5: Leftovers are good in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Cut the turkey off the bone and refrigerate it as soon as you can, within 2 hours of the turkey coming out of the oven. Leftovers will last for four days in the refrigerator, so if you know you won’t use them right away, pack them into freezer bags or airtight containers and freeze. For best quality, use your leftover turkey within four months. After that, the leftovers will still be safe, but can dry out or lose flavor.

Want additional food safety tips?

If you have questions about your Thanksgiving dinner, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert. Last November they answered more than 3,000 calls about Thanksgiving dinner. You can also chat live with a food safety expert at AskKaren.gov, available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish.

If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the Meat and Poultry Hotline is available from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. ET.

Consumers with food safety questions can visit FoodSafety.gov to learn more about how to safely select, thaw and prepare a turkey. For more Thanksgiving food safety tips, follow FSIS on Twitter,@USDAFoodSafetyThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website., or on Facebook, at Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov.

Making a Better Cheese

UConn Extension’s Dennis D’Amico works with Arethusa and other small businesses on food safety in their cheese and dairy production plants. Watch this short video from USDA Rural Development to learn more.

CYFAR Summer Experience at Auerfarm

By Sherry Gray

student in gardenThe Auerfarm is a 4-H Education Center with 120 acres located in the northwest section of Bloomfield, Connecticut. The Farm was deeded to the non-profit Connecticut 4–H Development Fund in 1976; however; has a rich history dating back to the early years of the 20th Century. The farm served as a model farm to other farmers in the 1950’s and hence, grew into a place that values education, outreach and engagement. The farm currently houses livestock including cows, goats, alpaca, donkeys, sheep, rabbits and chickens. It also has several large vegetable and flower gardens, an apple orchard, and a blueberry patch. Extension supported the building of a greenhouse on the property that is heavily used by school groups and master gardeners. Each year 14,000 children and 5,000 adults visit and access educational programs at the farm.

CYFAR’s Tools for Healthy Living grant partnered with Auerfarm this summer to provide multiple weeklong day programs for low-income youth from Hartford. Each week twelve to fifteen 8-12 year old low-income youth from Hartford participated in a program designed to enrich their understanding of food, health, and agriculture through hands on learning. During this time, University of Connecticut (UConn) staff presented two lessons about issues related to food safety; these lessons are part of the Tools for Healthy Living curriculum that was developed as part of this grant project. The first lesson was a lesson on hand washing and the second was on how to avoid food related illness. Students also spent time in the gardens, visiting animals and preparing the food they had picked.

The summer program was a highly positive experience for students, many who had not attended a summer farm program before. Students were very excited to go to the gardens and the blueberry patch.  Several students made statements including “we get to pick berries!” The students also indicated that “this is a new experience” for (most) of them and upon the announcement from the teacher that berry picking time was over several made comments that they “wanted to do it again.”

The children were very excited to be in the garden. One day, the UConn Master Gardener trapped a groundhog that she then showed to the students. The animal intrigued them all, but some had differing opinions about it. Some thought that it “looks mean” while others thought it “cute.” Educators explained why they caught the groundhog noting that they “eat eleven pounds of vegetables a day.” The children were assigned tasks to pick vegetables, weeds or get grass for the animals to eat later. The children really seemed to enjoy the garden experience stating “I want to have my own garden” and “this is the best day of my life.” This garden supports the Foodshare organization by producing 2 tons of produce annually for hungry families in Hartford. Extension Master Gardeners are active with the Foodshare garden ensuring we give back to the community. One student notes that, “she doesn’t even like carrots, but she is happy that she gets to help pick them so that people who are hungry can eat them.” The students were enthusiastic about taking the vegetables from the garden into the kitchen to prepare their lunches, including, salads, roasted beets, pizza, and tacos.

All of the youth attending this summer program loved the experience, particularly being in the gardens, blueberry patch and in the kitchen. They interacted during the food safety lessons and showed increased awareness for the need to do thorough handwashing and minimize food safety risks. The animals and gardens throughout the property served as platforms for interactive learning. One student exclaimed “I can’t wait to come back to camp next year.” Another stated, “I just really like the fresh air and mountains.” As a result of this project, our grant team strengthened our partnership with Auerfarm and provided many youth with a farm experience that they would not have otherwise had the opportunity to attend.

 

Sherry Gray, PI Tools for Healthy Living

Mary Margaret Gaudio, co-PI Tools for Healthy Living

Jen Cushman, 4-H Extension Educator, Hartford County Extension

Miriah Kelly, Project Evaluator

Christine Smith, CYFAR Program Assistant

Angela Caldera, Hartford EFNEP

Marilyn Diaz, Hartford Administrative Assistant

 

Creating a Food Safety Culture

canning tomatoesA report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published in 2013 described the increasingly evident relationship between produce and foodborne illness: over a ten year period, from 1998 to 2008, produce was responsible for 46% of diagnosed foodborne illness where a source was determined. This often surprises consumers who normally consider meat and poultry the leading cause of foodborne illness.

But, researchers and regulators have been focusing on the safety of fruits and vegetables since 1998 when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) jointly released the Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, also known as Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). That voluntary program was the first of many aimed at addressing the growing number of illnesses attributed to produce.

Fast-forward a decade. Large outbreaks tied to spinach, sprouts, melon, and tomatoes continued to occur, despite the voluntary guidelines. Over time, larger retail customers and distributors began looking for assurances that produce was being grown, harvested and packaged using food-safe practices. Some regional retailers and distributors now require suppliers of local produce to submit a third party GAP audit, which assesses compliance with GAP standards.

Farmers do not generally think of themselves as food handlers or processors. They have not had to submit to any kind of inspection or audit in the past to ensure that they were applying specific food handling standards to their operation. This can be hard to wrap their heads around.

Because produce safety and safe handling standards are new to just about everyone in the business, from farmers to retailers and regulators, training is essential to help farmers prepare for third party GAP audits. Most farmers in Connecticut have signed on with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) audit program. Mark Zotti of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture is trained and certified to conduct annual farm audits.

Extension’s GAP School has offered training to produce farmers for over 10 years. Extension Educators Diane Wright Hirsch on food safety and Candace Bartholomew on pesticide education, conduct the course. Funding from the USDA Specialty Crops Initiative via the Connecticut Department of Agriculture has supported Extension produce safety efforts, with a total of $83,279 awarded. One benefit of funding was a one-day course was developed for farmers to learn about safe produce handling and sanitation in their packinghouses, whether they are small outdoor spaces with a roof, or larger enclosed facilities.

The course is now two full days with new information and more complex GAP standards. In addition, farmers may meet individually with Extension educators to review their food safety plans.

The course begins with a review of foodborne outbreaks tied to fruits and vegetables and the relevant microbiology. It is easier to understand why these practices are important if farmers understand how consumers get sick from food they eat.

Farmers develop a farm description and conduct an assessment of water sources and irrigation systems. They learn about standards to pass an audit, which include addressing safety in irrigation water, manure use, sanitation programs for harvest utensils and equipment, worker health and hygiene, and ultimately post-harvest handling, storage, transportation, and maintenance of a clean packing facility.

Farmers write a food safety plan on how food safety practices are implemented, and develop records to document practices. Aside from making capital improvements, writing a food safety plan can be the most challenging step to preparing for an audit. Templates and models are used to help farmers with writing a narrative description, and standard operating procedures (SOPs).

“UConn Extension has been invaluable in providing my farm with training to help us develop a farm food safety plan and implement a successful GAP program. Most of all, the training has really raised our awareness and commitment to food safety,” says Nelson Cecarelli of Cecarelli Farms in Northford.

Unfortunately, despite voluntary efforts, produce related outbreaks continued. As with other food commodities including meat, poultry, seafood and juice, legislation requiring many of the GAP guidelines was enacted. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Produce Safety Rule was finalized in November 2015. Hirsch and Bartholomew have been providing information sessions to help farmers understand compliance and local exemptions of FSMA.

Andy Reale of Ferrari Farms in Glastonbury summed up his experience, “I have attended UConn Extension GAP, and now FSMA programs since their inception. The GAP sessions allow us to continue doing business with those that requested it, and now that will continue with FSMA.”

Pick Your Own Apples – Avoid Those with Bird Droppings

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Extension Educator/Food Safety

apples on tree

Photo: Stacey Stearns

Connecticut has an abundance of farms that open their gates to those who want to pick their own raspberries, apples, vegetables and other seasonal offerings. I have picked raspberries well into October in the past, though I am not sure how the hot summer and early fall have impacted the longevity of the berry season this year. But, you can easily find apples and perhaps pears only a short drive from where you live. To find Pick Your Own (PYO) farms near you, go to www.ct.gov and search for “pick your own farms in Connecticut.” This will bring you to a list of farms by county offering small fruits (berries), large fruits (apples, pears) and vegetables as well as pumpkins and Christmas trees.

However, this is not an article simply about where to find PYO farms. This is a message about being a responsible PYO customer.

Chances are you have read articles about fruits and vegetables being the source of foodborne outbreaks in recent years. Produce has risen to the top of the list as likely sources of illnesses caused by Listeria, Salmonella, E. Coli and parasites such as cyclospora and cryptosporidium.

Produce can be contaminated in the field and during harvest. Wildlife can deposit poop in the fields or directly on the fruits or vegetables; rodents and insects can contaminate produce with animal manure that can be on their feet; those who harvest produce can contaminate apples or pears or berries with dirty hands. Irrigation water can also contaminate produce if the source is not safe. Nature is nature, but there are things you can do to minimize your risks.

In a PYO operation YOU are the farmer, the harvester, the handler. While most consumers would never eat berries or apples from the grocery store without washing them first, they think nothing of plucking the strawberry right off the vine and popping it in their mouth. Or they let their young children do it—a population that is more vulnerable to the worst effects of a foodborne illness.

So, what are some simple guidelines for a safer PYO experience for you and your family (and others who follow you in the field or orchard)?

  • Clean hands are important

Be sure to wash your hands before picking. Your farm does not have a handwash station? Complain. Especially if this farm also has an animal venue—goats to pet or llamas to feed. After visiting the animals it is especially important to wash your hands. Sanitizer does not do much good on dirty hands. You need soap and water. If sanitizer is your only option, certainly you should use it. But farms by now should know the need for both bathroom and handwash facilities for their patrons.

  • Don’t even think of coming here if you are sick

When I was picking raspberries a few weeks ago, a young woman in the next aisle was complaining to her companion that she did not feel well. She had a sore throat and was coughing. I moved away from her. Sick people should not be picking berries. Period.

  • Use clean containers

Again, if the farm does not provide clean containers, bring your own or go elsewhere. It could be as simple as lining reuseable bins or boxes with a clean plastic bag or liner for each new customer. Containers with even a few hours of accumulated juice, dirt and field debris can certainly harbor the bacteria that we really do not want to bring home with us.

  • Don’t pick up fruit from the ground

Again, two words: wildlife and poop. Pick berries from the vine, fruit from the tree. “Drops” always run the risk of being contaminated with microbes that can cause an illness. If you see any evidence of deer or other droppings, be sure to tell a farm employee.

  • Pick fruits and veggies that are in good condition

Avoid produce that has evidence of bird droppings. Rotten, moldy or produce that may have been chewed by bugs or rodents should be left on the vine. Rotten spots, cuts, and other breaks in the surface of the fruit or vegetable can be a microbe’s doorway to the inside. Handle what you pick carefully.

  • Leave Fido at home (and NOT in the car)

Farms do not really need another animal to worry about. Dog waste is no different from that of wildlife. Even the most conscientious owner can leave traces behind as they pick up after their dog.

And, finally, watch the kids. PYO operations are a great way to teach children where their food comes from. It gets them outdoors and provides much needed time away from touch screens. But, it is important to teach them good PYO etiquette as well. Do not let them pick up drops from the ground or eat directly off the plant and tell them why it is not a good idea. Teach them the importance of washing their hands before handling food. Feed the kids before you visit: bring a water bottle, but it is best not to eat snacks in the field. Save the picnic for later.

Please do not change diapers in the field. Remember what I said about wildlife and poop? Do that in your car and be sure to dispose of the dirty diapers in a covered trash receptacle.

For more information on safe food handling, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271 or visit www.foodsafety.uconn.edu.

Fermentation Workshop

fermentation canning fermentation participant

We had a very enthusiastic group of participants at our fermentation workshop in North Haven on November 17th. Participants learned about food processing and safely, and are ready to tackle their own garden produce for enjoyment into the winter months.

Bovay Joins CAHNR

John BovayDr. John Bovay joined the ARE Department in August as Assistant Professor with 60% extension, 25% research, and 15% teaching responsibilities. We are excited to learn more about his extension and research interests.

  • Can you share any prior Extension and outreach experience you have?
    • Engaging with farmers and the public through outreach and extension has always been one of my goals as an agricultural economist. I’ve spent the last 4½ years working at the University of California Agricultural Issues Center and the USDA Economic Research Service, both of which publish reports designed to reach a wide audience, including policy makers, farmers and agribusinesses, as well as hosting conferences. Below, I post some links to outreach publications I’ve written on food-safety regulations and the safety of imported food.
  • What are your plans for your Extension program? Will this tie into your research, or past work?
    • I plan to create an Extension program that covers three broad topic areas. The first builds on my existing research on food labeling, food-safety regulations, and food loss/waste. Second, I will work with farmers to evaluate their on-farm energy production and use, and make sure that farmers are aware of all options and incentives available for energy conservation and generation. I expect to work closely with the green industry in this area. The third extension area will entail cost of production estimates for Connecticut farm commodities and marketing studies for local foods.
  • What course will you be teaching in ARE?
    • I’m teaching a course on Sustainable Agribusiness Management this fall. My students will apply economic principles to analysis of issues faced by agribusiness managers, evaluate the sustainability of existing agribusinesses, and develop a sustainable plan of operation and marketing for template Connecticut farms.
  • Anything else you want us to know?

I’ve been thrilled to discover that Connecticut has such a wealth of natural resources and open spaces to explore, including the state forests of the Last Green Valley and the UConn Forest (just a quick jog away from my office), the beaches at Bluff Point and Rocky Neck State Parks, and the magnificent Ray Tompkins Memorial Golf Course in New Haven.

Links
 
– Patterns in FDA Import Refusals Highlight Most Frequently Detected Problems. By John Bovay. Amber Waves, USDA Economic Research Service, 2016. http://ers.usda.gov
– Strict Standards Nearly Eliminate Salmonella from Ground Beef Supplied to Schools. By John Bovay and Michael Ollinger. Amber Waves, USDA Economic Research Service, 2015. http://ers.usda.gov
– How Does the Food Safety Modernization Act Affect Farms and Food Marketing Firms? By John Bovay and Daniel A. Sumner. ORECAL Issues Brief No. 007, 2013.

 

UConn Extension Hosts Fall Open House

New Haven officeNorth Haven—UConn Extension’s New Haven County Extension Center invites the public to a Fall Open House on Thursday, September 15, 2016 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at 305 Skiff Street, North Haven.

The New Haven County Extension Resource Council, Inc. (NHCERC, Inc.), a volunteer organization supporting the educational outreach programs based in this center, is hosting this event. Faculty, staff, and volunteers will be available to discuss Extension outreach programs offered via this Extension Center. Brief spotlight presentations will be made on “4-H STEM Activities to Do with Kids”, “Your Garden in Fall” and “How we sometimes get sick from the food we eat”. Educational displays and materials will also on hand. At 5:45 pm there will be a very brief Annual NHCERC, Inc. Meeting followed by The Extension Volunteer Recognition Ceremony. The public is welcome to attend all or any portion of this event. Light refreshments will be available. Call 203. 407. 3160 for more information. RSVPs are appreciated.

The New Haven County Extension Center, one of eight county-based UConn Extension Centers, provides a wide variety of educational outreach programs for families and individuals, youth, staff, farmers, professionals, businesses, and social service and public agencies, among others, in New Haven County and beyond. UConn Extension faculty and staff, based in the New Haven County facility, work in fields such as 4-H youth development, food safety, master gardening, financial literacy, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), and Connecticut Fitness and Nutrition Clubs In Motion (CT FANs IM) and coastal storm preparedness. For more information, visit http://www.extension.uconn.edu/extension-centers/newHaven.php.

UConn Extension connects the power of UConn research to local issues by offering practical, science-based answers to complex problems. UConn Extension enhances small businesses, the economic and physical well-being of families and offers opportunities to improve the decision-making capacity of community leaders. Extension provides scientific knowledge and expertise to the public in areas such as: economic viability, business and industry, family and community development, agriculture and natural resources. UConn Extension brings research to real life.

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