Recent Blog Posts
By: Drew Barkley
One year ago, community transmission of COVID-19 in the United States led several states to impose stay-at-home orders to reduce person-to-person transmission of the virus. As the year went on, messaging on hand hygiene, mask wearing, and social distancing were stressed as public health measures that were our best tools for combatting COVID-19. While the measures used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 varied from state to state, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted life as we knew it and changed the way we have been living our daily lives since then. Early on, there was speculation that these newly emphasized public health measures would reduce the spread of other diseases as well. Hand washing had always been recommended but not always followed. One year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we now have the data to begin looking at how the reaction to the pandemic impacted the spread of other communicable diseases.
As many public health officials predicted, there has been an impact on rates of other respiratory diseases. The CDC has noted that flu activity is significantly down this flu season, compared to the previous flu seasons.1 This decrease in seasonal flu is hypothesized to be due to a combination of the improved public health measures as well as an increase in vaccinations compared to previous flu seasons. The increase in vaccinations could have been driven by a strong campaign to encourage vaccination.2 Two studies have also found that social distancing and travel restrictions have decreased other non-COVID hospital admissions as well.3 4 The first found a significant decrease in non-COVID-19 respiratory diseases and the second actually found a decrease in foodborne and sexually transmitted diseases. However, there is also evidence that the pandemic has reduced the number of people seeking healthcare as they want to avoid potential exposures in the clinics and hospitals.5 So while the decrease we see in some non-COVID illnesses may be due to the positive impact of social distancing and mask wearing, it may also be because people that have those illnesses are no longer seeking care, and so are not captured in the statistics.
So how does foodborne disease fit into all of this? Initially, the CDC had noticed that last summer, the expected counts from PulseNet, an active foodborne disease outbreak surveillance system, were lower than previous years. The question was whether this was due to improved hand hygiene and a rise in contactless delivery, or whether people with foodborne diseases were less likely to seek care during the pandemic.
At CFI, we are currently working with Ohio State’s Information Warehouse Database (IWD) of electronic health record data as part of a new project. This database contains health information for all adults seen within the OSU healthcare system. While we are primarily using the data to look at the impact of long-term health outcomes from an incident case of foodborne disease, we can also use the data to determine whether there is a true decrease in cases during the pandemic or whether it is due to a drop in healthcare-seeking behavior. The work done on this project should help clarify what is happening with foodborne disease during the pandemic.
3 Nolen, L. D., S. Seeman, D. Bruden, J. Klejka, C. Desnoyers, J. Tiesinga, and R. Singleton. 2020. Impact of Social Distancing and Travel Restrictions on Non–Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Non–COVID-19) Respiratory Hospital Admissions in Young Children in Rural Alaska. Clin. Infect. Dis. Oxford University Press (OUP).
4 de Miguel Buckley, R., E. Trigo, F. de la Calle-Prieto, M. Arsuaga, and M. Díaz-Menéndez. 2020. Social distancing to combat COVID-19 led to a marked decrease in food-borne infections and sexually transmitted diseases in Spain. J. Travel Med. NLM (Medline) 27.
By: Devon Mendez
With the continuation of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, individuals are cooking at home more often than they may have in the past. While this cooking increase can lead to healthier meals, proper food safety must be followed to kill any potential foodborne pathogens. Although many people own a food thermometer, many people do not know how to use them properly. When cooking meat or eggs, a food thermometer is an essential kitchen item in preventing foodborne illness.
While all food thermometers are capable of reading temperatures, they are not created equal. Even though all thermometers can register temperature, each does it in different ways, making different types of thermometers appropriate for different uses.
Though not an exhaustive list, the chart below gives additional information on some thermometer types commonly used in the home kitchen. While no one individual needs all these thermometers, cooks should use this knowledge to help guide the thermometer they choose to ensure it is appropriate for their regular needs. All thermometers included in chart can be found with relative ease either in store or online.
|Thermocouple||2-5 sec.||Can be inserted as little as ¼” or deeper as needed||
Can be used for both thick (>1/2”) and thin foods
Should not be left in food while cooking
Can be expensive
|Thermistors||10 sec.||At least ½” deep in the food||
Can be used for thick and thin foodsUsed to check food temps at end of cooking time
|Oven Cord Thermometers||10 sec.||At least ½” deep in the food||
Can also be used outside the ovenCan remain in food while cooking
|Thermometer Fork Combination||10 sec.||At least ½” deep in the food||Used to check food temps at the end of cooking time|
|Pop-Up Timers||Reacts when meat is 1 to 2 degrees F from ideal temperature||Thickest part of meat||
Recommend verifying temperature with conventional food thermometer.Accuracy highly dependent on proper placement
|Liquid-Filled Thermometers||10 sec.||At least 2 inches deep||
Can get false high readingsNot good for food safety purposes
|Candy/Jelly/ Deep Fry Thermometers||10 sec.||Sits in pan with tip in liquid||
Can be used for candy making and fryingCan measure extra-high temperatures
Armed with the knowledge of what thermometer to choose, home chefs must also remember some these important tips to ensure the safe use of their chosen thermometer:
- Check manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you are following proper instructions.
- For roasts, the thermometer should be inserted midway into the thickest part of the meat, away from the bone.
- For burgers, steaks, and chops the thermometer should be inserted into thickest part away from bone, fat, and gristle.
- Poultry should be measured at the innermost part of the wing or thigh, and in breasts it should be in the thickest part.
- Be sure to use caution when checking food temperature.
- Remove food from heat.
- Make sure to wear hand covering/ oven mitts when handling metal probes.
- This information and more about food thermometers and other important food safety facts resources can be found on the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website at: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/kitchen-thermometers
By: Laura Binkley
Achenef Melaku Beyene DVM, MSc, is a TARTARE fellow working on his PhD at the University of Gondar, Ethiopia that recently spent 6 months (end of 2019 beginning of 2020) here at The Ohio State University gaining research experience in Dr. Ahmed Yousef’s lab. Below, we have interviewed Dr. Achenef about his experience and current work.
What is your main research question as part of TARTARE?
As a part of TARTARE and my PhD work, I will try to find the best answers for the following questions:
- To what extent is food of animal origin, particularly raw meat and milk in and around Gondar, contaminated by non-typhoidal Salmonella (NTS) and Shiga Toxin producing E. coli (STEC)?
- What is the contribution of NTS and STEC to foodborne illness of the community in and around Gondar?
- Is there any molecular relationship among NTS and STEC isolates from human, animal, and food so as to assess the transmission dynamics and design appropriate control and prevention strategies?
- Is it possible to minimize contamination during the production of milk for dairy farmers by providing training on intervention techniques for dairy farmers?
What drew you to the field of Microbiology?
Microbes are part of our life, some of them cause disease in humans and animals; others are beneficial, particularly in dairy and other industries. So, to minimize the harmful effects and maximize the benefits, it is essential to know about them and work with them. In developing countries like Ethiopia, several diseases due to microbes are not yet controlled and introduce huge morbidity and mortality. These are all factors that drew my attention to learning more about them and deciding to work on them.
What are some of the methodologies you were able to learn throughout your experience at The Ohio State University in Dr. Yousef’s lab?
During my six months stay in Dr. Yousef’s laboratory, I got the opportunity to practice on a range of general techniques to specific molecular procedures. The first two months of my trainings were focused on general bacteriological techniques. This was followed by detection and confirmation of Salmonella in food samples using standard procedures. I collected samples in local and international food stores in Columbus and was able to analyze them. The detection procedure includes culturing of the food samples using nonselective and selective media. In addition, the suspected colonies of bacteria were confirmed by a biochemical test (API- 20E) and molecular producers (both conventional and multiplex PCR). Towards the end of the period, detecting Shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC) was the focus of the training. In the meantime, I was able to attend lectures on food microbiology and molecular diagnosis of infectious diseases. Generally, I strongly believed that the training boosts my capacity and prepared me to conduct other microbiological or molecular techniques easily and efficiently.
Have you been able to implement any of these methodologies in Ethiopia?
Yes, the plan is to implement almost all procedures in Ethiopia under the TARTARE project. The methodologies will be applied to detect Salmonella and STEC in food of animal origin, particularly in raw meat and milk. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic is creating obstacles with implementing methodologies in Ethiopia.
What was your favorite or most enjoyable aspect of your experience at The Ohio State University?
I like the laboratory working environment, it is well-equipped and the necessary facilities are available. If there is a demand for reagents, the purchasing and delivery process was so quick. Working with the team in the laboratory with active follow up by the professor was so great. This was very interesting and allowed me to learn more. There was also a weekly lab meeting to assess progresses and solve problems if any. If such conditions were fulfilled in Gondar, I would have finished my PhD work within 6 additional months.
What are your greatest challenges thus far with implementation?
The greatest challenge to implementing methodologies acquired from Ohio is absence of a biosafety level II laboratory to handle Salmonella and other pathogens in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Gondar. There was a plan to renovate one of our laboratories. The process was started; however, it has been interrupted due to the current pandemic. I am hoping that the process will be commenced and the issue will be resolved. Otherwise, we will have to look for other laboratories with better facilities.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us about your experience working in foodborne illness research with The Ohio State University?
Yes, I would like to acknowledge individuals and institutes that directly or indirectly helped me for the success of the training. I would like to thank Prof. Ahmed Yousef, Prof. Wondwossen A. Gebreyes, Dr. Ahmed G. Abdelhamid, and Dr. Barbara B. Kowalcyk for their technical assistance and guidance. I am also grateful to NIH Fogarty International center, OHEART, GOHI, East Africa Regional Office for the opportunity. I would like to extend my thanks to The Ohio State University International office for the reception and guidance to make my stay smooth and fruitful. The assistance of Kayleigh Gallagher was also so great, thank you. Finally, I would like to acknowledge lab members in the department of Food Science and Technology for their help during the practice.
By: Devon Mendez
Potatoes, in all varieties, are one of the most beloved comfort foods in the United States, with the average American consuming nearly 117 pounds of potatoes per year, largely in the form of frozen French fries and tater-tots. While there is little argument that these fried delicacies are a favorite of many, these delicious dishes can pose a risk to more than your waistline. This risk occurs when potatoes are cooked using high temperature cooking methods (above 248 degrees F) such as frying, roasting, or baking. When high carbohydrate foods such as potatoes are cooked at these temperatures, their natural sugars and the amino acid asparagine, undergo a chemical change that producing the compound acrylamide. While this compound is a result of a natural processes, acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in animals and is recognized as a potential carcinogenic in humans by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As such, the FDA recommends that individuals limit the amount of acrylamide in their diets and do their best to consume their favorite potato dishes in the safest way possible.
By following some basic food storage, preparation, and selection tips individuals can minimize their acrylamide exposure and continue to enjoy their favorite potato-based foods.
Tips to reduce acrylamide exposure when consuming potatoes:
- Soak potatoes 15-30 minutes before baking or frying to help reduce their starch content, in turn reducing the amount of acrylamide produced during the cooking process
- Limit the number of potato dishes consumed that are prepared using frying, roasting, and baking
- “Wet” prep potato dishes, such as mashed potatoes and potato salad, do not lead to a significant amount of acrylamides
- Store potatoes outside of the refrigerator
- Refrigeration prior to cooking can increase the level of acrylamide produced during the cooking process
- Cook sliced potato products such as French fries and potato slices for less time
- Longer cooking times yield higher levels of acrylamides
- Aim for lightly browned potatoes rather than dark brown when cooking
While it is impossible to eliminate acrylamides from our diets, taking small steps to reduce day-to-day exposure can help reduce any potential risk. By following the simple steps outlined above, as well as consuming a diet containing a variety of foods, individuals can significantly reduce their exposure to acrylamide. Diet diversity is especially important in children, who often enjoy foods that are naturally high in acrylamides such as French fries, tater-tots, and potato chips. As with almost anything, moderation is key, and by enjoying a healthy variety of foods prepared in a variety of ways, we can all continue to enjoy all of our favorite fried and roasted potato dishes without too much concern.
By: Vanora Davila
It is that time of year! The holiday season is here and if your family is anything like mine, you are probably already thinking about all the delicious meals you will be making to celebrate and share with your loved ones!
The end-of-the-year holidays can be some of the most memorable and enjoyable moments one can experience, but inappropriate food-handling behaviors can turn the most exciting of times into despair.
From baking those perfectly crispy but chewy on the inside cookies, to cooking that scrumptious main course meal, there are unfortunately many opportunities for foodborne illness to make an unexpected appearance.
To make sure you and your family stay safe and avoid foodborne illness this holiday season, there are some simple guidelines you can follow, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before, during, and after preparing food.
- Wash all utensils, cutting boards, before and immediately after use.
- Clean all produce with running water before use.
- Do not wash raw meat and poultry! This could increase your risk of food poisoning by spreading bacteria onto your hands, and onto nearby high-touch surfaces (USDA, 2020).
- Separate! - Avoid cross-contamination.
- Keep raw foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs, and fish separated when buying them at the grocery store and when storing them at home. You do not want their juices to get onto other foods!
- Always keep fruits and vegetables away from raw meats, poultry, eggs, and seafood.
- Cook! - Fully cook all food that is not ready-to-eat.
- Make sure to use a food thermometer to ensure the thickest part of all meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. Minimum cooking temperatures for varied foods can be found at: https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/safe-minimum-cooking-temperature.
- Turkey stuffing and dressing must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. If cooked inside the turkey, the stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it is placed in the oven. Any extra stuffing should be baked before use.
- Bring gravies, soups and sauces to a rolling boil when reheating.
- Do not eat raw dough or batter. Raw doughs contain uncooked eggs and flour, which can contain bacteria that is only killed when the dough is fully cooked.
- When making eggnog, tiramisu, or any dish that uses raw eggs, make sure to use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites.
- Chill! - Refrigerate and thaw foods appropriately.
- Refrigerate any leftovers that should be refrigerated within two hours to avoid unwanted bacteria growth. Leftovers should be used within four days.
- Do not thaw food at room temperature. Foods like meats and turkey should be thawed in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave, to prevent harmful bacteria from growing.
- Your refrigerator’s temperature should be set at or below 40°F and the freezer should be set to 0°F or lower.
So, there you have it! Whether you are making a dish for the first time ever or you are using your family’s generational recipes, keep these tips in mind to make sure you and your family safely enjoy the festivities.
Affairs (ASPA), A. S. for P. (2019, April 12). Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Charts. FoodSafety.Gov. https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/safe-minimum-cooking-temperature
CDC. (2020, October 14). Holiday Food Safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/holidays.html
FDA. (2020). Food Safety Tips for Healthy Holidays. FDA. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/food-safety-tips-healthy-holidays
Washing Food: Does it Promote Food Safety? (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2020, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/washing-food-does-it-promote-food-safety/washing-food
Graduate Practicum Student
By: Allison Howell
Federal regulations are complicated, technical, and often difficult for consumers to understand. But everyone eats produce. A basic understanding of what types of produce or produce commodities are included or not included in federal regulations and what those regulations mean can help consumers make informed decisions about buying, preparing, and consuming produce safely.
Background on FSMA
First introduced in the House of Representatives in 2009, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (FSMA) underwent several revisions and amendments before being signed into law by President Obama in early 2011. It was the first piece of federal legislation to address food safety since The Federal Food Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 . FSMA greatly expanded the United States Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulatory authority. FSMA is a great accomplishment in terms of shifting the goal of federal oversight to preventing foodborne illness instead of reacting to it.
FSMA did not outline specific regulations for food safety, but instead expanded FDA’s regulatory authority so they could develop additional rules aimed at implementing the goals of FSMA.
Since FSMA was signed into law, the FDA has developed several final rules that provide specific guidance to industry and detail the FDA’s role in enforcing these rules. A full list of the proposed and final rules related to FSMA can be found at: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/fsma-rules-guidance-industry#rules.
One of the FSMA final rules is the “Standard for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption” also known as the Produce Safety Rule . The rule went into effect in January of 2016, and covered farms were required to comply by early 2020. Full details of the Produce Safety Rule can be found at: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/fsma-final-rule-produce-safety#requirements.
But what does FSMA mean for consumers?
Most types of produce that you can buy at a grocery store are covered by the Produce Safety Rule and producers are held accountable for adhering to the FDA’s Standard for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption. That means, when you buy an apple from the grocery store, you can reasonably assume that federal regulations designed to reduce the presence of foodborne pathogens on or in apples have been followed. After giving it a quick wash with some water (you should always wash fresh produce before consuming), you can slice it up or bite right in and enjoy. It is important to remember that the Produce Safety Rule sets standards for growers that sell the produce, but poor handling or cross contamination by consumers can still lead to foodborne illness. Read more about the FDA’s recommendation for safely selecting and serving produce here: https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/selecting-and-serving-produce-safely.
There are several important regulations outlined in the Produce Safety Rule, but there are also certain criteria that can lead to commodities being exempt from compliance with the rule. One of those criteria is produce that is not considered a raw agricultural commodity; that is, the produce is identified as rarely consumed raw (RCR). Recently, FDA issued an Request for Information in the Federal Register Notice for commodities that they are considering characterizing as RCR and therefore exempt from the Produce Safety Rule :
black beans, great Northern beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, and pinto beans
garden beets (roots and tops) and sugar beets
dill (seeds and weed); eggplants
Cranberries, which are considered rarely consumed raw, can be seen displayed here on a grocery store shelf among pomegranates and berries, fresh produce commodities.
When it comes to purchasing commodities on the RCR list, consumers should be cautious, and treat these products accordingly. In other words, to reduce the chance of foodborne illness, all RCR commodities should be cooked thoroughly before consuming. Produce on this list – such as asparagus, potatoes, or cranberries – should also be stored separately from produce that is consumed raw—from the moment it is placed a shopping cart or bag to the moment it is prepared for eating. Separating these commodities can help prevent cross-contamination with other produce – such as berries, carrots, or leafy greens – that might be eaten raw.
Produce from farms that are valued at less than $25,000/ year and produce that is used for personal or on-farm consumption are also exempt from the Produce Safety Rule. Because of this exemption, fresh fruits and vegetables purchased from a local farmer’s market or small-scale producer may not adhere to the standards set by the Produce Safety Rule. For tips on safely purchasing from farmer’s markets see CFI’s previous blog post at: https://foodsafety.osu.edu/blog/april-6-2020-1125am/fresher-doesn%E2%80%99t-equal-safer.
Fresh produce is an important part of a healthy diet and understanding how produce is regulated can help consumer’s incorporate healthy fruits and vegetables into their diet without increasing their risk of foodborne illness.
There are several resources available to consumers wanting to stay up to date on food safety issues, and most of these services allow you to customize the alerts you receive!
- Sign up for CDC updates on food safety here.
- Sign up to receive FDA notices on recalls, market withdrawals, and safety alerts here.
- Sign up for USDA updates here.
- Browse recent articles or subscribe to Food Safety News here.
Lastly, check out the “Resources” page on our website for links to additional organizations and websites informing consumers about food safety basics and ongoing work to improve food safety for all!
 Office of the Commissioner, “Milestones in U.S. Food and Drug Law History,” FDA, Dec. 2019, Accessed: Dec. 02, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.fda.gov/about-fda/fdas-evolving-regulatory-powers/milestones....
 Center for Food Safety and And Nutrition, “Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA),” FDA, Sep. 21, 2020. https://www.fda.gov/food/guidance-regulation-food-and-dietary-supplement... (accessed Nov. 02, 2020).
 Center For Food Safety And Nutrition, “FSMA Final Rule on Produce Safety,” FDA, Sep. 2020, Accessed: Oct. 22, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/fsma-final-r....
 “Request for Information and Comments on Consumption of Certain Uncommon Produce Commodities in the United States; Establishment of a Public Docket,” Federal Register, Aug. 10, 2020. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/08/10/2020-16800/request-... (accessed Nov. 09, 2020).
By: Aaron Beczkiewicz
Given that food is such an integral part of daily life, it is not surprising that concepts related to food are often represented in childhood rhymes like “This little piggy went to the market…” While I am pretty confident none of us really understood what “went to the market” meant the first time we were introduced to that rhyme, our understanding evolved as we grew and developed. But how much does our understanding of where foods come from and how they are produced actually matter?
Coming from a family that makes homemade Polish sausage every year, I do not like the saying that hotdogs contain “everything but the oink” because it oversimplifies sausage making. Sure, my family has followed the same sausage recipe for years without a second thought. However, I have come to understand over the course of my food science Ph.D. program that sausage making is actually a pretty technical process with some ingredients like spices and salt helping to prevent microbial growth which makes the food safer in addition to adding flavor.
While the food science side of me enjoys sharing these random tidbits of knowledge with my family, the public health side of me always questions “Does it matter what the ingredients are if you do not know where they came from?” Take for instance the Salmonella Newport outbreak this past summer which was linked to red onions (CDC 2020). The outbreak of illness was identified in early July, but it took about a month to link the illnesses to a food item and initiate recalls. This is likely due, in part, to fresh produce being difficult to track. Since fresh produce is typically shipped in bulk quantities by packinghouses combining produce from multiple farms, finding the source of a contaminated item of produce is very challenging.. Even when there is a label such as the PLU stickers attached to individual pieces of produce, the data associated with it rarely if ever includes all the facilities that handled that piece of fruit before it ended up on your table.
Efforts to address this issue are currently underway with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announcing a proposed Traceability Rule (FDA 2020) under the Food Safety and Modernization Act; however, meat and poultry products – which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture – are already required to indicate the production establishment on the package. This is helpful during traceback investigations of foodborne illness, and also great for curious consumers who want to know where their food is being produced. See below for instructions on how to do that.
Next time you are at the grocery store, consider checking out how far those bacon slices or your Thanksgiving turkey traveled to get to your table – you might be surprised!
To figure out where meat you have purchased came from: 1. Confirm the product is regulated by USDA (see left photo) 2. Find establishment number which is often printed with the “Use By” date (see right photo) 3. Search for establishment within the USDA Meat and Poultry Inspection Directory
Graduate Research Associate
CFAES Department of Food Science and Technology
By: Drew Barkley
Last year, I was chatting with a friend about different foods we liked to prepare at home. Having grown up in the south, I mentioned that some staples of my cooking were various casseroles, fried chicken, and homemade biscuits. My friend, having been raised in an Asian-American household, was used to preparing different stir-fries, dumplings, and ramen. While all of that sounded delicious and got me thinking about dinner prematurely, the next food she mentioned caught me off guard. She told me that she and her sister love making homemade sushi together.
I was initially taken aback. The idea that anyone was making sushi at home on their own seemed risky to me. Yet, here was someone I knew that was preparing sushi regularly in their own home. I immediately became curious asking for all the details of how she and her sister made their own sushi. She said that they went to the store and bought whatever fish looked good to them that day. To make the rolls, they would lay a bed of sticky white rice over seaweed and top with the fish, cucumber, avocado, cream cheese, and whatever else sounded good to them that day. Then they would roll it up, slice it up into individual rolls and enjoy. Sensing that I was nervous about her homemade sushi, she reassured me that neither she nor her sister had ever gotten sick and they always use what she referred to as “fresh” fish. While I wanted to mention that “fresh” fish is not the same thing as “safe” fish, I let the conversation end there as I went to go do some research on my own.
First, I want to make the disclaimer that I have never made homemade sushi. While I do enjoy eating sushi, I will leave its preparation to skilled, trained professionals working in fully inspected restaurants. However, I wanted to highlight specific actions you can take to insure your sushi is safe if you are making it at home (or even if you are eating it at a restaurant).
Perhaps the most important element to making safe sushi is using sushi-grade fish. Reputable commercial retailers will only give this grading to their highest quality fish that they feel confident can be eaten raw. Further, well-educated fishmongers (people that sell raw fish and seafood) will know what fish is sushi-grade and safe to consume raw, but it is possible to encounter fishmongers that do not know what sushi grade fish is. While there is no official standard for using this label, the only federal regulation that must be met is that parasitic fish, such as salmon, should be frozen to kill any parasites before being consumed raw (2017 FDA Food Code 3-402.11)1. However, parasites are just one of the hazards that may be associated with eating raw fish. The hazards may also include chemical hazards like mercury or other heavy metals, pathogenic bacteria such as Vibrio spp., or physical hazards such as bone fragments or pieces of metal. Here, it is also important to note that freezing will only stop the growth of pathogenic bacteria, it will not kill them. Sushi grade fish will be more expensive, but you can be assured that you have received a higher quality product that is safer to consume raw, as it does not contain any parasites. To read more about safe sushi preparation, please consult the websites below that I found helpful when conducting my background on this topic. The first is the FDA Food code section on parasitic destruction, the second is a Canadian guideline for safe sushi preparation, and the third is an article from Food Safety Magazine back in 2015.
Another important point is to keep the fish refrigerated as long as possible. This will prevent the growth of any pathogens and keep the fish safer until it is ready to be prepared and eaten. In the same vein, preparing sushi rice properly with vinegar can also help prevent pathogens from growing. By preparing the rice in vinegar, the rice becomes acidic and will drop to a pH below 4.6. This is beyond the point most pathogens are able to grow. Thus, acidifying the rice helps prevent any bacteria present on the fish from cross-contaminating the rice and vice versa.
The last important point to mention is to make sure you are using clean utensils. Avoid using any wooden utensils as they can be harder to clean and can harbor more bacteria. Given that most people eat sushi with disposable wooden chopsticks, be sure to only use the chopsticks once and do not try to reuse the disposable chopsticks. When preparing the sushi, using clean stainless-steel knives and utensils can ensure that you are reducing the risks of cross-contaminating your sushi.
Graduate Research Associate
CFAES Department of Food Science and Technology
We would like to welcome our new TARTARE Project Manager Nasandra Wright M.P.H., R.S. Nasandra is a dedicated and experienced environmental health professional who is committed to developing and improving the delivery of food safety initiatives at the state, county, and local levels. After spending nearly two decades working in the private sector and in public health, including stints as a Public Health Commissioner, Environmental Health Director, Project Manager, and Food Safety Specialist, Wright forged alliances and built support among various stakeholders in order to maximize the health and wellness of all persons within their communities. She seeks to strengthen food safety awareness and best practices within underserved communities. Wright understands that inspiring teams to provide exemplary service requires a passion for helping individuals. She also believes that entities become empowered by collaborative ideals and focusing on reaching shared targets.
As the Director of Environmental Health at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, Wright spearheaded the leadership team responsible for resolving the West Virginia water crisis of 2014. She partnered with media, local businesses, individuals, and the West Virginia National Guard during the unprecedented event. She worked with her internal team to develop the overall food safety policy for conditionally re-opening foodservice facilities and other permitted establishments during the crisis. She also designed new approaches for implementing community-wide food safety programs and standards including a unique smart phone food application (App) for managing obesity. Further, she developed and implemented a county-wide food safety alert system capable of alerting permitted establishments of potential threats to customers within 60 seconds.
She brings a wealth of experience, expertise, and dedication to the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention team as the Program Manager for TARTARE: The Assessment and Management of Risk from Non-typhoidal Salmonella, Diarrheagenic Escherichia coli and Campylobacter in Raw Beef and Dairy in Ethiopia.
By: Ariel Garsow
Halloween is just around the corner. Although celebrating will look different this year, I am still looking forward to baking my favorite pumpkin treats.
Here are a few tricks so that your treats will be delicious and safe for your family:
Choosing a pumpkin
There are multiple different varieties of pumpkin. Although the hybrid variety Jack-O-Lantern is great for carving, they are not ideal for baking. There are other varieties, typically labeled pie or sugar pumpkins in stores, that will are easier to bake with due to having less stringy pulp. When choosing a pumpkin, avoid those that have a damaged rind with soft spots or mold. This is important for food safety because soft spots and openings in the rind could allow for a way for bacteria from the environment to enter into the pumpkin.
Baking with pumpkin
When baking with pumpkins, start with a new pumpkin. Do not use pumpkins that have been carved previously and have been unrefrigerated. There are many risks associated with using pulp from a pumpkin that was carved previously and has been sitting outside on the porch for days. For example, the pumpkin pulp could have become contaminated with bacteria that are found in the environment such as Listeria monocytogenes or other pathogens.
Prior to starting your recipe, rinse the dirt off of the outside of the pumpkin with water. Make sure you cut the pumpkin with a clean knife. These actions avoid contaminating the inside of the pumpkin with bacteria that could have been on the knife or on the surface of the pumpkin.
After pumpkins are cut into, it is important to use the seeds or pulp promptly (within 1-2 hours).
Cut around the stem of the pumpkin. Remove the pumpkin stem. Scoop out the stringy pulp and seeds. Cut the pumpkin in half.
There are two primary ways a pumpkin could be prepared to be cooked:
1. To make cubed pumpkin: peel the pumpkin and cut it into cubes
2. To make pumpkin puree: pierce the rind of the pumpkin
Here are a few links to recipes that use baked pumpkin or pumpkin seeds:
Pumpkin risotto (for reference: 160°C = 320°F)
Graduate Research Associate
CFAES Department of Food Science and Technology