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I was accepted to Capella University's Master of Public Health program in the spring of 2020 – it was the final day of classes before Covid-19 would shut down the Ohio State campus for the remainder of the semester. It felt like a sigh of relief to know that my next step was in place and was already designed to be completed entirely online. There wouldn't be any on-the-fly adaptation to the new virtual way of academia; this is exactly how the course was built to function. What I wasn't prepared for was the most nerve-wracking portion of my entire degree – securing a practicum in the middle of a pandemic. There was no guidance offered from my university. It was entirely up to the learners to secure a practicum site to successfully graduate. I sent off a dozen applications and emails. I applied to local health departments, the state health department, organizations around Columbus that I had any type of professional interest or alignment with. It seemed like everyone responded with the same message: "We are not currently accepting practicum students due to the pandemic. Please check back later."
In the midst of my discouragement, I received a response from Dr. Kara Morgan that was different from all the responses that came before it. She invited me in for an interview to work on a project looking at seafood consumption during pregnancy and the neurocognitive effects on the child. I spent the two weeks between scheduling my interview and attending my interview studying up on the subject. I wanted to be knowledgeable and prepared when I sat down to talk to her. We discussed my interests in the field and what I hoped to achieve during my practicum. My interests included maternal and fetal health, followed by food safety and security. The project could not have been a better professional fit! I told her that my biggest goal was to gain experience and exposure in the field. Funnily enough, the most significant public health crisis in my lifetime was gatekeeping my ability to gain the two things that I needed the most. Dr. Morgan had never worked with a student that wasn't an Ohio State student, especially not one with the strange practicum schedule that I was requesting. But despite all of that, she offered me a role on a project with CFI, and I was ecstatic to accept.
During my first week at my practicum, Dr. Morgan introduced me to a partner on the project, and together they explained my role to me. I was the second reviewer on a meta-analysis. I would spend four hours every Monday in the CFI office completing a meta-analysis of 64 journal articles. I had never conducted a meta-analysis before. But it sounded like something I could do - read through the journal articles, collect the data we were interested in. Easy enough.
So, for eight weeks, that is exactly what I did. I came in every Monday; I scrolled through the journal articles. I collected the data of interest: year of publication, number of participants, outcomes being measured, study limitations. Looking at all the research studies was beneficial to me in one of my Research Methods course this semester. The time that I spent shuffling through the articles during my practicum gave a big boost in my ability to decipher through the entire article to find the important pieces. It also helped me feel not so overwhelmed by massive journal articles that felt indigestible, because now I know exactly where to find the information I’m seeking. It saved a lot of time and anxiety when completing assignments. But more importantly, I met an incredible group of intellectuals. I met other MPH and Ph.D. students. I got to discuss their education and career paths with them. We got to reflect on our goals and establish networks with one another. They offered me encouragement that I didn't know I needed at the time. On the ninth week, I collaborated with my partner on the project. We compared our analyses and had constructive conversations about the differences we noticed and how to correct them. I got to meet a variety of professionals in the department. While I continued chipping away at my beast of a meta-analysis, I listened in to several meetings that I wasn't necessarily invited to and gained a world of exposure to different sectors in the field and different issues and topics that CFI and its staff play a role in. I got to absorb a seemingly whole new world of knowledge while I watched the entire department work as a well-oiled machine.
However, I underestimated the absolute confidence that I would have gained from this practicum experience. I think back to sitting in my interview with Dr. Morgan, where I had no experience in the field. My only goal was to get my foot in the door. I think back to my first day of the practicum experience, staring at my blank, daunting spreadsheet, unsure of where to begin. The growth that this practicum experience has offered to me has been unmatched. I have another 10 weeks of my practicum to complete with CFI. Dr. Morgan and I have discussed moving to a new project when I return for the second portion. But I feel more confident than I ever have to step into a new project, and brand-new professional world. My practicum project with Dr. Morgan and CFI has helped equip me with skills and tools that I'll need to be successful, and for that, I will forever be grateful.
In the past, food safety and nutrition were generally not considered jointly, but were managed as two separate issues. That separation can lead to less-than-optimal decision making. There is a new interest in building a decision-making framework that includes both nutrition and food safety jointly, with the intent of improving health outcomes.
One issue in which food safety and nutrition are relevant is seafood consumption during pregnancy. Due to mercury contamination in most bodies of water and therefore in the aquatic food chain, federal guidance asks pregnant women to limit their consumption of seafood due to the risk of impact on their unborn child from mercury. This warning often leads pregnant women to avoid eating seafood altogether. But we also know that seafood provides essential nutrition for the unborn child and research has shown the positive outcomes from prenatal seafood consumption. So, what if the lack of seafood in pregnant women’s diets could actually be doing more harm than good?
As part of our Masters in Public Health Program, we are required to complete a practicum that required to work with an organization on a project or topic related to public health and produce some sort of outcome that reflects our experience. This experience is meant to give us real world experience in the public health field. We were challenged to meet some competencies, such as analyze and interpret data obtained from an epidemiologic investigation and perform effectively on interprofessional teams. We were both excited to work on the Health Outcomes of Prenatal Seafood Consumption Project (HOPs) to meet our practicum requirements. The project’s overall goal is to quantify the impact of current levels of prenatal seafood consumption on the health outcomes of children in the United States. This can be broken down into two parts. Gabby’s practicum experience focused on determining how to update estimates of prenatal consumption of seafood. While Liberty’s practicum experience focused on preparing for a meta-analysis to investigate the impact of seafood on child neurodevelopmental outcome. Once we come up with an estimate for seafood consumption, we can use information from the meta-analysis to determine how the cognitive development of children here in the United States is being affected by seafood consumption.
As part of the HOPs project, we worked on an interprofessional team of public health professionals, along with a physician, a lawyer, and individuals who used to work with the Food and Drug Administration. As a team, we worked together to set goals and benchmarks for the project. We also met with others who worked in the field of nutrition to get their input on different aspects of the project. We examined systematic reviews and cohort studies and gained experience interpreting the results of data analysis.
Over the summer, we identified a data source to quantify seafood consumption and started collecting and preparing the data that will be used in the meta-analysis. Both of us plan to work with CFI for our culminating project to further examine the impact of current levels of prenatal seafood consumption on the health outcomes of the children here in the United States.
By: Nadira Yasmin
A question often posed to students and professionals on the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention (CFI) team is: What is food safety? Although the answer may be vast, one thing is for sure, there is a significance to food safety and why it is studied. Food safety is the scientific method used to reduce and eliminate foodborne illness and injury. Food safety is comprised of several practices, such as proper food production, transportation, storage, and preparation. These practices preserve food quality in order to prevent contamination and reduce foodborne illness (Oyarzabal & VanRenterghem, 2021). Through research, food safety allows for the identification of the burden of disease from foodborne illnesses, which then drives the allocation of resources for the further study and enhancement of safety measures within the food industry.
Food safety can also be viewed as a system. The goal of this system is the reduction or elimination of germs/pathogens in foods that can cause illness. Furthermore, when implemented properly through education and awareness, food safety can influence people’s behavior on food preparation, storage, and management practices. Behavioral science and surveillance are two proactive approaches to monitoring food safety. These approaches allow for continuous improvements in food safety, growing knowledge on foodborne disease outbreaks, and greater prevention methods.
Many times, consumers confuse food safety with food poisoning. Food safety, however, involves the practices that help prevent foodborne illness and make food safe for consumption. Food safety does not guarantee zero risk, but by implementing the right methodologies, there can be minimal risk to the consumer. Organic food is often mistaken for clean food. When in fact, to make the “organic” claim or use the USDA organic seal, the food must adhere to strict production, handling, and labeling procedures, go through the organic certification process, and must be grown without the use of growth regulators, food additives, pesticides, artificial fertilizers, or bioengineered genes (GMOs). Clean food, on the other hand, is food that is free of preservatives and has clean labeling. According to the Institute for Food Technologists, a clean label consists of making a product using as few ingredients as possible and ensuring that those ingredients are recognized and regarded as “wholesome” by the consumers (Velissariou, 2018).
Cleanliness is a major factor in preventing foodborne illness by the simple act of proper handwashing before handling food (Food safety and Inspection Service, n.d.). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have created “Four Steps to Food Safety.” The steps consist of: (1) Clean: washing hands and surfaces often; (2) Separate: avoiding cross-contamination of food, especially meat; (3) Cook: cooking the food to its optimal temperature for consumption; and (4) Chill: refrigerating promptly, especially perishable foods (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020).
Like other industries, tradeoffs exist within food safety also. For example, if there is a change made from using fertilizer to manure in the agricultural production sector, the improper handling of the manure can still lead to disease. There is also a cultural aspect to food safety, where a wide array of acceptable methods exist due to the variation of how food is prepared and consumed all around the world. CFI has made significant advancements and reforms within the food safety industry and is working tirelessly toward the elimination of foodborne illnesses altogether. With knowing the importance of food safety now, What does food safety mean to you?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 14). Four steps to food safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/keep-food-safe.html.
Food safety and Inspection Service. Food Safety | Food Safety and Inspection Service. (n.d.). https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety.
Oyarzabal, O. A., & VanRenterghem, B. B. (2021, February 22). The meaning of food safety. Food Safety RSS. https://www.food-safety.com/articles/6545-the-meaning-of-food-safety.
Velissariou, M. (2018, November 12). What is Clean Label? IFT.org. http://blog.ift.org/what-is-clean-label.
By: Ariel Garsow
Due to having virtual attendance options, from July 19-23, I was able to attend sessions from both the annual meeting for the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) as well as the Institute of Food Technologist’s (IFT) Food Improved by Research, Science & Technology (first) conferences. Some highlights include listening to Dr. Ertharin Cousin, a past Executive Director of the World Food Program and Ambassador to the UN agencies for FAO share how zero hunger is possible as well as learning about food ontology (a framework for naming conventions for food systems). I was not able to attend all of the sessions that I wanted to attend at these conferences. I am looking forward to watching sessions that I missed in the future.
During one of the sessions from IFT first, I was introduced to Food Science for Relief and Development (FSRD). FSRD utilizes knowledge of food science including the safe production of nutritious and culturally acceptable food from farm to fork as one of the tools to solve the wicked problem of ensuring food security for all. The publication of the Global Estimates for Foodborne Disease by the Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference (FERG) Group demonstrated that food safety needs to be a global priority. The estimated burden of foodborne disease globally was similar to that of tuberculosis and malaria (Havelaar et al., 2015). The FSRD movement broadens the current efforts in the development community by showing that food science can be applied to increase food safety and food security.
Food scientists are trained in methods to produce safe, nutritious, food consistently from raw goods to finished products. They can be valuable members on collaborative teams to work to ensure different aspects of food security. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work in the intersection between food science, data analytics, and public health whether it be writing a literature review on food safety challenges in refugee camps to collaborating with an interdisciplinary team to estimate risk factors for mycotoxin exposure. It is inspiring to hear about FSRD and the work that is being done to teach food scientists about potential opportunities in the field as well as seeing how food scientists are partnering with others to work to ensure food security.
Havelaar, A. H., Kirk, M. D., Torgerson, P. R., Gibb, H. J., Hald, T., Lake, R. J., Praet, N., Bellinger, D. C., de Silva, N. R., Gargouri, N., Speybroeck, N., Cawthorne, A., Mathers, C., Stein, C., Angulo, F. J., Devleesschauwer, B., & on behalf of World Health Organization Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group. (2015). World Health Organization Global Estimates and Regional Comparisons of the Burden of Foodborne Disease in 2010. PLOS Medicine, 12(12), e1001923. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001923
Tzertzeveli, Stella. (2020). Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/ORC9DyZXG-I
Before I began working on my MPH, I knew very little about how foodborne disease outbreaks (or any outbreaks for that matter) were investigated. I just assumed that health departments would compare lab test results from a large group of people that got sick and look for commonalities in the foods they consumed or activities in which they participated. However, during my MPH and through my work at CFI, I have gained a greater knowledge and appreciation for the work that goes into an outbreak investigation. As a result, I would like to share a brief overview of the “Anatomy of an Outbreak Investigation” so that you might better appreciate the work that goes into such an investigation.
Outbreak Investigations can be divided into 3 main phases: descriptive, analytical, and intervention. The descriptive phase is first and is focused on information and data gathering. The analytical phase follows and uses the data gathered during the descriptive phase to look for potential risk factors and areas for intervention. The final phase, intervention, uses the results of the analytical phase to make more targeted interventions to try to halt the outbreak and stop the spread. I will now dive in and provide a little more detail on what occurs during the 3 phases.
The first step of the descriptive phase (and of any outbreak investigation) is to determine if an outbreak is occurring. Here, it is worth mentioning the definition of an outbreak. An outbreak or epidemic occurs when we see levels of a disease above what is expected. For example, we expect to have a certain number of flu cases each flu season. However, if we see higher levels of flu than expected (as with 2009-2010 H1N1), an outbreak is declared. In the case of the 2009-2010 H1N1 outbreak, because it was an epidemic or outbreak affecting the whole world, we refer to it as a pandemic. Right, so back to step 1. To understand an outbreak is occurring, we must know if the number of cases of a disease is higher than we expect. For foodborne disease, this is done through surveillance systems such as FoodNet and PulseNet. Each year, we expect a certain number of sporadic cases of the various foodborne pathogens (Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, etc.) based on trends from previous years. If we ever see an unexpected spike in cases, the alarm is sounded, and an outbreak is declared. Outbreaks can also be declared when a specific strain of a pathogen is detected in several, seemingly unrelated people. This is done using PulseNet which sequences pathogens recovered from sick individuals. If the same sequence appears in multiple individuals, an outbreak can be declared.
The next step of the descriptive phase is to create a case definition and identify your outbreak cases. Setting an appropriate case definition is an important step as making the definition too inclusive may overload the system and overestimate the size of the outbreak. However, making the definition too exclusive will leave out cases and valuable data. Using simple, objective criteria for the case definition is the best way to ensure systematic and uniform inclusion of cases. The case definition can also evolve over time as more is learned about an outbreak. For example, if an outbreak of Salmonella were occurring, you might start with a case definition of any individual with lab-confirmed Salmonella matching the outbreak strain. Then as you learn risk-factors and potential source foods, you can target the case definition to be any individuals with lab-confirmed Salmonella matching the outbreak strain who ate certain foods or attended a specific event.
Once the cases are identified, you want to begin part 3 of the descriptive phase, describing the occurrence of disease in time and place. Here is where you will find the “epidemic curve,” a plot showing cases over time, as well as maps showing spatial trends in the outbreak. In a foodborne outbreak investigation, investigators will also conduct interviews with confirmed cases to obtain information on what they ate, how they prepared food, if they attended any events or restaurants, etc. These interviews are performed by local health departments and contain questions based on previous foodborne contamination events in order to avoid bias and better direct questions. The information gathered here will aid investigators in the analytical phase of the investigation.
Speaking of the analytical phase, that is the next stop in our outbreak investigation. This phase has two steps: hypothesis generation and hypothesis testing. Using the epidemiological data collected in phase 1, investigators try to answer the following questions:
- What is the cause of the outbreak? (what is the pathogen or infectious agent?)
- What is the source of the outbreak? (common point source or multiple sources?)
- How did the outbreak spread? (what is the transmission pathway?)
- What are the risk factors associated with the outbreak?
The goal behind answering these questions is to identify key components of the outbreak in order to inform the third and final phase of the outbreak investigation.
The last phase of an outbreak investigation is the intervention phase. Similar to the previous phase, there are 2 parts to the intervention phase: implementing control and prevention measures and communicating the findings. The goal of any outbreak investigation is to stop the outbreak from spreading and limit the number of illnesses and deaths. Information gathered during the previous two phases of the investigation informs the interventions of the third phase. For example, in foodborne disease outbreaks, once investigators learn the source of an outbreak (i.e. romaine lettuce from Yuma, AZ), they will advise people to avoid food from that source until corrective action is taken. In cases where there is a food processor or company behind the outbreak, investigators will gather enough information to convince the processor or company to make a voluntary recall in order to help prevent the spread.
Lastly, it is crucial to communicate the findings from any outbreak investigation. As humans, we can make mistakes while learning along the way. In an outbreak investigation, mistakes may get made and there may be things the investigators wished they had done differently. By communicating and reporting on the outbreak as it happened, future investigations can be aided by the knowledge gained during previous investigations. Once the final numbers are in and reported, the outbreak investigation can be closed. Hopefully now you have a better understanding of how outbreaks are investigated and the work that goes into completing such an investigation. If you would like to dive deeper into how outbreak investigations occur, I recommend starting at the CDC’s website at the following link: https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/outbreaks/investigating-outbreaks/investigations/index.html#anchor_1529592062
Graduate Research Associate
By: Allison Howell
In 2011, the FAO released a report with a startling statistic: nearly 1/3 of food produced in the world is wasted or lost. Since then, reducing food waste has become a hot topic 1. One popular method of reducing the amount of food waste sent to landfills at the consumer level is composting. Composting is a process of converting organic waste, such as fruits, vegetables and yard waste like leaves and grass clippings into a mixture for promoting plant growth, a “natural” fertilizer. This fertilizer can then be used to provide fuel for your plants, vegetable gardens, or window boxes. While commercially produced and distributed compost is subject to regulation by the Ohio EPA, compost created at a home residence is not subject to regulation or inspection. Without any sort of regulation into the safety of home-generated compost, risk arises in using the compost for vegetable or herb gardens, where the plant grown is intended to be consumed.
Today, there are lots of options for individuals to start composting. A quick search for “home composting” reveals a plethora of articles and guides for individuals to start composting. Some require the use of compost bins which can cost anywhere from $60 to upwards of $200, but you can also find DIY guides that require only space, time, and lots of browns (carbon-rich materials like leaves, newspapers, and twigs) and greens ( nitrogen or protein rich materials like grass clippings, fruit and veggie scraps, or egg shells).2 The EPA provides guidance on which waste items can be composted at home and which should not. While most yard and food scraps can be composted, some should be avoided for food safety and feasibility reasons. Dairy and meat may be hosts for harmful bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli. Composting contaminated foods would lead to the spread of pathogens onto the crops that is fertilized. Moreover, composting these items can attract pests or insects to the compost, which could again lead to transmission of pathogens.
However, for those low on space or time, but rich in browns and greens, community composting groups have begun to pop up in some neighborhoods. The mechanics of composting are the same, but the logistics make composting much easier (and possibly less stinky) for consumers. Composting programs such as the Compost Exchange in Columbus, Ohio provide subscribers with a plastic bucket and compostable liners to collect compostable materials and then collect the contents of the bucket to be composted at their own facility. Programs like this are becoming quite popular. A 2019 report from US Public Interest Research Group revealed that the number of communities offering composting programs like Columbus’ Compost Exchange has grown by 65 percent over the last five years3.
So what exactly happens to the compost generated by at-home composters or community composting groups?
- If you compost at home, you can reap the benefits of your hard work and use the compost as you wish to fertilize plants. Most composting groups also make the final compost product available to those that helped contribute the browns and greens necessary, sometimes free and sometimes for a small fee.
The final piece of this composting puzzle is where the food safety questions begin to arise. Here are some common questions about composting and food safety.
- Is it safe to use homemade compost as a fertilizer for home-grown fruits and vegetables?
- Probably. If you composted the correct materials and incorporated an appropriate amount of air and water to your compost.
- What if I accidentally composted something that I shouldn’t have? Can I still use my compost as fertilizer for plants that will be eaten?
- It depends. There are various reasons why certain items should not be composted and the resulting risk of incorrectly composting an item may vary based on that reason. To be safe, it would be best to not use for growing food, though you could use it for flowers or decorative plants.
- How do I know that my compost is ready to be used as fertilizer? If I use it before it’s ready, am I going to get sick?
- Compost is ready to use after it no longer resembles the starting materials, but looks like potting soil. It should feel cool and crumbly when touched4. It’s unlikely that compost contains pathogenic bacteria that could make you sick, but it could happen. There is always chance food could make us sick, and it is possible that harmful bacteria may be present in a compost heap at some time or another.
The rise of composting as a mechanism for reducing food loss (see the important distinction between food loss and food waste here), is a great advancement towards creating a more sustainable food system. But this excitement must be balanced with a conservative approach to and consideration of how composting might affect the safety of food, which it is used to fertilize down the line. To quote a 2018 review article on the topic “Understanding the mechanisms of pathogen survival during the composting process and mechanisms that reduce pathogen populations can minimize the risk of pathogen contamination in the cultivation of fruits and vegetables”5. An aptly-titled 2020 article from Food Safety News “Cook your compost to the same temperature as your burgers” provided several important calls to action for individuals looking to start composting. However, the first action item cited by Brian Bonner is to “educate yourself on composting’s benefits and risks” is perhaps the most important6. The act of composting is positioned uniquely between two major areas of food studies: food safety and food loss and waste. To make responsible decisions and minimize food safety risk while maximizing the benefit of reducing food waste and loss, education is an imperative first step. Learning about and incorporating an understanding of food safety risk in your approach to composting can help ensure that the compost generated by your efforts best nourishes plants without introducing additional food safety risks to the friends, family, or even strangers that may end up consuming compost-fertilized produce.
1. Food Loss and Food Waste. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
2. Vanderlinden, C. Which Items Are ‘Greens’ and Which Are ‘Browns’ for Composting? The Spruce
3. Composting in America | U.S. PIRG.
4. Composting | NRCS.
5. Gurtler, J. B. et al. Composting To Inactivate Foodborne Pathogens for Crop Soil Application: A Review. J Food Prot 81, 1821–1837 (2018).
6. Bonner, Brian. Cook your compost to the same temperature as your burgers. Food Safety News
Graduate Research Associate
By: Ariel Garsow
Looking at the back of a package of frozen food, there can be detailed instructions. Are these instructions important to follow for food safety?
What labels mean
Frozen foods are separated into categories based on how they need to be cooked for food safety. Some are ready to eat, like yummy Dino Buddies (although many would prefer cooked Dino Buddies), while others, like Lean Cuisine Alfredo Pasta with Chicken & Broccoli need to be cooked before they are ready to be consumed. You can tell if an item is ready to be consumed by looking at the front of the package for a label that says fully cooked (circled in red in the photo below).
On the other hand, the Lean Cuisine Alfredo Pasta with Chicken & Broccoli needs to be cooked thoroughly before it is consumed (circled in red in the photo below).
Reason for the directions
The cooking instructions on a package of frozen food are created to optimize safety and quality for the consumer in order to ensure that food is safe and the ideal texture and taste of the food is achieved. If you are anything like me, the part that I want to skip the most in the directions on the back of a package of frozen food is the stir and put the item back in the microwave.
There is a reason for this step. Heating is not even in a microwave. Many microwaves have turn tables to mitigate these temperature differences and allow for more even heating of foods. The picture below shows the result of a simulation of the temperature differences throughout a microwave with a potato in it (COMSOL, 2017). The red spots show hotter areas while the blue spots demonstrate colder areas in the microwave.
This is why Lean Cuisine Alfredo Pasta with Chicken & Broccoli in their directions states that after stirring, the product needs to be “cook[ed] again for 1:30 minutes on high.”
One note on stirring: the product is not completely cooked after the first cook step. For reduction of risk of foodborne illness, the utensil being used to stir should be washed before it is used again.
There is a higher risk of foodborne illness if you consume foods that are not prepared according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In March 2016, an outbreak of listeriosis was found to be caused by individuals that ate frozen sweet corn and green peas. Listeria monocytogenes can cause serious health effects such as death and miscarriage in vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.
I hope the next time you pull out your frozen meal from the microwave, you understand the importance of waiting for the food to be fully cooked to reduce your risk of foodborne illness.
COMSOL. (2017). The Microwave Heating Principle. Multiphysics Cyclopedia. https://www.comsol.com/multiphysics/microwave-heating
Lean Cuisine. (n.d.). Alfredo Pasta with Chicken & Broccoli. https://www.goodnes.com/lean-cuisine/products/alfredo-pasta-chicken-broccoli/
Yummy Dino Buddies. (2018). Gluten Free Dinosaur Nuggets. https://www.yummydinobuddies.com/products
Graduate Research Associate
By: Vanora Davila
So, you want to talk about the danger zone? The temperature danger zone, that is. When talking about food, the danger zone refers to the temperature range in which bacteria growth occurs most rapidly -- 41˚F (5˚C) to 140˚F (60˚C). In this range, food-poisoning bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels that can cause foodborne illness. Many times, this danger zone can be a result of improper cooling techniques that can be easily avoided.
After cooking, hot foods, such as soups, stocks, cooked meats, pasta, rice, and foods containing dairy, and eggs should be kept hot or be cooled quickly if not immediately served. If you are trying to keep the food hot, you can place the food hot on the stove top or the oven, ensuring the unit is set high enough to keep food hotter than 140˚F.
If the food is to be put away, it should cool down from 140˚F to 70˚F within two hours and to 41˚F or lower within four hours. However, hot food needs some help to go through this process. While we may think that a refrigerator should be up for this task, the truth is that refrigerators are not capable of quickly and safely cooling hot foods. Putting hot foods directly into the fridge or freezer can actually raise the overall temperature of the unit, allowing other foods in your fridge or freezer to enter the danger zone and become hazardous.
Instead, a food ice bath is a great and effective way to cool food quickly and evenly while preventing bacteria from growing and multiplying.
How to make a food ice bath:
- Fill your sink or a large container with ice and cold water
- Place your smaller container of food into the ice bath (container should be level with the ice). Tip: stainless steel containers are great for heat transfer!
- Occasionally stir the food to release heat and ensure the food cools down evenly
- Verify your food’s temperature using a food thermometer. Once the food reaches 40˚F, it is ready to be safely put away in the refrigerator
As you can see, making a food ice bath is simple. The next time you have hot foods that need to be put away, remember that ice baths help you avoid the danger zone with great ease.
1. Cool soup safely. Available from: https://extension.umn.edu/preserving-and-preparing/cool-soup-safely
2. Keeping Your Customers Safe by Cooling Food Properly. Available from: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/inspect/inspect-foodmatter...
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