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By: Allison Howell

I was home with my family for Spring Break when Ohio State first announced a transition to online learning for the rest of Spring Semester. As a graduating senior, I didn’t know how to feel. I was sad that I wouldn’t get to see my classmates or teachers anymore. I was confused as to how my lab courses would be transitioned into an online format. But as a microbiology major, I understood the threat that COVID-19 posed and why these decisions had been made. Soon, more announcements were made. Spring Break would be extended an extra week for students to move out of university housing, gyms and dining facilities would be shut down, students on study abroad would have to return home, and the Class of 2020’s graduation ceremony would be cancelled. All of these cancellations and postponements put a damper on the last few weeks of my undergraduate experience, but I adapted to the situation and finished my coursework to earn my undergraduate degree.

With classes being moved online, I have had more free time to cook meals and try out new recipes. At home, leftovers were not as common and usually only lasted a day or two in the fridge before my dad or one of my sisters finished them up. But now, cooking for one, I often find myself filling two or three containers with leftovers every time I cook. I try to keep them close to the front of the fridge, so I remember to eat them before they go bad, but I also live and share a refrigerator with five roommates. Leftovers get moved around to make room for more leftovers or a recent grocery haul, and often I find myself faced with a dilemma: How long ago did I make this chicken? Was this my leftover pasta from Monday or my roommate’s leftover pasta from last Monday?

In these situations, I find myself reminded of food safety campaigns such as 4 Day Throwaway and USDA’s Be Food Safe: Clean. Separate. Cook. Chill.

4 Day Throw AwayClean, Separate, Cook, Chill

Growing up with two parents in the food industry, I learned how to make safe food choices, but many other college students didn’t spend their free time as a kid helping stock shelves at a grocery store or watching a parent experiment with new recipes. After two years of living off campus and being without a meal plan, my roommates still often ask me things like “If I am going to cook this chicken on Friday will it stay good in the fridge until then or should I freeze it?” and “How do I tell if these burgers are done?”

This pandemic has displaced many college students, some who are able to return to their family homes and some who are not. With university dining services closed, these students are thrust headfirst into shopping for and preparing their own meals. Data suggests most outbreaks of foodborne illness are tied to restaurants or eating out, but this trend should be appreciated with caution. Our current food safety surveillance systems are better at detecting incidences of foodborne illness for restaurants than homecooked food. Following basic food safety guidelines can always help reduce your risk of foodborne illness whether you are cooking for a crowd or yourself. In normal times or during a global pandemic.

I have seen lots of articles and stories connecting COVID-19 to food safety and providing answers to questions such as “Can COVID-19 be spread through food?”, “Is takeout or delivery safer?” and “How should I change the way I grocery shop?” No data suggests that COVID-19 is able to be transmitted through food, but still food safety experts and public health officials have been working hard to make sure the public is informed and empowered to make safe food choices during this pandemic. The FDA has an abundance of resources on their Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 page, and many universities have been hosting webinars and publishing communications to keep the public informed. This graphic from North Carolina State University Extension is just one example of the many resources they have been developing. Check out the rest here.

COVID-19 and Food Safety FAQ

We have been adjusting a lot of our daily decisions and behaviors to the current state of the pandemic. Food safety behaviors are not excluded from this change. The pandemic has drawn attention to how we contribute to the spread of germs and the actions we are able to take to help limit this spread. These actions, such as more frequent handwashing and staying home as much as possible when sick help to reduce the spread of both COVID-19 and foodborne pathogens. While we hope many things may go back to “normal” after the pandemic, perhaps not all of these adjustments should be reversed. Frequent handwashing and more attention to personal hygiene, especially in the kitchen, are hopefully here to stay!


Allison Howell

 

Allison Howell

Graduate Research Assistant at the Master’s level

howell.497@buckeyemail.osu.edu

 

 

 

 

 

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chain by Franck V. unsplash.com

By: Zain Bali

Tracking information is important to food safety regulators and businesses because it helps identify when and where products have been. Blockchain technology is a new tool that can track products more efficiently and effectively than bar or QR codes. The potential benefits of blockchain technology for record keeping in food supply chains have been a clear and consistent message for years (Fontanazza, 2019; How Blockchain, 2019; Plaven, 2020). Using blockchain would allow for immediate trace-back when a contaminated product is found. And it can identify the source of the food in hours instead of the weeks it now takes. So, what is blockchain? What are its uses across the food industry? What is a food safety perspective and how could blockchain assist in product tracking and by extension outbreak investigations?

To explain blockchain, I will start with Bitcoin, which was believed to be the future of money just a few years ago. In 2017, this electronic currency, once valued in pennies, peaked at $17,000 a coin (NDTV Profit Team. 2018). The usefulness of cryptocurrency was obvious to many - no bank or government could charge transaction fees and it is impossible to counterfeit. This transparency created high levels of trust among those that used it. The blockchain technology that undergirded Bitcoin paired cryptography and internet networks to create an information system that is secure, decentralized, and displays transactions in real time.

To understand how blockchain works, it might help to imagine how information is shared in transportation systems. For example, if you are a tourist in Chicago, you can use one machine to buy a $20 three-day pass. This pass can be used on all three systems in Chicago: Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra (Chicago’s commuter railroad), and Pace (suburban bus system). The machine prints out a blue card with big white letters “Ventra'' which is a fare system that bridges the gap among the information and finance systems of CTA, Pace, and Metra. Ventra uses RFID technology embedded in its pass to enable use of all three of these services. Ventra is also the middleman that facilitates payment from your banking institution to the transportation services. At time of purchase, Ventra processes the payment by sending a request to your bank. The bank’s systems verify this transaction, create an internal record of purchase, and reimburse Ventra which splits the funds between three systems. When all is said and done, five different electronic systems have participated in translating or processing information for your use of transportation. Each system has its own set of security controls, and information processes that incur administrative cost and risk.

Blockchain cuts out the middleman. In blockchain, the original request for a ticket, rather than going to a middleman like Ventra, is processed through a series of “nodes” connecting the three systems’ information systems together that verify the transaction. The computers and servers among the three transportation systems create a shared ledger with each information system using a “key” generated by known algorithms dedicated for this network. When a new user is processed and status verified, the system creates a “block” in a secure chain that stores data in a chronological and linear fashion visible to every participant (Figure 1). 

Image - How Blockchain works

Figure 1: This graphic shows how a blockchain is created in the network.

Source: Blockchain Infographics: The Most Comprehensive Collection. (2019, November 08). Retrieved May 16, 2020, from https://blockgeeks.com/blockchain-infographics/

Blockchain’s potential application in food safety has attracted attention from government agencies, food retailers, and consumer groups. In 2018, FDA introduced it’s “New Era of Smarter Food Safety'' which celebrated blockchain’s potential for improving product tracking during an outbreak. Currently, when an outbreak occurs, investigators interview individuals who have been sickened to identify suspect foods. Investigators then request records from businesses who produce, handle, or process the suspected product. They use these information sources to determine the root cause of the outbreak. This is a very difficult task because the food supply system is vast and mostly working in silos rather than with systems that easily share data. 

For example, in April 2018, there was an outbreak of E. Coli 0157:H7 that caused 210 illnesses, 96 hospitalizations and 5 deaths. Three and a half weeks after the first confirmed illness, investigators finally identified romaine lettuce from a single farm in the Yuma growing region as the source of the outbreak. In the intervening time, the government could only recommend consumers avoid romaine lettuce and businesses recalled millions of heads of lettuce resulting in a reduced consumer trust and economic loss. Part of the reason these investigations take so long is because of the time it takes a business to compile records of their product. Even in the best cases, sometimes a company could not confirm a product's location because it used different record keeping technologies/methods from its business partners. Depending on maturation of their traceability systems, it can take days to weeks. 

Following the outbreak, in an open letter to its leafy green suppliers, Walmart highlighted the need for enhanced food traceability to reduce investigation times, and conduct more thorough “root cause analysis to inform future prevention efforts, and the implication and associated-losses of unaffected products that are inaccurately linked to an outbreak can be avoided” (Walmart Traceability, 2018). In December 2018, Walmart identified 25 products for blockchain use and announced that all suppliers of leafy greens will be required to use the technology by 2019 under their new Traceability Initiative for Leafy Greens (Smith, M. 2018). This decision was motivated by high profile outbreaks like the one above and Walmart’s recent success in pilot studies tracking pork and mango. Walmart chose to collaborate with IBM using its product Hyperledger Fabric. Walmart conducted the experiment for mangos by working with GS1 to develop new product labels while IBM created programs that could read those labels and transfer the information into the blockchain network. Walmart worked with its mango suppliers by providing new labels and support to integrate them into existing operations. After, suppliers were able to upload their data through a secure web portal that connected their business to the rest of the blockchain. Walmart then tested the system to see how long it would take them to trace a given mango to its source – it reduced the time from a week to 2.2 seconds! Imagine if that were the case for the Yuma romaine lettuce outbreak! Of course, there are two caveats: 1) Walmart is an outlier as this technology is relatively new, and 2) the pilot studies were not studying outbreak investigations rather the efficiency of product tracking.

The hype around blockchain is exciting but perhaps too enthusiastic.  A look from a food safety perspective reveals some practical challenges. Most think of food inspectors when they think of food safety or, if you have worked in food service, then you may think of the ubiquitous hand washing sign. Food safety is a joint effort among everyone who comes in contact with the food you enjoy. There is a complex system of food laws dictating how products are grown, processed, and manufactured to ensure they are safe and exactly what you paid for. Then, there are the management systems businesses use to test, label, market, and track products. So, although blockchain may be a huge advantage for problems ,like how to identify which suppliers may have been exposed to contamination, it is only one piece in the large system that makes food safe. 

Blockchain also comes at high cost to implement and maintain. When compared to other record keeping options, many companies use paper or electronic management systems analogous to Ventra from the earlier example. Even RFID, a technology that has been on the market for 40 years, was recently incorporated in smart packing technology and had an average price of $.10 a tag per product (Aiello et al., 2015). This is a very high cost for an industry that traditionally has very small profit margins. Another challenge is the investment in human resources or equipment to ensure compliance with food safety standards. If a business is large enough, they can likely hire food safety officers to monitor employee behavior, equipment cleanliness, and new policy developments and generate reports. Additional options for those with less resources include hiring certified third-party consultants to conduct the same activities. Now imagine a company already uses a paper record keeping system and wants to transition to a new electronic system. The company has to make investments to secure the software service used for electronic record keeping and train new staff to monitor the operation and maintenance of that system. Or perhaps the company already uses an electronic data system but needs to upgrade equipment or invest into employee training. This is the reality of food safety – there are many other aspects like cost and training that influence the adoption of this technology. 

Blockchain record keeping is one tool in food safety that has enormous potential for improving traceability considering recent advancements in technology but still... blockchain is no magic bullet.

References:

Aiello, G., Enea, M., & Muriana, C. (2015). The expected value of the traceability information. European Journal of Operational Research, 244(1), 176-186. doi:10.1016/j.ejor.2015.01.028

Blockchain Infographics: The Most Comprehensive Collection. (2019, November 08). Retrieved May 16, 2020, from https://blockgeeks.com/blockchain-infographics/

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 Infections Linked to Chopped Romaine. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from https://www.fda.gov/food/outbreaks-foodborne-illness/fda-investigated-mu...

Fontanazza, M. (2019, March 20). Promise of Blockchain Could Help Seafood Traceability, Unique Challenges Remain. Retrieved May 19, 2020, from https://foodsafetytech.com/news_article/promise-of-blockchain-could-help...

How Blockchain Is Changing the Supply Chain Conversation. (2019). Retrieved May 19, 2020, from https://www.ift.org/news-and-publications/food-technology-magazine/issue...

NDTV Profit Team. (2018, January 07). Bitcoin Jumps To $17,000 As Cryptocurrency Finds A New 'Pal' In Peter Thiel. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://www.ndtv.com/business/bitcoin-rises-again-as-cryptocurrency-gets-a-new-pal-in-peter-thiel-1796797

Plaven, G., & Capital Press. (2020, January 18). Blockchain technology helps farmers track crops. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://www.capitalpress.com/ag_sectors/research/blockchain-technology-helps-farmers-track-crops/article_02d9073e-2c12-11ea-859b-f31f99156d3b.html

Smith, M. (2018). In Wake of Romaine E. coli Scare, Walmart Deploys Blockchain to Track Leafy Greens. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://corporate.walmart.com/newsroom/2018/09/24/in-wake-of-romaine-e-coli-scare-walmart-deploys-blockchain-to-track-leafy-greens

Walmart, Food Traceability Initiative. (2018, September 24). Food Traceability Initiative Fresh Leafy Greens [Press release]. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from https://corporate.walmart.com/media-library/document/blockchain-supplier...


Zain BaliZain Bali

bali.6@osu.edu

Undergraduate Student Researcher

Department of Food Science & Technology

 

 

 

 

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Man on motorcycle delivering food - Getty Images

By: Tracy Turner

What steps do I need to take when ordering takeout food or food from a delivery service in light of the coronavirus pandemic?

First, it’s important to understand that COVID-19 is not a foodborne disease. While there have been no reports as of this time to suggest that COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has been transmitted by handling food or food packaging, here are some ways that you can protect yourselves and others when ordering food through takeout, a drive-thru, or a home delivery service.

Because COVID-19 transmits person-to-person through droplets that are produced when an infected individual coughs or sneezes, the best way to protect yourself and others is to keep physical distance of at least 6 feet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. Symptoms range from mild to severe respiratory illness. Advanced age or conditions such as various cancers, COPD, asthma, heart disease, and diabetes are associated with an increased severity of COVID-19 infections and fatality rates.

The virus is most often transferred to another individual when droplets directly reach their nose, mouth, or eyes, or through close contact such as a handshake. The virus can also transmit when a person touches an object or surface with the virus on it and then touches their mouth or eyes before washing their hands.

“Takeout minimizes the number of touches by people, especially if the restaurant is practicing social distancing and good preparation practices,” said Sanja Ilic, food safety state specialist with Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“Delivered foods present no risks if the restaurant practices a no-touch/no-interaction policy during preparation,” she said.

In fact, getting food through takeout and/or a drive-thru is a good risk management choice, especially for high-risk and elderly groups because it helps people maintain social distancing and reduces the number of touch points, Ilic said.

“Likewise, food delivery helps people maintain social distancing and reduces the number of touch points between the preparation and serving of food,” she said.

However, Ilic said, independent delivery drivers cannot guarantee low-touch delivery and proper physical distancing during deliveries.

“You have to make sure that the provider is using the procedures that will prevent the virus transmission,” she said.

With that in mind, here are several ways consumers can protect themselves in order to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission from packaging or delivery:

  • Use measures to reduce the amount of package handling.
  • Make sure your provider is implementing no-touch/no-interaction options. Many delivery programs have now instituted these measures.
  • Ask the manager about the measures the restaurant staff is taking for food safety, before placing your order. Many restaurants are now volunteering this information.
  • Practice handwashing and use hand sanitizer before and after handling packaging. It’s important that you wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time. Hand sanitizer is also an option if you do not have access to soap and water.
  • If you use delivery for restaurant food, after you receive the food, unpack it and dispose of the packaging, and then wash your hands. Do not touch your nose, mouth, eyes, or face until after this procedure is complete.

“Food businesses should be following employee health policies and health department recommendations to keep people home,” Ilic said. “Also, it’s important to remember, the best thing you can do is to continue using good food safety practices before preparing or eating food, like always washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after using the restroom, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.”

For more information, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a website dedicated to answering questions regarding food, food safety, and COVID-19.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, state specialist in food safety for OSU Extension.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: 

Tracy Turner

turner.490@osu.edu

614-688-1067

SOURCE(S): 

Sanja Ilic
614-292-4076
ilic.2@osu.edu

 

  1. 364 West Lane Ave.
    Suite B120
    Columbus, OH 43201
    Fax: 614-292-2270
  2. Research Services Building
    1680 Madison Ave.
    Wooster, OH 44691
    Fax: 330-202-3504

 

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woman using hand sanitizer while shopping - Getty Images

By: Tracy Turner

What steps do I need to take when grocery shopping in light of the coronavirus pandemic?

COVID-19 is not a foodborne disease. While there have been no reports as of this time to suggest that COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has been transmitted by handling food or food packaging, here are ways that consumers can protect themselves when grocery shopping.

COVID-19 transmits person-to-person through droplets that are produced when an infected individual coughs or sneezes, said Qiuhong Wang, a scientist and coronavirus researcher with The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. Symptoms range from mild to severe respiratory illness. Advanced age or conditions such as various cancers, COPD, asthma, heart disease, and diabetes are associated with an increased severity of COVID-19 infections and fatality rates.

The virus is most often transferred to another individual when droplets directly reach their nose, mouth, or eyes, or through close contact such as a handshake. The virus can also transmit when a person touches an object or surface with the virus on it and then touches their mouth or eyes before washing their hands.

With that in mind, the most important thing that consumers can do to protect themselves and others when grocery shopping is to practice social distancing, said Sanja Ilic, food safety state specialist with Ohio State University Extension, CFAES’ outreach arm.

That includes keeping at least 6 feet between yourself and other shoppers while shopping and when standing in line to pay for your purchases, she said, noting that current evidence shows the biggest risk of transmission of COVID-19 is being around individuals who are symptomatic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As such, many retailers have taken to marking safe standing distances with an “X” on the floor in the checkout lines.

“Although consumers should not be too worried about COVID-19 transmissions from food, everyone should follow good hygiene practices when purchasing and preparing foods to lessen their chances of contracting the virus from other sources,” she said.

If possible, use hand sanitizer before and after selecting produce items, and avoid touching multiple produce items when making selections, Ilic said.

“If you are concerned about fresh produce or other food being contaminated with coronavirus, wash your hands before and after eating, and before touching your face,” she said. “Also, make sure you never cough or sneeze in or around fresh produce display refrigerators.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone wash their hands often; refrain from touching their mouth, nose, and eyes; and use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.”

Many grocery stores have instituted safety precautions such as reducing the hours the stores are open to allow employees to sanitize and restock the stores each night, and allowing special shopping hours for elderly consumers and those with compromised immune systems.

Additionally, here are other steps that Extension educators suggest you take when going to the store for food and supplies:

  • Sanitize shopping cart and basket handles before and after you use them. All grocery stores should have sanitization wipes near the entrance. If bringing a young child to the store with you, clean and sanitize the child flap seat and other areas that the child can touch. This is because coronaviruses can remain on hard surfaces such as steel and plastic for up to three days, research has shown.
  • Use a single-use plastic bag for meat packages. Although not specific to COVID-19 prevention, research has shown that doing so can reduce the risk of foodborne pathogen cross-contamination.
  •  You don’t have to clean and sanitize food packaging. If you or your loved ones are at increased risk from infection, you can wipe shelf-stable and ready-to-eat food packages. If you do so follow the instructions on the label of the sanitizer or wipe. Do not wash your produce using soup and water as it may be toxic.

  • Use sanitizer wipes on “high-touch” hand-contact surfaces such as door handles, salad-bar tongs, and checkout counters.
  • Wash and sanitize your hands after grocery shopping. It’s important that you wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds each time. Hand sanitizer is also an option if you do not have access to soap and water.
  • Use separate bags for raw meat and ready-to-eat food items, as a general precaution.
  • Wash and sanitize reusable grocery bags often. You can do this by washing the bags in hot, soapy water. If the bags are made of nonwashable material, wipe them down with a sanitizer before and after each use.
  • If possible, avoid using cash, opting to use a credit or debit card instead. Once home, it’s a good idea to wipe your credit or debit card with a sanitizing cloth or wipe.

For more information, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a website dedicated to answering questions regarding food, food safety, and COVID-19.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, state specialist in food safety for OSU Extension.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: 

Tracy Turner

turner.490@osu.edu

614-688-1067

SOURCE(S): 

Sanja Ilic
614-292-4076
ilic.2@osu.edu

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Picturesque view of Lake Atitlán

By: Gary Closs, Jr.

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala is equal parts beautiful and dangerous. Beyond the captivating beauty of the volcanic lake lie stories that few get to tell.  We, OSU graduate students and Asst. Professor/ CFI director Barbara Kowalcyk, were visiting the lake to learn more about its connection to food safety and its implications on One Health. My first glance of the lake came as we drove to Panajachel. The picturesque lake looked like the place meditation leaders tell you to imagine when you close your eyes. Three volcanoes (San Pedro, Tolimán, and Atitlán) surround it. The deep, blue lake was further decorated with rich green trees and kissed by the sunlight on the horizon. I took in the beauty of the lake on day one and found myself staring out my hotel balcony all night as the sunset turned the sky shades of pink and orange in the distance.

Overlooking Lake AtitlánView of Lake Atitlan from hotel balcony in Panajachel

Unbeknownst to me, I would be quickly redirected to the deeper stories and perils of the lake as we visited the Mayan towns along the lake’s shores. This metaphoric switch seemed to be physically manifested by the winds that rocked the boat as we traveled to the first destination of San Lucas.

Upon arrival, we immediately noticed the difference and instead saw a dying lake. We were even informed that children under the age of five had a 50 percent mortality rate. Women were directly washing clothes in the lake. Detergents add to the lake’s contamination; however this practice makes sense for town’s people who have limited resources. In an effort to reduce water contamination, several washing stations have been built near the lake but all but one were empty. Instead, there was an overwhelming amount of people washing at one particular station. More alarming, we learned about water practices among the town. Natives tend to believe that clear water equates to clean water. It is common practice for them to remove the debris from water and use it under the guise that it is now safe. Some do take measures to add chlorine but it is unmeasured and seemingly random.

 View of Lake Atitlán in San Lucas

As a student who studies foodborne disease and zoonotic pathogens, I was constantly paying attention to the chickens and dogs that roamed the premises and drank water from various crevices. I was made aware that it is common for such animals to come in and around the houses defecating near the people; further contaminating the lake through run off.  Runoff contaminated with pathogens and chemical pollutants can harm the fish, animals that prey on the fish, and humans as the contamination makes it way up the food chain through a process called biomagnification.

However, poor agricultural practices aren’t the only things adding to the lake’s contamination. Climate change and expanding tourism have greatly added to the destruction. The lake is contaminated with cyanobacteria, which has caused outbreaks in the past.1 Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic bacteria, often mistaken for algae, that can cause disease in humans and animals when ingested.2

Saving Lake Atitlán requires interventions, education, and financial assistance. Interventions must take into account the culture and daily routines of its inhabitants. Culturally conscious science and advocacy is what is needed to revitalize the health and stability of the lake and people. Fortunately, organizations like Amigos de Lago (a non-profit, non-governmental organization) have been developing safe plant mediation methods to combat the lake’s contamination. They have also been educating the natives on ways to conserve the lake and advocating for proper practices. Amigos de Lago graciously led our tour of the native towns and lake. The organization’s effort to include science, education, and advocacy prove to be a blueprint that culturally responsible conservation is attainable.

Plant mediation at the Amigos de Lago research facilityOhio State University graduate students with Dr. Kowalcyk at Santa Catarina Palopó with Lake Atitlán in the background

  1. Rejmankova, Eliska & Komárek, Jiří & Dix, Margaret & Komárková, Jaroslava & Girón, Nancy. (2011). Cyanobacterial blooms in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Limnologica. 4 296-302. 10.1016/j.limno.2010.12.003.
  2. Water-related diseases. (2016, August 29). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/diseases-risks/diseases/cyanobacteria/en/
  3. https://amigosatitlan.org/

Gary Closs

 

Gary Closs, Jr. 

closs.1@osu.edu

Graduate Research Assistant

Department of Food Science & Technology

Food Animal Health Research Program

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finished SERO chocolate product

By: Emily Campbell

On our recent trip to Guatemala we had the opportunity to tour the chocolate production facility of SERO chocolate. They are a Guatemalan chocolate producer that integrates social and environmental responsibility with the quality cacao necessary to create fine chocolates. Their philosophy helps them create a comprehensive and quality product that connects them with people the supply chain depends on and helps expand their cultural horizons.

Find out more at: https://www.cacaoembassy.com/

The production of a finished bar of chocolate takes the input of many people and, something you may not realize - microorganisms. Chocolate’s unique flavors come from growing conditions and fermentation of the cocoa bean. Beneficial microorganisms help give chocolate its flavor, but if not controlled, harmful microorganisms can cause issues with quality and safety.

Chocolate production starts with harvesting of the mature cacao fruit by hand. The selected fruits are cut open and the beans are removed. After husking, the beans are fermented. Proper fermentation is essential for production of good tasting chocolate. Cocoa fermentation occurs naturally from the microorganisms present on healthy fruit, knives, and other surfaces the beans come in contact with. Proper conditions must be maintained on these surfaces to support growth of the beneficial microbes. The fermentation process is carried out by successive microbial populations. In the beginning yeasts dominate, then lactic acid bacteria, and finally, acetic acid bacteria dominate the population. If left to ferment for too long, spore forming bacteria, such as Bacillus, and molds can take over. Spore former growth leads to production of off flavors in the chocolate. Mold can negatively impact the flavor and safety. Some mold strains can produce mycotoxins, a harmful compound. Good storage practices below 8% humidity can prevent mold growth (1). The manufacturing process can also lower the toxin present in the sample by removing the husk from the bean (2). The color of the beans is used to determine the degree of fermentation. Once completed, the fermented beans are then dried which reduces bitterness, astringency, and acidity. It also reduces the moisture content to levels that are safe for storage and transport. If moisture is too high mold growth can spoil or contaminate the product. The beans are then processed into chocolate.

Cocoa nibs at the SERO chocolate production facility

The beans are cleaned to remove sand, stones and metal. The husks are removed, and the beans are roasted. The roasting process transforms the aroma precursors that originated in fermentation and drying processes into the final flavor of the chocolate. Roasting is also the critical control point in chocolate making. Critical control points are essential processes that are controlled to eliminate or reduce food safety hazards. The temperature and duration of the roasting must be long enough to inactivate biological pathogens and bring out flavors in the bean. The cocoa is then ground and fat is recovered from the beans. The resulting cocoa liquor or paste is homogenized and then cooled. The cocoa liquor is pressed, and cocoa butter is extracted. The pressed cake is pulverized and turned into cocoa powder. The final product is made by grinding cocoa liquor, sugar and cocoa butter together in a process called conching. The chocolate is stirred at a warm temperature for several hours. The stirring helps develop flavor, darken color, and stabilize viscosity. The chocolate is then tempered to create a stable crystalline structure that gives it a nice shine and stability.

Conching at SERO chocolate processing facility

There are three characteristics of chocolate that are important to maintain microbial safety of the chocolate: low water activity, high proportion of fats and sugars and pH around 5.5. These conditions limit the growth of bacteria but do not eliminate them. The pathogenic organisms of concern are Salmonella, but the likelihood of acquiring salmonellosis from chocolate is low. Salmonella could be introduced into the product through workers handling the beans. The low pH and the low water activity prevent Salmonella from growing, but this pathogen can survive in the chocolate. The roasting stage is the only step that can eliminate the pathogen from the product and is therefore a critical step in safe chocolate production.

The process of making chocolate is complex and requires several steps to bring out the characteristic flavors. Microorganisms play a big role in flavor production, but they need to be controlled to keep the product delicious and safe.

Finished SERO chocolate product

Find out more at: https://www.cacaoembassy.com/

  1. Agell O, Rodr ́ıguez MC, Rodr ́ıguez JJ. 2013. La seguridad alimentaria delchocolate. Available from:http://ebookbrowse.com/19-la-seguridad-alimentaria-del-chocolate-pdf-d25....
  2. Copetti MV, Iamanaka BT, Frisvad JC, Pereira JL, Taniwaki MH. 2011.Mycobiota of cocoa: from farm to chocolate. Food Microbiol28(8):1499–1504.

Emily CampbellEmily Campbell

campbell.2179@osu.edu

Graduate Research Assistant
Food Science and Technology

 

 

 

 

 

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Woman washing laundry in river

By: Devon Mendez

From the moment we landed in Guatemala I began to take in the multitude of differences that existed between my home in Ohio and the loud and bustling Guatemala City. As we traveled throughout the country, we were able to see and experience many incredible things, including a visit to Lake Atitlan, a lake created by the three volcanos, one of which you can see in the background of the photo below. While on the surface the lake seemed healthy, a meeting with members of the organization “Friends of Lake Atitlan” taught us that the water was anything but.  

Team standing in front of one of the three volcanos that created Lake Atitlan after touring the various water treatment facilities in the area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For years the lake has been contaminated with many different types of pollution, including chemicals from hotels and industrial companies, phosphorus and nitrogen run off from farms, as well as sewage. Accumulation of pollution has led to the water in the lake to be extremely contaminated, causing harm to all those who drink it. One of the most significant risks present in the water of Lake Atitlan is phosphorus and nitrogen. This excess phosphorus and nitrogen are largely caused by runoff of both sewage and fertilizer, both known to be high in these nutrients. As a result of these excess nutrients there are often high numbers of cyanobacteria and coliforms, organisms that are known to cause severe negative health effects, including diarrhea. With diarrheal disease being one of the leading causes of death for children under five, it is imperative that these issues be resolved so that children can remain healthy and have access to clean water. 

Photo of water treatment center for laundry facilities at Lake Atitlan. While these facilities do their best many chemicals are still released into the lake as a result.

To decrease the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen available in the water, “Friends of Lake Atitlan” have begun to research the use of plants for the absorption of these chemicals. These plants, predominantly consisting of algae and Eichhornia crassipes, are typically used for tertiary treatment of the water. Eichhornia crassipes is a shrub like water plant with roots that are able to absorb large amounts of phosphorus. This absorption occurs for approximately 21 days before turn roots turn black which denotes the plant is not able to absorb any more contaminants. As for the algae, its role is largely to add oxygen to the water, which helps encourage life within lake, and help combat the hypoxia that is often caused by harmful algal blooms from other species of algae.  

Photo of Eichhornia crassipes being used in research at the “Friends of Lake Atitlan research facility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While plant remediation of the water is a newer technique and has not been implemented on a large scale yet, the research being done by “Friends of Lake Atitlan” shows a great amount of promise. It is my hope that, through a bit more research to increase ourunderstanding of how the plants can be utilized, we can begin to revive the lake. The use of the plants would provide a way to begin resolving these issues in a sustainable and natural way, aiding in the recovery of the ecosystem.  


Devon MendezDevon Mendez

CFAES Graduate Practicum Student

Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and College of Public Health

 

 

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Market in Guatemala - photo by Arturo Rivera on unsplash.com

By: Drew Barkley

This past spring break, I was fortunate enough to travel with the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention to Guatemala for work related to the Prenatal Exposure to Mycotoxins project (https://foodsafety.osu.edu/research/pesar). In the middle of our trip, our schedule changed so that we had an extra unplanned day in Guatemala City. So, we decided to tour a fruit and vegetable cooperative processing facility that some of our Guatemalan colleagues were able to arrange. We met our guide and then proceeded to suit up in booties, masks, and lab coats before entering the facility. After a thorough handwash and step through the bleach pool, we were getting a look at the processing lines. The day we were there, they were packaging primarily French beans and carrots. We were able to see where the raw product arrived, how it was washed and packaged, where finished product was stored, and what happened to rejected product. Overall, I was impressed with their food safety measures that included temperature-controlled rooms, good worker hygiene, microbiological and pesticide testing, and traceback codes.

While this was my first time touring a fruit and vegetable processing facility, it was not my first time touring an export processing facility in a foreign country. Two summers ago, I participated in the Farm-to-Table program in Chile. There, we were able to tour salmon, dairy, and deli meat processing facilities. Two of the facilities, the dairy and salmon, were international exporters and had strong food safety measures implemented, similar to the fruit and vegetable cooperative in Guatemala. The deli meat processing facility only supplied the national market, and the difference in food safety was noticeable. Raw and finished products were stored in the same room, floors were not as clean, and some of the product was stored under a leaky air conditioner. The stark differences highlighted the higher standards that must be met for export as compared to the domestic standards for some developing countries.

Remembering my experience in Chile reminded me that the fruit and vegetable cooperative, as an exporter to the US, had to meet higher standards set by the United States Food and Drug Administration. A national producer may not have the same food safety measures in place. This was made a little more obvious when they informed us that rejected product was taken to the local market to sell. So all of this begged the question, shouldn’t the national market have the same quality and safe food as in the export market? It’s an economic question of course, without a clear answer. Addressing this gap requires balances to be struck between food safety, food waste, capacity, costs, and so many more. If anything, the next time I go to the grocery store, I will appreciate the measures put in place to ensure my food is safe, understanding that many people in the world do not have that privilege. 


Drew Barkley

Drew Barkley

Graduate Research Associate

CFAES Department of Food Science and Technology

 

 

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Farmer's Market - photo by Anne Preble on unsplash.com

By: Drew Barkley

Last summer I spent a Saturday morning with a friend at a farmer’s market that sets up every week from April through November. We enjoyed looking at the different booths and products, many of which came from here in central Ohio. As we went down the row of booths, we tried some kettle corn, different salsas, and purchased some salted chocolate donuts. Continuing down the row, we came across a cheese booth. While my friend, still in a “try everything” mode, started to sample the different cheeses, I decided to pass after reading “unpasteurized” on the label. The stop at this booth reminded me that just because food is locally sourced and fresher, it doesn’t mean that it’s safer.

When we’re making trips to our local farmer’s market this spring, it is important to keep food safety in mind and be aware of the potential risks. There are several guides online that offer some simple steps you can take while at the farmer’s market to be sure the food you buy is safe. One common piece of advice is to ask the vendor about their food safety practices. Do they wash their produce? How are meat products stored and handled? Asking questions like these can give you a better idea of the procedures vendors have in place for food safety. Another tip, one that I remembered at the cheese stand, is to avoid raw dairy or unpasteurized dairy products. The FDA warns about the serious health risks associated with raw milk and milk products that can harbor dangerous bacteria. Even if vendors mention they’ve tested the product for bacteria, there is still a greater chance of becoming sick so it is best to avoid these products. Two final tips are to save perishable items for last and be sure to wash produce. The less time perishables spend in your shopping bag and out in the heat, the better. By washing your produce before eating, you can reduce surface contamination, and make the fruits and veggies safer to eat.

I want to emphasize that my goal is not to discourage people from buying food from farmer’s markets. I think farmer’s markets are a great place to spend time with friends and family and find foods or products you couldn’t otherwise find in a grocery store. However, we do still need to be mindful about the risks, and by keeping food safety in mind while wandering the rows of vendors, you can make safer purchases. Below are some links with more farmer’s market food safety tips if you’re interested in learning more ways to make safe choices at the farmer’s market.

https://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/farmers_market.html

https://www.cookinglight.com/news/food-safety-farmers-markets-tips


Drew BarkleyDrew Barkley

Graduate Research Associate

CFAES Department of Food Science and Technology

 

 

 

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iced tea - image by Eiliv-Sonas Aceron on unsplash.com

by: Aaron Beczkiewicz

Having spent a good portion of  my master’s program interviewing individuals about their foodborne illnesses following international travel, it goes without saying that I tend to be a little paranoid about what I eat when I travel. As a result, I was fairly strict about self-imposed diet restrictions (i.e., no fresh produce, pre-packaged beverages only, no iced drinks, etc.) over the course of a 2-week trip to Ethiopia last summer. During my return trip, the first several items on my to-do list involved satisfying habits I had gone without the entire trip. Since I LOVE cold beverages and typically go through 2 trays of ice a day, I made a point of getting a drink with ice during one of my layovers (…unfortunately, no direct flights from Columbus to Addis Ababa). As I was enjoying an iced tea at the London Heathrow Airport, I started pondering whether I would consider it a potential food safety risk. With several hours till the next leg of my trip, I decided to occupy myself by digging deeper and a quick internet search at the airport bar returned a couple outbreaks due to tea or other herbal supplements:

2017 Botulism Outbreak – Deer Antler Tea

2010 Sodium Azide Poisoning – Iced Tea

Despite spending several days during the trip to Ethiopia assisting with a course on risk ranking and discussing how individuals perceive risk differently, it really had not occurred to me until I was sitting in an airport drinking iced tea how impactful a setting could be on my own perception of risk. Was I justified in relaxing my food and beverage restrictions the minute I passed through customs and immigration in London despite avoiding ice those 2 weeks in Ethiopia?

Given the strong public health and food safety systems in western Europe, I’m fairly confident that I was less likely to get sick from items I consumed during my layover. But the more I thought about it, there were multiple factors I was considering. Whereas my biggest concern with the iced tea at the airport was norovirus due to food handler contamination of ice or garnishes, my avoidance of ice in Ethiopia was driven primarily by my concerns about Salmonella and Cholera which last longer and are more severe than norovirus. Thus, it wasn’t just the likelihood of illness that I was concerned about, but also how severely it could impact my daily life.

Evaluating these two components of risk can be challenging if you don’t have the information (e.g., contamination history, severity of illness, etc.) necessary to base decisions off of. Luckily, food safety systems are increasingly adopting practices, such as posting letter or color grades for retail food establishments following inspection, that promote increased consumer awareness. While my airport musings haven’t led me to give up iced tea, they did increase my awareness of how I approach food and beverages in the U.S. and I now make sure to look for a green health department sign in the window any time I go to a coffee shop in Columbus.

 


Aaron BeczkiewiczAaron Beczkiewicz

Graduate Research Associate

CFAES Department of Food Science and Technology

 

 

 

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