Raw Cookie Dough or not?

Since that late evening bowl of your favorite ice cream is not enough, you add that frozen scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough. Butter, cream, chocolate and a combination of granulated sugar sends satisfying impulses from your tongue directly to your brain, even before you pick up that first spoon. Did you just make that cookie dough in your kitchen or did you buy it from a store?

An FDA warning released earlier this week has consumers confused as to whether uncooked cookie dough is safe to eat because of potential contamination with a type of bacteria that can cause pain in your GI tract. You’re okay eating most commercial cookie dough products–in cookie dough ice cream, where the product is intended to be eaten uncooked.

Edible-Cookie-Dough-Recipe-Step-1Biggest concern is for people eating anything uncooked that contains flour purchased off the shelf or delivered in 50-pound bags to pizzerias and bakeries.

To be perfectly clear:

  • Do not eat any uncooked dough, cake batter, uncooked tortillas, etc. at home.
  • Do not allow your kids (or yourself) to play with dough or flour-based “clay” that some restaurants give away. Check with your day care center and make sure.

So, you wonder:

How can raw cookie dough sold commercially be safe while grandma’s wholesome recipe made at home runs the risk of giving you bloody diarrhea (sorry to gross you out)?

Why does no one seem to be talking about the risks of uncooked eggs that you also add to many home recipes?

The raw dough alarm

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been investigating the cause of severe intestinal symptoms in 20 states beginning back in December 2015. Ten people have been hospitalized and one patient went into a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. These infections have ranged from age 1 to 95, with a median age of 18. Interestingly, 78% of people with the illness are female. I wonder who is guilty of tasting that cookie dough while prepping?

Thankfully – so far, no one has died from raw cookie dough illness.

Multistate-Outbreak-of-Shiga-toxin-producing-Escherichia-coli-O121-Infections-Linked-to-Flour-June-2016-E.-coli-CDCPhoto Credit: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A type of E. coli bacteria called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O121, or STEC O121 is the common bacteria. Investigations reveal the most likely source of these bacteria is a factory in Kansas City, Missouri. As a result, General Mills issued a recall on May 31 of all sizes and varieties of Gold Medal Flour, Gold Medal Wondra Flour and Signature Kitchens. On June 11, the company confirmed that the FDA had found the bacteria in one sample among the many that were tested.

Because flour has a long shelf life, more cases may emerge.

Most manufacturers of pre-made cookie dough use a heat treatment for flour and a pasteurization process for eggs which, unrelated to this E. coli outbreak, are a known source of disease-causing Salmonella bacteria.

Lesson learned?

Just don’t make homemade cookie dough ice cream unless you have pasteurizing process and related equipment. If that’s your favorite flavor, buy commercially made products. Manufacturers (should) use ingredients that include treated flour and pasteurized eggs.

Don’t eat uncooked flour. Don’t play with it and then touch your face.  Processed foods can sometimes be safer for you than “natural.”


Needle or Blade tenderized?

Have you observed new labels on some steak (beef) packages at your local grocery stores and wholesale clubs?

Beginning May 17, 2016 – USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture)’s branch, FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) started requiring meat processors to disclose mechanical tenderization and provide safe cooking instructions on meat product labels for customers to know how to handle these products.

Keep in mind that since 2000, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) received reports of six (yes, you heard it correct!) outbreaks from MTB (mechanically tenderized beef) products prepared in restaurants and your homes. 

What is MTB? To increase tenderness, some cuts of beef are tenderized mechanically by piercing them with needles or small blades in order to break up tissue. Typically, this process takes place before the beef is packaged and sold in grocery stores. It can also occur at the grocery store’s butcher counter, at a restaurant, or in the home.

What is the reason for enhanced label? MTB products look no different from other intact products, so without disclosure on the label, consumers may not know about this “higher food safety” risk, as the blades or needles can introduce pathogens from the surface of the beef to the interior. Undercooking MTB products was a significant contributing factor in the previous outbreak cases. Some cases resulted in hospitalization and HUS (hemolytic uremic syndrome).

What is changed? Beginning May 2016, home cooks, restaurants, and other food service facilities will have enhanced information about the MTB products along with cooking instructions so they know how to safely prepare them.

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What is safe temperature? According to USDA and science, cook these MTB products to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F. Don’t forget to measure with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source.  Important: For safety, you must allow meat to rest for at least three minutes after it has been removed from the heat source before carving or consuming.  During this post-cooking (rest) time, the internal temperature destroys harmful pathogens. This cooking temperature and three minutes allow the same effectiveness as cooking to 165°F.

You can read more about it on USDA’s Food Safety results page. You can call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 for questions and concerns.

Safe grilling y’all!

Continue reading “Needle or Blade tenderized?”

Local-grown or not?


The “tractor-to-table” (or farm-to-fork or whatever else you call it) movement attracts restaurants and grocery stores to adapt to guests wanting locally grown foods that may be looked as more “natural.”  Food establishment operators may forget that several factors make food commodities from small local suppliers a possible source of brand protection risk, especially for quick-serve and fast-casual operations.

Factors for the operators when “tractor-to-table” movement is added:

All food establishment operators know about these risks and this is nothing new.  The operators and decision-makers must focus on how the “tractor-to-table” approach makes business sense so long as these risks are identified and remedied in a systematic way, and not just being part of a standard operating procedure (SOP) document. Unless operators manage risks with a layered approach and building food safety into daily culture, there are more chances of failure.

  • Employee knowledge and food-safety awareness.

Operators attract transient workers like students, workers that are searching for any job, workers that are retired and someone who is simply new to workforce.  They lack a background in food safety. Their leader (supervisor) may also be new to their responsibilities. The risk elimination and management is a must.

  • Brand protection and regulatory compliance.

In a social media dominant world with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Yelp – bad customer experience or an alleged foodborne illness linked to a particular location/brand or food supplier can go viral—pun intended—in minutes.  Public health department and consumers will know about the problems instantly. With the federal, state and local regulatory workforce being at more aware-level, operators and risk management officials need to know how to assess and remedy each situation very quickly. These so called challenges go beyond the regulatory compliance level. The media and guests will demand to be informed.  Enhanced and efficient crisis communications strategy can be very useful in preventing severe damage to brand identity and overall reputation if rumors and wrong information is shared and re-tweeted by the consumers.

  • Farms – Supply chain issues.

The recent Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires monitoring and inspection for farm operations. Smaller food suppliers, which are not covered by FSMA, are less scrutinized. This doesn’t mean local suppliers don’t follow proper food safety and sanitation procedures. They are less regulated, which could increase the potential risk of tainted foods entering the supply chain.

How do we address these factors?

  • Being Proactive

Revise and modify training to ensure essential practices are included and related rationale is clearly explained and continuously refreshed.  This training is for everyone, not just new hires.  Review every step in food handling to document potential gaps. Where are the more transient food handlers? Where the most significant turnover? Every vendor in supply chain is visited to check their food safety and sanitation practices.  If FSMA rules exempt the vendor, the review and visit become even more important.  A crisis response plan is included in training so that food handlers know their roles before any critical event happens.

  • Timely Identification

Establishment operators must have proper system(s) in place to identify issues quickly. Example: Storage facilities are continuously monitored for safe holding temperature and sanitation. Invest in technology so that temperature monitors provide 24/7 coverage and alert you when critical issues occur.

Let the guests and customers alert you to major concerns that they experienced during their visit. Monitor these hotlines and email ID to resolve as they are reported. Most social media will display a “trending” item/topic. Have dedicated staff member monitor web-based activities.

  • Quick Remedy

Take immediate corrective actions in conjunction with senior management personnel.  Launch the crisis response plan as soon as possible.  Consult legal authority, crisis communications team or outside agencies and others who need to weigh in and manage the crisis. Identify the root cause for the problem and how it can be prevented in future.  Learning from a successfully managed crisis, update food safety and sanitation processes.

Reach out to the guest as soon as possible and inform them that the crisis has been resolved. Let them know that they should feel confident in a positive future dining experience.

I am hopeful that this will help you decide whether you want to go “local” or not!

TAKE OUT – Food Safety Tips

With the NFL season just around the corner, and the tail gate season upon us – here are some basic food safety tips – – that can make your life a bit more comfortable. And yea, your friends will stay your friends as well.

Now that you have picked up your food from a restaurant, here are some simple tips so that you and your friends/family enjoy safe food at your gathering.


Two hours is the maximum time foods should be kept at room temperature. Just one bacterium, doubling every 20 minutes, could grow to over 2 million bacteria in seven hours! Don’t hesitate – refrigerate at 40°F or colder if you won’t be eating your take-out meal within the next two hours. Meat, poultry, fish and dairy products, pasta, rice, beans and cooked vegetables should be consumed in 2 hours or place them in refrigerator. Refrigerate salads with meat/fish/chicken/seafood, fresh-cut fruits until used.


Refrigerate hot take-out foods right away if you won’t be eating them within two hours. For large quantities, divide food into loosely covered shallow containers before refrigerating and then cover tightly when cool. If you leave your pizza and other perishable foods at room temperature for more than two hours, toss them out.


Plan to eat take-out foods and leftovers within a day for greater safety and quality.


Don’t reheat take-out food in its original container in the microwave, unless the container is described as safe for microwave use. Reheat all foods to 165°F. Use a food thermometer.


You can’t see, smell, or taste bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. It takes from half an hour to two or more weeks before you get sick from contaminated food. Sometimes it’s hard to know if food has been handled safely. If you are not sure, throw it away.

Notes: When take-out or prepared food is purchased cold for an outdoor event—like a picnic, sporting event or outdoor buffet—a cooler well packed with ice or frozen gel packs is a practical alternative to a refrigerator. Keep the cooler in the shade. After food comes out of the cooler, remember the two-hour rule. Keep it at 40°F or below. Use a chafing dish, warming tray, steam table, slow cooking pot or a place on the side of the cooking grill. Keep it at 140°F or higher. 

Power outage? Worried about your food?

No lights? No A/C? No power to your refrigerator?

The techniques for handling food during power outages, when applied, will reduce the possibility of bacterial growth in food and help food remain safe for human consumption.

Raw Foods:

As a general rule, discard fresh meats, fish, poultry, or dairy products if the color or odor is poor or questionable. The rule is “When in doubt, throw it out.” Saving or eating a possibly contaminated food product is never worth the risk of food borne illness.

Perishable (or potentially hazardous) Foods:

Perishable food, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy products and leftovers that have been held at temperatures greater than 41ºF for more than four hours should be discarded.

Thawed food in the freezer, including raw meats and vegetables and fruits without sauces, that contain ice crystals or have been held at 41ºF or below can be refrozen and cooked. However, do not refreeze thawed cooked foods or packaged dinners that have thawed out. Pre-cooked thawed items are highly susceptible to bacterial growth.

Maintaining Foods Safe in the Freezer:

After a power outage, keep the freezer door shut for as long as possible. A full freezer will keep food at freezing temperatures for about two days. A half-full freezer will keep food frozen for about one day. If the power is off for several days consider using dry ice. Check the yellow pages of your telephone directory for “ice”. Many grocery stores have dry ice. Call ahead to make sure that the grocer has an adequate supply. Allow 2 ½-3 pounds of dry ice per cubic foot of freezer space in a chest freezer. In an upright freezer more dry ice is required so that ice can be placed on each shelf. Because dry ice can burn exposed skin, do not touch it with bare hands. Follow instructions on dry ice usage carefully. Make sure it is wrapped in several layers of newspaper before placing it in the freezer.


Cook or heat food to a minimum of 145º. If food is to be reheated, it must be rapidly reheated to a minimum of 165º. Use a probe-type metal thermometer to test the final cooking temperature.

Store perishable or potentially hazardous food cold food at a minimum of 41º F or below.

Water and Cleanliness

Safe potable water must be available and used for cooking, dishwashing, drinking and maintaining personal hygiene. If the Municipal water supply is not safe, use bottled, boiled or treated water. Make sure dishes and utensils are clean by washing, rinsing and sanitizing them in safe potable water. Sanitization is very important at this time. Effective sanitization can be obtained by adding one ounce of regular household chlorine bleach (unscented type) to each gallon of safe potable cool water. Wash with soap and water first, rinse with clean water second, and sanitize with bleach water, using the proper proportion of bleach to water. Allow bleach-water solution to air-dry on the utensils. Store the clean utensils in a clean place to protect them from recontamination.

The use of single service items is encouraged to reduce the possibility of food borne illness. Paper plates and cups, plastic knives and forks that are used only once and discarded are highly recommended.

Insects and Rodent Activity

Since air conditioning usually does not work during power outages, door and windows are usually kept open. Insects and rodents may gain entrance into the building. Make sure that doors and windows are adequately screened, using screening material of not less than 16 mesh to the inch.

By discarding spoiled food, controlling food temperatures, keeping utensils clean and sanitary and by keeping pests out, the fear of food borne illness can be eliminated from your post-disaster recovery concerns.

If you have specific concerns, please let me know or call your local Health Department.

Hope you get your power and utilities back up and running soon! Stay safe!


Sprouts on your sandwich?

We all know that the sprouts have high vitamin content, are rich in enzymes and phyto nutrients and strengthen our immune system. In general, they are good for us. Is it worth being ill? Is it worth loosing work/productive time?

Around the holiday season last year, people started getting sick from eating raw sprouts on sandwiches from a well-known sandwich chain, primarily in Indiana. After about 140 confirmed cases, the sprouts were linked to an organic farm based in Illinois. The Food and Drug Administration released a 6-page inspection report in Feb. 2011, and found the company in numerous violations.

Some comments from the report findings:

  • Company grew sprouts in “soil from the organic material decomposed outside” without using any monitored “kill step” on it.
  • An “amphibian/reptile” was kept in the reception room of the firm, which adjoined the production area.
  • The firm couldn’t show that its antimicrobial treatment for seeds was the recommended treatment with a bleach solution.
  • Employees stored their lunches, including such items as raw bacon, in the same cooler where finished sprouts were stored.
  • Organic matter was seen on a table where sprouts were packaged, and a biofilm-like buildup was seen on sprouting trays after they were cleaned.
  • Mold like material was seen on walls and ceiling in a mung-bean sprouting room.
  • Condensation dripped from the ceiling in production areas throughout the inspection period, which lasted close to a month.
  • An outside lab that the firm used to test its water and sprouts used a method that was not validated for detecting Salmonella in those items.
  • Investigators found a Salmonella isolate matching the outbreak strain in a sample of runoff water from the company.

The owner of the organic farm has said that the nutritional benefits outweigh the risk. He also commented “Sprouts are kind of a magical thing.” He advised people to buy sprouts from someone who have a program in place that includes outside auditors.

Independent auditors? Like the ones who said everything was OK, at the cantaloupe farm or peanut processor? We must have some accountability from these third-party auditors.

The involved chain has removed sprouts from its menu following this week’s finding by the CDC. Many have taken alfalfa sprouts off its menus. They should value the well-being of customers and remove all sprouts from menu and sandwich lines. Retail stores should stop selling these items until they are grown, harvested and processed in a safe and wholesome manner.

We are hoping that the new rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act will require certain guidelines to be acceptable.

Meanwhile, feel free to search and start growing your own sprouts if you want some on your sandwich today. Safe sprouting y’all!


Thermometers – Your Friend

Why Use a Food Thermometer?

It is essential to use a food thermometer when cooking meat, poultry, seafood, egg products and vegetables to prevent undercooking, verify that food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature, and consequently, prevent foodborne illness for you and your loved ones. Yes, it includes your customers!

Using a food thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure safety and to determine desired “doneness” of meat, poultry, and egg products. To be safe, these foods must be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy any harmful microorganisms that may be in the food.

Color is Not a Reliable Indicator

Many food handlers believe that visible indicators, such as color changes, can be used to determine if foods are cooked to a point where pathogens are killed. However, recent research has shown that color and texture indicators are unreliable.

Safety Versus Doneness

Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures. A food thermometer should also be used to ensure that cooked food is held at safe temperatures until served. Cold foods should be held at 40°F or below. Hot food should be kept hot at 140°F or above.

Types of Thermometers

Food thermometers come in several types and styles, and vary in level of technology and price.

1. Digital Food Thermometers

Thermocouple: Of all food thermometers, thermocouple thermometers reach and display the final temperature the fastest – within 2 to 5 seconds. The temperature is indicated on a digital display.  Thermocouples are not designed to remain in the food while it’s cooking. They should be used near the end of the estimated cooking time to check for final cooking temperatures.

Thermistors: Thermistors are not designed to remain in the food while it’s cooking. They should be used near the end of the estimated cooking time to check for final cooking temperatures. To prevent overcooking, check the temperature before the food is expected to finish cooking.

Oven Cord Thermometers: This food thermometer allows the cook to check the temperature of food in the oven without opening the oven door.

Thermometer Fork Combination: The thermometer fork should be used to check the temperature of a food towards the end of the estimated cooking time. Thermometer forks are not designed to remain in a food while in the oven or on the grill.

2. Dial Food Thermometers
3. Bimetallic-coil Thermometers
4.“Oven-safe” Bimetallic-coil Thermometers
5. “Instant Read” Bimetallic-coil Thermometers
6. Pop-Up Timers

Other Types of Food Thermometers

7. Liquid-filled Thermometers
8. Candy/Jelly/Deep Fry Thermometers
9. Appliance Thermometers
10. Refrigerator/ Freezer Thermometers
11. Oven Thermometers

Safety and Doneness

Most pathogens are destroyed between 140°F and 165°F. Higher temperatures may be necessary to achieve consumer acceptability and palatability, also known as “doneness.”

These temperatures are recommended for consumer cooking. They are not intended for processing, institutional, or foodservice preparation. Food service professionals should consult their state or local food code.

Recommended Internal Temperatures  (°F) for Consumers

Note: If you are operating a food service operation, please check your local laws and regulations!

Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures

Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb (160)

Turkey, Chicken (165)

Fresh Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb

Beef, Pork, Veal, & Lamb (steaks, roasts and chops) (145)


Fresh (raw) or “cook-before-eating” (145)

Pre-cooked (to reheat) (140)


Chicken, Turkey, Duck & Goose (whole or pieces) (165)

Poultry breasts, roasts (165)

Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird) (165)

Eggs and Egg Dishes

Eggs (Cook until yolk and white are firm)

Egg dishes (160)

Leftovers and Casseroles (165)

Thermometer Care: As with any cooking utensil, food thermometers should be washed with hot soapy water. Most thermometers should not be immersed in water. Wash carefully by hand.

“Is it done yet?” You can’t tell by looking. Use a food thermometer to be sure.