September is National Food Safety Month!
We want to make staying healthy & enjoying great locally-grown food even easier…
North Shore Economic Vitality Partnership has joined with Hawai’i businesses & organizations to share resources & tips to do just that!
Tip #1 is a Restaurant Food Safety Tip Brought to You by Haleiwa Joe’s Restaurants!
We all enjoy a meal out, especially when it’s at a restaurant that sources local food! Thanks to our partner Haleiwa Joe’s, we can bring you some information on how the restaurant industry works to ensure your safety when you eat out.
Many of the same practices that you employ in your home kitchen are used in restaurant kitchens to ensure food is handled safely and properly. Restaurants differ though in a few respects, notably that there’s a team of people responsible for preparing your meal and cleaning up after. This means that everyone on the team must be on the same page in providing the highest quality service and remember to follow the rules, through a long day of work and multiple rounds of dishes, cooking, and cleaning.
In addition to washing hands often and always after using the restroom, and keeping foods properly separated and chilled, employees must do a few things that you may not do at home.
Restaurant employees wear hair coverings and remove jewelry to be sure hair doesn’t fall into food and germs aren’t transferred from jewelry to guests’ food. Food service workers who have symptoms of illness or are sick should never handle food or be anywhere near the kitchen. Illnesses like the flu are easily passed from person to person and via contaminated surfaces, so it is important for sick employees to stay home and for cleaning and sanitizing to be done regularly.
Restaurants use a lot of sponges, paper towels, and rags. Single use items are easy to dispose of but sponges and rags should be used minimally as they can harbor bacteria. Sponges should be tossed out every few days and rags should be washed and sanitized daily.
Restaurant employees often wear disposable gloves, this is required in some states. Gloves are used to protect the food from employees’ hands, and it is important for food preparation that involves direct contact, like making a sandwich.
For more information on Hale’iwa Joe’s & their locations, check out their website.
Tip #2 is a Food Safety Tip for Your Home: Strategies for a Cleaner Kitchen!
Cooking at home is relaxing for some people and a great way to be sure you are adding locally grown food into your diet. There are many farmers’ markets and CSA (community supported agriculture) programs to choose from where you can select locally-grown fruits and vegetables for home (North Shore EVP is working to bring a regional food hub to Oahu’s North Shore community).
To be sure you are food safe in your kitchen, see how many of these tips you are already following and which ones you can incorporate into your routine!
- Always wash your hands with soap and water before handling produce, meat, or any other foods.
- Cutting or peeling produce? Wash it first! Soil and germs can be spread from the outside of the produce to the inside with your knife or peeler.
- Separate your produce, meat, eggs, and fish! Use different cutting boards, plates, and utensils. Color coded cutting boards are a great way to differentiate what’s for what!
- Refrigerator temperature should be between 40F and 32F. Freezer temperature should be at 0F or below. To keep your stored foods safe, always thaw meat in the refrigerator on the bottom shelf, away from everything else. Plastic bags are a good way to contain blood and juices. Clean and disinfect your refrigerator shelves and drawers regularly.
- Beware of using your personal electronic devices in the kitchen! A 2016 study of data collected by the Food Safety Survey found that of the over 4,000 adults contacted, only about 1/3 reported washing their hands after they touched their device and before they continued cooking! People use various devices while cooking to research, use recipes, and listen to music or podcasts, and pathogens may be present on these devices. Commonly found pathogens on cell phones are Staphylococcus and Klebsiella (causes different types of infections including pneumonia).
Tip #3 is a Home Garden Food Safety Strategy from Kokua Hawai’i Foundation
Do you grow your own food at home, or want to? Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation’s ʻĀINA in Schools program is a farm to school initiative that connects children to their local land, waters, and food to grow a healthier Hawaiʻi. Whether you have keiki at home or not, you can grow herbs and leafy vegetables easily in pots or in a small garden.
Gardens are enjoyable for many reasons, providing a place to get back to nature, teach keiki about plants and animals, bringing beautiful flowers and veggies into your personal space, and for the sustenance that growing your own food provides. Here are some tips from Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation to practice safe gardening at school or at home!
To be as safe in the garden and kitchen as possible, we offer these tips about best practices for food safety in the garden.
- Organic soil fertilizers like compost should always be purchased from reputable locations to make sure they aren’t carrying harmful bacteria. Composted manure is certified to have heated up to the point where pathogens are killed. Aged manure is certified to have sat long enough for pathogenic bacteria to be outcompeted. Other organic fertilizers may have been sterilized to prevent exposure to disease causing bacteria to both our vegetables and ourselves. If you are going to make compost yourself you can decrease the chance of contaminating your pile by only composting food scraps, ensuring it heats to 130 degrees for at least 10 days, turning it regularly, and letting it age for two months after finishing.
- Grow your vegetables with the cleanest water possible. If catchment water is used to water plants in the growing process, try to make sure that it does not contact the edible portion of your crops.
- Animals should be kept out of the garden as much as possible as their droppings easily contaminate produce. House pets should be kept away from growing beds and any produce touching bird or gecko droppings should be discarded.
- Harvest and eat the healthiest plants that you can–these also are the most nutritious!
- Wash your hands before harvesting produce you intend to eat raw.
- Clean and sanitize tools in both your kitchen and garden, especially if you are using them to help turn unfinished compost!
- Thoroughly wash and inspect your garden produce under running potable water.
- Wait to wash your vegetables until you are ready to eat them. Cleaning produce removes some barriers plants use to defend themselves. Washed produce goes bad much more quickly in storage compared to produce that has only had dirt and soil removed!
To download a Resource Guide on School Garden & Food Safety, visit Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation’s website. We encourage you to explore their other ʻĀINA In Schools resource guides, which include tips on how to build raised garden beds, compost with bokashi, create a worm composting bin, build a compost sifter, and more.
Tip #4 is a Farmers’ Market & Grocery Store Tip
Whether buying food at the grocery store or at the farmers’ market, it is always good practice to wash your produce before you prepare or eat it.
Residues and Germs on Produce: How to Minimize Exposure
- Produce may have pesticide residue on it when you purchase it, even if it is grown organically (certain pesticides are available and approved for use in organic growing systems). Pesticides may include applications made at the farm level to control insects or fungus, but may also come from the processing steps before the produce gets to the consumer.
- Produce may have bacteria on it from handling during harvest or transport. Farms that employ Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) have policies in place to minimize this contamination and are regularly audited for compliance.
- To minimize your exposure to residue or bacteria, utilize the following strategies in your kitchen:
- Clean your hands with soap and water first, and clean your surfaces and utensils too.
- Rinse produce in fresh running water, and use a brush to help remove soil from thick skinned or bumpy products.
- A new study (University of Massachusetts Amherst) found that using baking soda in tap water (about one teaspoon per 2 cups water) and soaking the product (apples) for 12-15 minutes was more effective at removing pesticide residues than the typical bleach and water solution. However, it must be noted that the purpose of the bleach and water solution is to remove bacteria, not pesticide residue.
- To reduce the chance of bacterial contamination on your produce, a vinegar rinse (1/2 cup vinegar in 1 cup water) followed by a fresh water rinse has been shown to be effective.