Holiday Party Food Safety Tips

Photo: USDAgov The holiday season consists of numerous parties. Many where we’re called upon to make or take food to an event. Usually, people set out edibles on a buffet table, and people graze throughout the evening. However, when food is left out at room temperature for too long it starts to be a breading ground for bacteria, which could possibly cause illnesses. To ensure a safe and smooth holiday, practice these following tips to keeping the food at your celebrations innocuous. 

Food that has been left at room temperature for longer then four hours is spoiled. No ones like to throw away sustenance, but once food as been left out for longer then four hours it needs to be pitched. Keep hot edibles sizzling (140 F or warmer) by using chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays. Also, keep cold noshes cold (40 F or cooler) by keeping them on ice. That way if you want to give your guests doggy bags you know that the food is safe.

Use a food thermometer. Poultry and stuffing needs to have an internal temperature of 165 F. Pork, beef, and fish need an internal temperature of 145 F. Take the measurement at the innermost part of the bird’s thigh and wing-and the thickest part of the breast.

Minimize temperature fluctuations. When taking meals from your kitchen to another’s it’s important to minimize temperature fluctuations during travel. First, remove food from the heat source just before leaving the house. Second, transfer it to a thermal container, wrap in a heavy towel for extra insulation and place in a thermal tote or insulated bag. If you are bringing cold foods use a cooler filled half way with ice.

Safely handle leftovers. Refrigerate all remaining food in a shallow container within 2 hours of serving. Properly stored leftovers can be kept for 3 to 4 days. However, if you are in doubt of the quality, throw it out. Lastly, reheat leftovers to 165 F before serving.

Quit Buggin' Out: Eating Insects and its Cultural Phobia

By: Dylan Rodgers

Why are some of the world's oldest organisms considered so alien?  Strangely enough once that crab (an arthropod) walks out of the water and transforms into let's say, a beetle (still an arthropod), our appetite jumps ship.  We could also ask ourselves as Americans, Why hasn't the insect-eating world gotten sick or turned into some horrifying "Anthropod" population?

The fact is, all people in the world consume insects whether they know about it or not.  It's estimated that every American eats nearly 3 pounds of insects a year from processed foods alone.

Now don't panic-if the insects haven't killed you yet, then they most likely won't.   But this may:  Pasta, peanut butter, ketchup, Red dye 4 (cochineal), fruit preserves, powdered cheeses, and flour are all riddled with the little, crunchy buggers.  Shockingly results from certain store-bought foods have continuously resulted in at least 4 insect parts per gram to .5 grams of the majority of the food products just mentioned.

Slow down now and remember to breathe.  I know you feel like you're part of some Truman Show/Fear Factor Reality Expose, but that's just it-Reality.

Most of the insectile contamination is what the FDA would call "natural contamination," something that could economically break the food industry if entirely prohibited but poses no known health threats.  In fact the only possible solution to insects in our food is to pump it so full of pesticides that we'd commit mass cult suicide.  Plus they evolve way too quickly.

So what if we collectively decided to get over our irrational fears and embraced the idea of insects as food?  To start, we'd be able to feed more people than we could dream of right now.  The Smithsonian Institution's Entomology Section estimates the total population of insects is somewhere around 10 quintillion (10 with 18 zeros behind it!).  To 'laymanize' that astounding figure, it's about 300 pounds of insects for every pound of humanity.

On feeding the hungry:  Insects 1-Entomophobia 0

Or how about the fact that gram for gram some insects contain more protein than chicken with only a fraction of the fat?  As an added bonus their nutrition packed carapaces are way more flavorfully diverse than the meat that tastes like everything plain.  Tastes like chicken again?!

For nutrition and creativity:  Insects 2-Entomophobia 0

And finally, the last tidbit of overwhelmingly persuasive info-the resources needed for grasshoppers to produce the same amount of nutritional protein as one beef cow is nothing short of minimal and results in 1/10 the greenhouse gasses. Time Magazine reported in 2008 that insects have a higher ECI (or how much mass an organism gains from x grams of food) than warm blooded creatures.  Cattle had an ECI score of 10 while German cockroaches reached 44.

Gag!  Cockroaches have always been my least favorite.  Nevertheless I can't deny the significance of these figures, nor can I ignore their implications.  A relatively slight palate change (like Meatless Mondays) would have long-term, astronomical effects on our economic resources, our environmental footprint, and our space efficiency (something pretty important moving towards 8 billion people).

The decision to incorporate insects into our diets shouldn't be taken lightly, nor looked down upon culturally.  Shoot!  I've eaten and enjoyed many.  But deciding to keep some gas guzzler simply because the futuristic electro-mobile looks and feels weird seems a bit pretentious, don't you think?  In the same respect, it is in our benefit as the human animal to eat some bugs here and there.

Just imagine the possibilities-humans embracing insects; insects embracing humans with that loving, Sci-Fi Horror sort of intimacy we could only get from an open-circulatory mini-monster wearing a skeletal space suit.

Bon appetit!

Dylan Rodgers is a writer with dreams of existential understanding and lyrical nonsense.  Share with him in the well of human experience

Photo: Adam Schneider

For more thought provoking articles from Dylan, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

NYC Restaurant Grades Prove Successful

By: Michael Engle

Customer feedback is regarded as invaluable among chefs, restaurateurs, and fellow foodies.  Although few people will take stock in any one particular review, whether good or bad, most will affirm that a consensus will always be heard and, if necessary, can trigger a necessary change within the restaurant.  As New York City recently completed its first full calendar year of sanitation grades (the initiative was launched in July 2010), Associated Press' Cristian Salazar reports that despite some difficulties in reconciling the health code with traditional cooking methods, the city's grading system has been a popular success.

In New York City, restaurants are inspected on a regular basis, and are awarded a letter grade of A, B, or C.  (If a restaurant cannot fix a certain violation instantly, it can be shut down until the problem is rectified.)  Unlike elite universities, where an A is considered a rare privilege, it is relatively shameful for a restaurant not to receive an A.  This sentiment is reflected in statistics (more than 72% of eligible restaurants currently have an A grade--a 7% increase from last year) as well as in the court of public opinion.  Because grades are required to be prominently displayed on a front door or front-facing window, B's have in a way become unmistakable scarlet letters; while C-graded restaurants are rarely seen, one can imagine the grading system have hurt these businesses even more.

These grades, as well as the associated tests that restaurants must pass, benefit both the restaurant and the customers.  Last year, 2011, marked a 13.5% decrease in salmonella instances (1,121 cases in 2011, compared to 1,296 in 2010); therefore, it can be assumed that all cutting boards are routinely swapped out, that food workers are diligent about their hygiene, and that fewer technical errors are being made with raw chicken.  As restaurants strive to, and eventually, earn an A grade, customers become increasingly willing to try a new restaurant.  In the first eight months of the grading system, restaurant sales increased by 9.3%.  After all, it is a common desire among paying customers that restaurants should be "clean."  Despite these positive developments, New York City's restaurant grading system still, arguably, has certain kinks that could be fixed in the future.

In response to Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn's concerns--that two inspectors can grade the same restaurant much differently, and with a large discrepancy in fines, Health Department officials stand by their program while citing its infancy.  Health inspectors are rigorously trained and use a standardized computerized worksheet for each restaurant; meanwhile, as restaurants have acclimated to the health standards, their fines have declined significantly.  In addition, certain critics have cried afoul over frequent inspections and hefty fines, which can be especially crippling for small businesses.  Although these points may be considered in order to perfect the system, it is worth noting that food poisoning does not discriminate.  No matter where you dine, food safety is a paramount concern.

Photo: Mike Licht

For more on food safety news, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

News of 'Pink Slime' in Ground Beef Causes Concern

By: Justin Chan

Although news about a more eco-friendly American beef industry seems promising, some critics are uneasy about the ground beef that consumers are buying.

According to ABC News, 70 percent of ground beef sold at supermarkets is made up of "pink slime" or beef trimmings. Gerald Zirnstein, a former United States Department of Agriculture scientist who first coined the term, said that customers are being cheated out of their money and unknowingly buying artificial beef. "It's economic fraud," he said. "It's not fresh ground beef. ... It's a cheap substitute being added in."

The trimmings are simmered at a low heat in order to separate the fat from the muscle. They are then spun in a centrifuge, which completes the separation. The remaining mixture is sprayed with ammonia gas, which kills the bacteria, and later packaged into "meat." The finished product is then sent to meat packers and grocery stores, where it is mixed in with ground beef. Once used in dog food and cooking oil, it has now become a popularly cheap filler added to most ground beef.

Although Zirnstein and his colleague Carl Custer have repeatedly warned about using the trimmings, they said that their supervisors and those with connections to the beef industry have ignored them. "The undersecretary said, 'it's pink, therefore it's meat,'" Custer said, referring to Joann Smith, a former undersecretary of agriculture.

Smith's decision to allow production of the mix to be added to the ground beef led to millions of dollars in profit for Beef Products Inc. After leaving the USDA in 1993, she was appointed to the company's board of directors and reportedly earned approximately $1.2 million in a span of 17 years.

Several fast-food chains, including McDonald's, have stopped adding the trimmings to their hamburgers, but schools across the nation are still serving the additive to children. MSNBC reported that many school cafeterias receive their ground beef from the USDA, which purchases close to 7 million pounds of the product. "We don't know which districts are receiving what meat, and this meat isn't labeled to show pink slime. They don't have to under federal law," said Bettina Siegal, who is currently working on a petition to ban the mix from school menus. "We should step back and say, 'Why would we feed this to our kid?"

Photo: artizone

For more food news, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Food Safety Comes to Twitter

By: Michael Engle

Do you find it difficult to keep track of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food recommendations?  Do you fail to remember whether it was cantaloupes or honeydews that were recently contaminated with listeria?  Do you wonder whether or not a Connecticut concern should be on New York's radar?  If so, then you might find some comfort, as the USDA will be using Twitter as a vehicle to effectively communicate such local and national information.

Although news releases will always be available, online and in full form, for those who care to know of specific details, the Associated Press reports on the USDA's further adoption of the 140-character platform.  In addition to the general feed, @USDAFoodSafety, each state will have its own Twitter feed, which will be used to re-Tweet national news and broadcast state alerts.  For further convenience, all "state-level" Twitter feeds have the same formula among their handles: the state's two-letter abbreviation (as standardized by the U.S. Postal Service), followed by an underscore and "FSISAlert" (for "Food Safety and Inspection Service").  Therefore, New Yorkers should follow @NY_FSISAlert, while those in Chicago might find @IL_FSISAlert more relevant, etc.

This is an exciting new development in food safety and news broadcasting.  (By "new," I am not exaggerating, for I am, personally, one of the first 100 followers of the New York feed.)  It remains to be seen how much back-and-forth communication the USDA will make available; as useful as it may be to consult an iPhone or Blackberry while shopping, it would be even better to Tweet a question to the state's Twitter account and receive a reply.  After all, there are undoubtedly many grocery store customers--novice foodies and professional chefs alike--who are struggling to remember which melon would result in a safer pairing with their prosciutto.

Photo: USDAgov

For more food news updates, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)