Trayless cafeterias are saving money and helping students eat less

Dining centers across the U.S. are finding new ways of saving money by ditching cafeteria trays.  Trayless policies have become trendy because of a win-win situation it creates, according to Joseph Spina, the executive director of the National Association of College and University Food Services in an LA Times article.

Cafeterias save money – cutting on food wastes, water and energy usages – and students avoid the freshman 15. The director Kramer Dining Center at K-State, Sheryll Klobasa, acknowledges these benefits, but going trayless would require a mayor rearrangement of cafeteria equipment.

“We’ve talked about it but we are not even close to making the decision despite the advantages,” Klobasa said. “Most of our operations are not set up for that to work well with us.”

The advantages include saving in water and energy bills, since trays don’t need to be washed. Food bills are also reduced because students usually take more food on their trays then what they are going to eat, Klobasa added. For this reason, going trayless could also help students stay away from overeating.

There are also negative aspects to the trayless trend, according to Klobasa. Aside from the inconvenience, they are worried that students would leave more plates and utensils on the tables, because they might need to make more than one trip to return all of them. That would add to the cafeteria’s labor costs.

“The physical arrangement is the biggest barrier for us,” said Mark Edwards, the director of Derby Dining Center at K-State. “We have to use the trays to get plates downstairs to the dishwashing room.” He also believes going trayless would benefit K-State cafeterias.

Regarding safety, trayless policies would probably not increase any already existing food safety risks for the students, according to Edwards. In a self service setting, where hundreds of students are handling the same utensils to help themselves with salads, desserts, and cereal, there is always a risk of contamination. This risk would exist with or without cafeteria trays, Edwards said.

Thinking of the benefits of going trayless, I would say to our cafeteria directors at K-State, just do it!

Dirty doggie dining in Manhattan, Kansas

When I first opened the Kansas State Collegian yesterday morning, the following headline popped out: “Green, pet-friendly bar opens in Aggieville.” The story started:

“Tail wagging, mouth drooling, riled up with excitement stands Tank the dog, welcoming bar patrons this Saturday to the newly renovated the Loft Bar and Grill.”


The owner added,


“We will be having many different types of animals outside the Loft — dogs, goats and even miniature Clydesdales.” Jacobson said. “Our bar is very pet-friendly.”


Actually, the Kansas Food Code prohibits animals on food establishments, unless they are assistance animals, according to code reference 6-501.115 found here.


Did Jackson read over the Food Code before opening his restaurant? Maybe he’s a rebel, or is he just playing it dumb?


The local health department inspectors would consider bringing pets to a restaurant a critical violation. Last year, Tanks Tavern, also in Aggieville, was cited two critical violations including: “live dog in bar and dog food stored under sink.”


As Amy and Doug wrote, “tripping, biting, dog fights, barking, allergies, and the transfer of dangerous microorganisms such as E. coli, salmonella and cryptosporidium” are some of the risks that come along with doggie dining.


Restaurants in Florida can apply for permits to allow dogs on their patio, if they meet certain conditions. Employees must not touch pets while handling food, and if they do, they must wash their hands. Customers should also wash their hands before eating and keep their pets off tables, chairs, and tables.


As far as I know, we are still in Kansas, where doggie dining is clearly prohibited.


These are my puppies:

Know where food comes from

Traceability was a popular topic when I started working for Doug last summer, with the Salmonella-linked-to-tomatoes-or-was-it-peppers outbreak. The current peanut butter-linked outbreak follows the same trends as the list of recalled products is on the rise. As a consumer, I wonder: do producers know their suppliers and where their food is coming from?

The FDA warned consumers to postpone consumption of anything containing peanut butter or peanut butter paste. This is where labeling becomes important. Not only should consumers read labels, they also need some assurance that labels are accurate.

A woman suffered a severe allergic reaction after eating a parfait in a Canadian Starbucks last week. She purchased the parfait after an employee assured the dessert was nut-free. The ingredients list also failed to mention nuts. I am pretty sure this woman will have a hard time trusting labels after this.

I was diagnosed with celiac disease a few weeks ago and I know how this feels. I have to avoid products containing gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale.

Gluten can also be found as a food additive in the form of flavoring, or as stabilizing or thickening agent. In such cases, producers are not required to include the protein on the label because it is classified as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the FDA. There is also no official definition as to what constitutes a gluten-free product, so celiacs like me are recommended to buy products from trusted sources.

That Canadian Starbucks is not a trusted source.

Whether it’s because of food allergies, intolerance to gluten, or salmonella, food processors need to be aware of where their products come from and what they contain.

Interactive Salmonella

One of the journalism classes I am taking this semester is "Convergence Reporting". I am excited to learn the basics of video editing and voice recording, but I am mostly looking forward to developing interactive animations. It’s a cool way to tell news.

The Sacramento Bee published an interactive map reporting numbers on Salmonella infections in California, including those from the recent outbreak (special thanks to Skyler for sharing).

The CDC website has a map displaying numbers of Salmonella infections by state, but it’s not interactive. It was updated last Wednesday so it doesn’t include the 7th death related to the outbreak reported this morning.

Surfing on the web I found a pretty cool "Global Disease Alert" map. If anyone out there has something interesting, please post here.

Food safety vs food security

My month-long break in Paraguay is coming to an end. It has been a hectic month – packed with family visits, celebrations, and of course, lots of [un-safe] food.

With concepts like “cross contamination”,  “meat temperature”, and “hand washing” floating around my head I’ve been able to look at things differently.  I concluded that we are decades behind the U.S. in terms of food safety. 

While Americans worry much about food safety, Paraguayans are more occupied with food security. Access to food is more important than stopping to think whether it’s safe or not. I even have a hard time explaining what food safety is. I am not surprised; I had no idea when I started working for Doug. Food safety topics are not in the news much and I have not heard people discussing about it.

To find out more, I’ve sat around the kitchen a lot. I tried a few times to explain to the cook why she should wash her hands every time she touches raw meat and goes on to something else. All I got back were looks of ‘you are just crazy’. Her food is still delicious.

I asked her how often her kids have diarrhea. She said, not often, maybe once or twice a month. I asked her if she’s worried about it, she answered she’s not, it’s a normal part of being a kid. 

Or maybe our stomachs are used to handling salmonella and E. coli better than others. It’s hard to know. When I moved to Kansas two years ago I survived on rice and toast for a week because I couldn’t stop barfing.

But sitting back and recalling some of my experiences on this side of the world, I am surprised I have not yet barfed once (not counting the New Years party, when I had too much champagne).

A couple of weeks ago I went to eat one of my favorite meals – steak sandwich – better known as lomito. The best place I know is just a few blocks away – a humble-looking lomito stand. I took a bite out of my lomito and realized the meat was still pink on the inside. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the mayonnaise tub by the grill.

I wondered how long the mayo (probably home-made, with raw egg) had been sitting out in the heat. I wondered where he kept the raw meat or how he knew if it was done or not. Should I ask? I resolved that some things are better left unknown. I finished munching and handed him the money. He grabbed the bills with bare hands, put them in a box, and continued flipping steaks. (Note: the pic to the right is actually another lomito I ate during a short visit to Brazil, but that’s pretty much how it looked like)

We do have nice restaurants where things like these don’t happen or at least we don’t see them happening. But in a broader picture, citizens and leaders of the country have plenty to figure out before they can tackle food safety concerns.

In the meantime, I will keep savoring the lomitos, chipa guazu, sopa paraguaya, asados, and such. For me, it is still awesome [un-safe] food.

Paraguay, cockroaches, and food safety

I arrived to Paraguay yesterday, escaping the freezing rain from Kansas right on time. It was close to 90 °F (around 30° C). A lot of my friends back in Kansas were jealous, but with 50% humidity, the heat is almost unbearable.

This weather is also perfect for disease-transmitting mosquitoes and cockroaches. I have almost substituted body lotion with bug spray. And just yesterday, a dandy cockroach was climbing the curtains beside my bed (picture to the right).

I cannot even imagine how many of these are roaming the restaurants that I normally go to. Actually, I’m not even sure if there is a governmental agency dedicated to food safety or anything of the sort. If there is, I probably wouldn’t trust it.

Paraguay is one of the poorest nations in South America, with poverty levels of up to 50 percent and rising. Our government is a fiasco; corruption is institutionalized. We have lots to worry about.

The culture of food safety that Doug is all over about is not often one of these worries. I didn’t know what that meant until I became a news puller. It will be interesting to ask around and see what people think.

I will introduce my dad to the meat thermometer the next time he cooks an asado – typical barbecue of the region pic bellow – and I will report my findings. So keep tuned.

Pregnant with a monkey? Nothing to be proud of

A woman smuggled a sedated monkey under her blouse in a flight from Thailand to Los Angeles, pretending to be pregnant.

Gypsy Lawson, 29, passed through U.S. customs with her mother and the monkey on Nov. 28, 2007.

Lawson was arrested after boasting to a clothing store salesperson about her accomplishments. Both women were charged guilty of conspiracy and smuggling goods into the United States.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates the import of animals on a federal level, although there are also state restrictions. The import of animals is highly regulated to prevent diseases and the introduction of an invasive species, or to protect endangered or threatened species.

The rhesus macaque is not an endangered species, but it can transmit diseases.

“The callousness and intent these people showed in carrying out their plan was egregious and placed at risk not only wildlife but potentially the health of other passengers on the plane and in their community,” said Paul Chang, special agent in charge of law enforcement for the Pacific Region of the FWS. “These animals are known carriers of viruses and parasites that can be transmitted to humans, although this particular animal tested negative.”

All wildlife, including rhesus macaques, must be declared to CBP at the port of first arrival in the United States. When importing any wildlife, importers or their agents must file a completed Declaration for Importation or Exportation of Fish and Wildlife.

The smuggling conviction carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of up to five years and a $250,000 fine.

Despite fines that smugglers face, there are millions of animals smuggled across the border illegally, according to The $10 billion-a-year black market for non-native animals is second only to illegal drugs.

A rat-shaped bun… or a bun-shaped rat?

BJ’s wholesalers has pulled all products from a bakery after a local man in North Carolina discovered a form that looks like a mouse attached to a hotdog bun.

Arnold’s Bread Bakery claims it is hardened dough or “pan accumulation”.

The supposed accumulated dough took, “the eyes and the ears and the feet curled up underneath him and the tail,” said Bruce Van Dyne describing what he had found.

North Carolina’s Department of Agriculture began investigations and asked Florida to inspect the factory where the buns were baked.

The chief health inspector in Florida told NewsChannel 36 that businesses rarely fail inspections, but Arnold’s Bakery failed twice — in April and on their re-inspection in May.

Some of the violations: One report shows there was evidence of the presence of insects or rodents, there were bugs in a mixer, and the conveyor built where the dough is baked was held together with duct tape.

The bread company has sent the bun to be tested, expecting results next week.

According to the CDC website, rats and mice can spread over 35 diseases.

Rodent-borne diseases are spread directly to humans through bite wounds, consuming food or

Diseases from rodents are also spread indirectly to humans by way of ticks, mites, and fleas that transmit the infection to humans after feeding on infected rodents. In some cases, the rodents are the reservoirs (carriers) of the diseases, while in other cases the ticks, mites, or fleas act as the disease reservoirs.

The list of diseases transmitted directly by rodents to humans include: Hantavirus, hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, rat-bite fever, salmonellosis, among others.


Barfing 101 – How to handle vomit in the classroom

Amy brought up the question of how to handle barfing in class, when one of her students vomited during an exam. She said the student cleaned most of it, but she participated in the cleaning too.

At Kansas State University, students and faculty are advised to notify the custodial department immediately and to avoid coming into contact with vomit, according to John Woods, director of Facilities Services.

“Custodians are supposed to be trained to go in and handle vomit,” Woods said. “We will be limiting the number of staff authorized to handle vomit.”

Woods explained that custodians are required to wear gloves, goggles, and a mask. They are supposed to spray the area, wait a few minutes, and scoop the vomit in a plastic bag with paper towels. They turn in the plastic bag to public safety.

Local equals safe – with some exceptions

Fluid leaking from a garbage truck in the streets of Tularosa, New Mexico, tested positive for E. coli a few days ago.

The vehicle was inspected after residents noticed the leak.

Tularosa Mayor Ray Córdova then inspected the vehicle and smelled something extremely foul coming from it.  That’s when he told residents to take samples of the fluid so he could send it off to a lab for testing.

Those tests came back positive for the E. coli bacteria…

On Thursday Alamo Disposal owner Art Cardiel said the leak came from a crack in the truck.  However he also said believes the E. coli is coming from the bacteria in people’s trash and not the truck itself.

"In this area, a lot of people grow their own fruit because there’s a lot of water," Cardiel said.  "Now how am I supposed to have any control over what I put in my truck that comes out of their trash cans?"

The owner of the company, Alamo Disposal, has been given 10 days to fix the leak.

In the meantime, this fluid can continue to leak into people’s gardens, contaminating produce – “fresh and local” produce.

Local producers tend to be more careful because it is often their own families, friends and neighbors who will eat the produce.

Be on the safe side, stock up now on local tomatoes, peppers and other fresh produce and preserve them for the winter.

Be on the safe side? Really? What if there’s a truck with E. coli-contaminated fluids leaking around?