More food prep means more food safety basics; lunch ladies going gourmet

I was always more of a brown-bagger when it came to lunch. The high school cafeteria food was gross – although I did have a penchant for their ham and cheese melts on some sort of white wallpaper bun – but cost was the primary factor. Why would anyone pay for stuff that could be made at home for nothing when parental-types bought the food.

That was in Canada. The U.S. school lunch program is a little different.

And now the lunch ladies are developing their culinary skills to go along with the demand for so-called healthier foods.

Dawn Cordova, a longtime school cafeteria worker attending Denver Public Schools’ first "scratch cooking" training this summer, told Associated Press,

"It’s more work to cook from scratch, no doubt."

Cordova and about 40 other Denver lunch ladies spent three weeks mastering knife skills, baking and chopping fruits and vegetables for some of the school district’s first salad bars.

Denver is among countless school systems in at least 24 states working to revive proper cooking techniques in its food service staff.

The city issued its 600 or so cafeteria employees white chefs’ coats and hats and plans to have all its kitchen staff trained in basic knife skills within three years.

Well-known area chefs visit for primers on food safety, chopping technique and making healthy food more appetizing to young diners (hint: kids prefer veggies cut into funky shapes, not boring carrot sticks).

Chefs say that schools embraced processed food so completely that many newer cafeterias lack the basics of a production kitchen, such as produce sinks, oven hoods or enough cold storage to keep meat and produce fresh.

No mention of microbial food safety, but with all the extra kitchen prep, the risk potential increases, especially with cross-contamination. Here’s hoping they master the basics unlike the TV cooks who routinely serve up microbiological disasters.

50 Wisconsin banquet guests suffer from food illness

The Waukesha County Health Department is investigating an illness outbreak at the Country Springs Hotel.

About 500 people attended a luncheon at the Country Springs Hotel, and the managers were notified that about 50 of the guests were suffering from flu like symptoms.

The Health Department tells FOX6 the Banquet Room and the attached kitchen were completely sanitized.

25 Chicago students arrested for a middle-school food fight

The cafeteria food fight, as immortalized in the 1978 film, Animal House, has become a high school rite of passage.

Except in Chicago (home to John Belushi, right)

The New York Times reports this morning that 25  students, ages 11 to 15, were rounded up, arrested, taken from school and put in jail on charges of reckless conduct, a misdemeanor, after a food fight at the middle-school campus of Perspectives Charter Schools, in the Gresham neighborhood on the South Side.

That was last Thursday afternoon. Now parents are questioning what seem to them like the criminalization of age-old adolescent pranks, and the lasting legal and psychological impact of the arrests.

“My children have to appear in court,” Erica Russell, the mother of two eighth-grade girls who spent eight hours in jail, said Tuesday. “They were handcuffed, slammed in a wagon, had their mug shots taken and treated like real criminals.”


Guelph is no Oxford – but the food hygiene sucks at both

When I began university, staying in an on-campus residence, the occupants had to sign up to a meal plan. That was 1981, and you could buy five pitchers of beer on a $20 meal card in the local dining hall at the University of Guelph.

The food was gross, but we always ate in our rooms, saving the meal cards for beer.

And maybe we were on to something. Because 18 years later, the uppity Oxford University has been outted as having horrible food prep standards.

At New College a mouse was found eating food from a wheelie bin and dirty work tops were identified.

Rats were discovered scurrying around the rear yard outside kitchens at Mansfield and Pembroke Colleges.

Council workers were appalled by the dilapidated state of kitchens at many of the old buildings and said they were badly in need of a re-fit.

At Worcester College part of the ceiling collapsed in the area where plates are washed but staff continued to carry on working around it.

And in the typical leadership fashion of most higher institutes of learning,

A spokesman for Oxford University said it was a matter for individual colleges and they would not be commenting.

Philippine cafeteria workers dishing up disease

Is your school cafeteria gross? How does it match up with the Philippines, where PNA reports that a Department of Health (DOH) study found six out of 10 food handlers at canteens have infections that might be passed on to students.

Dr. Yolanda Oliveros, director of the DOH National Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said that study showed that food handlers usually introduce biological hazards to students.

"These problems usually arise if the food handlers suffer from specified diseases; or from organisms/eggs on the food handler’s skin; or in their intestines/feces; or by cross contamination after handling raw materials.”

Oliveros said that they had recommended that food handlers wear protection such as gloves and must adhere to safety standards such as washing their hands regularly.

Enjoy lunch.

175 sick with norovirus at Georgetown – but they’re getting Powerade

Todd A. Olson??????, vice president for student affairs at Georgetown University issued a statement this afternoon identifying norovirus as the cause of the recent gastrointestinal illnesses affecting Georgetown students and outlining a bunch of preventative measures. It was boring, and of course, didn’t say sorry for all the barfing.

However, the reporters at the Georgetown Voice offered a more entertaining presentation of the same information:

“Georgetown just sent out a message saying that the food poisoning is caused by the Norovirus, a contagious virus spread through oral and fecal contact. Georgetown is going to start a big cleaning regimen:

“Immediately, student residence halls are being cleaned with a specific focus on common areas and high contact surfaces such as bathrooms, doorknobs, and handrails. Common gathering areas including Yates Field House, McDonough Arena, the Leavey Center will also be cleaned, as well as bathrooms and high contact surfaces in academic and administrative buildings.

“It’s also spread by hand-to-hand contact. In June, a health inspection found that Leo’s had inadequate handwashing facilities for employees. According to the report, that problem was resolved. Georgetown says it’s going to continue normal operation, with a focus on cleaning. The message also encourages everyone to frequently wash their hands.

UPDATES: Todd Olson says the new number is 175 students. Only 3 in emergency room, 2 in student health center.
    Leo’s is open tonight.
    Any student who has missed class or assignment from being sick will be excused. Get in touch with your dean.
    Georgetown’s setting up a call center for parents. 1-800-208-5167. I guess it’s for calling to complain that your student is sick or could’ve been. For families with sick students: 202-444-3895
    Dr. Timpone is up saying everyone should wash their hands. Norovirus causes all kinds of miserable nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea.
    People whose roommates have the virus and got splashed with vomit can easily get sick. Clean up! Use bleach.
    Degioia’s here! Timpone says don’t be upset if you get sick, the disease will pass in a few days. Just stay hydrated.
    I’m kind of surprised DeGioia’s here, considering how awful students were treated last night at that Grill.
    Question and answer time! Olson says he’s not familiar with the possible Leo’s handwashing connection. No word on whether you get to skip midterms, talk to your dean.
    Someone from Solidarity is asking about employees getting sick, good point. Todd says he doesn’t think any workers got sick.
    Todd says we’re getting lot of Powerade and hand sanitizers!
    Students who have vomit damage in their room  should call work management at 202-687-3432. I guess they’ll help now, unlike yesterday.
    People who have already been infected won’t catch it again.

Telling people to wash their hands is standard. Georgetown students, are there adequate supplies in the bathrooms – soap, water and paper towels – and were there adequate supplies before the outbreak?

Ever notice someone sick and working at Leo’s? That’s how norovirus often spreads, especially through a bunch of foods from one spot.

There are some tips on the infosheet below. Norovirus outbreaks like this are far too common.