Casey the blogger and inappropriate instruments

I got my start on barfblog more than a year ago as a senior in Food Science at K-State when I went to a club picnic with my boyfriend and gasped at an offensive tub of tater salad.

Two days later I gasped again…  this time at an Associated Press story in which a Chinese buffet worker was spied stomping garlic with his boots behind the restaurant. Aghast, I asked,

“Could a fellow eater like myself be so distracted from the bacterial ramifications of using one’s shoes as a culinary instrument?”

Pretty soon I was a regular. Then I was graduated, married, and working with Doug full-time… and far too busy to formulate a blog (or some such nonsense).

So, today you’re privy to my second debut on barfblog.

This jaw-dropping tale is set at another get-together with my husband (same great guy, just a new title). And, interestingly, another use of inappropriate instruments. This one was a little closer to home:

As our hostess busied herself preparing desserts and planning her meal, she realized the spiral ham she purchased was too large for her Crock Pot. It would have to be cut to fit (finished product shown at left).

Lacking your standard bone saw, she enlisted the help of her husband… and his reciprocating saw.

She carefully washed the blade in hot, soapy water and assured her husband’s hands were clean. (He had been in the garage, after all.) Then he set to work.

She saw my eyes widen in disbelief and started to apologize, explaining she had no other choice. I quickly smiled and said,

“Oh, I understand. But don’t think for a second I won’t blog about this!”

The moral of the story is: Invest in some appropriate instruments for use with food, if you want to ensure your cooking won’t cause dinner guests to barf.

But don’t eat poop, folks. Wash your hands. And your reciprocating saw, if necessary.


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.

When football and food safety collide

I love it when two of my favorite things, football and food safety, intersect.  Last year it was pigeon poop in stadiums.  This year it’s about changing culture.   USA Today published a profile of 4 new NFL head coaches and one spoke specifically about changing the losing culture of a team.

Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons said:  "When you change the culture, you have to change people’s behaviors. And when you change behaviors, you change their habits."

I think this philosophy should be the same in fields, packing sheds, processing facilities, retail stores and kitchens:  Leadership that values food safety should have a goal of changing the culture of an organization, resulting in behavior and habit changes on on the front-lines.  And the organization doesn’t have to be complicated or large, it could be an independent restaurant with 4 staff members or a church dinner committee with 20 volunteers.

Places I want to eat at or buy food from should be able to say that handling and producing food safely is what we do.  Just like Smith wants his team to have a shared belief that winning is what they do.

Fancy food isn’t safer food: San Diego edition

The San Diego Union Tribune has a couple of stories today on restaurant inspection, one with the headline, Not-so-fine dining cited at many top restaurants.

When it comes to dining out, an analysis by The San Diego Union-Tribune found that pricier doesn’t always translate into safer.

County inspection records for 103 of San Diego’s most popular, top-rated and most expensive restaurants show that 50 percent have been written up for at least one major food-safety violation in the past two years.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t analyze how that rate compares with other restaurants in San Diego.

The story does note it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much of a risk health code violations pose to diners.

When inspectors found water that wasn’t hot enough in restrooms, as was the case twice in the past two years at Island Prime on Harbor Island, they couldn’t say whether food handlers spread bacteria as a result of it.

Except that water temperature is not a factor in hand cleanliness. Flowing water, soap and paper towel are important for effective handwashing.

At The Lodge at Torrey Pines, which has maintained scores of 92 or higher in the past two years, chefs conduct hour-long safety inspections each week using the county’s measurements.

“I truly believe it comes down to pride and culture and good behavior that’s reinforced by good management,” said Bill Gross, the lodge’s food and beverage director. “It starts at the top.”

That I can agree with. Creating and nurturing a culture that values microbiologically safe food, when purchasing and preparing, serving and storing, will help reduce the number of people who get sick from food. Even fancy food.