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Food Safety

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Street Food Is Unsafe Myth

Christina Walsh of the Institute of Justice helps explain how one of the most common myths used against the mobile food industry is completely false.

Empanadas with summer squash, caramelized onions and sharp cheddar cheese in New Orleans.  Black truffle lasagna with portobello mushrooms and gorgonzola in D.C.  Banana cupcakes with peanut butter butter-cream, topped with roasted thick cut bacon in Chicago.  Delicious, inventive food from coast to coast, brought to you by the food-truck revolution.  And I get to sample it all. 

The Institute for Justice’s (IJ) National Street Vending Initiative is dedicated to fighting for the economic liberty of food-truck owners nationwide—their right to earn an honest living, free from burdensome and anti-competitive regulations, which they often face.  As the director of activism and coalitions at the Institute, I travel the country meeting with street-food vendors and helping them organize to fight for their rights.  This column will be dedicated to reporting from the front lines in the fight for food-truck freedom.  But first, a general message about street food:  it’s both totally delicious—and totally safe. 

As a food-truck fan, you probably buy these moveable feasts without worrying much about the safety of the food you’re about to eat.  After all, it’s in the truck’s common-sense self-interest to guarantee the safety of their food.  One sick customer and they could be out of business—just like a restaurant.  

It turns out that your impulse is right.  In cities the Institute studied for a new report, street food is just as safe as food from a restaurant.  In Street Eats, Safe Eats, the Institute reviewed thousands of food-safety inspection reports from seven major American cities.  These cities inspect street vendors using the same criteria as they use for brick-and-mortar restaurants.  And in every one, food trucks and carts did as well as—or better than—restaurants.  

The idea that street food is unsafe is a myth. 

Unfortunately some city councils and brick-and-mortar opponents of food trucks continue to perpetuate that myth.  Food trucks are roach coaches, they claim.  They’re dirty.  Unclean.  They make this claim—often without any evidence supporting it—so as to justify burdensome regulations like bans and limits on where mobile vendors may work.  But these restrictions don’t make anyone safer.  All they do is stifle entrepreneurship, destroy jobs and limit consumer choice. 

It’s the job of the government to protect the public’s health and safety.  And when cities inspect food trucks in the same way that they inspect restaurants, they have done their jobs and can go home.  No further regulation is necessary.  

Moreover, an overwhelming number of food trucks would love to be inspected like restaurants.  That’s because they know their trucks will pass with flying colors, and those great marks will help improve the credibility and reputation not only of their own business, but the industry as a whole. 

Often times, brick-and-mortar restaurants lobby the government to enact anti-competitive laws like “proximity restrictions,” which prevent food trucks from operating within a certain number of feet of a restaurant.  Although these laws are meant to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from competition by their mobile counterparts, those proposing them often claim that they are meant to protect the public’s health and safety. 

This doesn’t make any sense, of course.  A food truck’s food doesn’t become less sanitary because the truck is operating near a restaurant.  But these restrictions don’t just make for bad policy; they violate the constitution.  The U.S. Constitution protects the right of food truckers to earn an honest living, and anti-competitive and protectionist laws like these are flatly unconstitutional, no matter their justification. 

If you own a food truck and your right to economic liberty has been restricted, it’s time to organize and fight back to change the law.  Contact the Institute for Justice for help.  If you’re a food truck fan, ask your favorite food-truck entrepreneur if it’s hard for him or her to operate.  Sign a petition.  Make a call to city council.  Voice your support.  Food trucks need your help! 

City councils should stop listening to the myths espoused by established businesses trying to protect themselves from competition, and start paying attention to the evidence. 

Then we can get back to enjoying—or serving—empanadas, lasagna and cupcakes, in all of their sanitary glory.

christina walsh bioChristina Walsh serves as the Institute for Justice’s Director of Activism and Coalitions.  Through her outreach efforts and grassroots organizing nationwide, she fights for property owners to keep what is rightfully theirs; parents to choose where their children go to school; entrepreneurs’ right to make an honest living; and the average citizen’s freedom to speak.

Walsh’s views and writing have been published and appeared in print, on-line and television outlets across the country, including Fox News, ABC News, The Huffington Post, The Daily Caller, The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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California Glove Law

SACRAMENTO, CA - The new California law that requires food workers to wear gloves, stirring controversy among outraged chefs (including food truck owners) and bartenders, is another step closer to being repealed.

The state Assembly’s Health Committee, which proposed the bill that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law, voted unanimously to repeal that section of the Health and Safety Code.

“A vast number of our local restaurants and bars raised serious concerns with this prohibition after the passage of this new law,” Assemblyman Richard Pan (D., Sacramento) at the committee hearing in Sacramento on Tuesday.

According to the law that went into effect Jan. 1, cooks and bartenders must wear disposable gloves or use scoops, tongs or other utensils when handling “ready-to-eat” food such as fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, deli meats — anything that won’t be cooked or reheated before it goes out to customers

The bill to repeal the glove provision would return previous language to the food safety code that says employees should “minimize” bare-handed contact with food. The bill will next go to a floor vote.

Find the entire article at latimes.com <here>

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MILFORD, TX – Fran’s Fryers is recalling approximately 251 pounds of various raw poultry products because they were produced without the benefit of federal inspection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced.

Frans Fryers RecallThe following Fran’s Fryers products are subject to recall:

  • 2-lb. packages of “Boneless Dark 2# Chicken Leg Meat”
  • 2-lb. and 5-lb. packages of “Chicken Breast Tenders”
  • 3-lb. and 5-lb. packages of “Chicken Bone In Breast”
  • 5-lb. package of “Ground Turkey 5#”
  • 5-lb. packages of “Cut Up Fryer”
  • 5-lb. packages of “Whole Fryers”

Each package bears the establishment number “P 20784″ inside the USDA mark of inspection. The products were produced on November 11, 2013, and shipped to retail establishments in Texas.

The problem occurred due to a miscommunication between the company and FSIS inspection program personnel assigned to the establishment regarding the need for inspection coverage on the federal holiday. The company produced product without the presence of inspection program personnel.

FSIS has received no reports of illness due to consumption of these products. Anyone concerned about an illness should contact a health care provider.

FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks to verify that recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that recalled product is no longer available to consumers. When available, the retail distribution list(s) will be posted on the FSIS website at: www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/recalls-and-public-health-alerts/current-recalls-and-alerts

Consumers and members of the media who have questions about the recall can contact the plant manager, Brady Sweet, at (972) 493-5305.

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la food truck letter gradeLOS ANGELES, CA - Food trucks are major draws for foodies across the Southland. Here are some guidelines to choosing your food trucks wisely.

A cold fridge, hot grill and top-notch worker hygiene are all characteristics that would add up to an “A” grade for a restaurant. But are consumers on their own when it comes to food trucks?

“What you need to know is that they need to operate under the same premise as a restaurant,” said Bill Flynn, a food inspector and restaurant trainer. “Hot food hot, cold food cold, proper sanitizing and proper hand sinks and temperature controls.”

What you can’t see can hurt you. So here’s what you should look for the next time you get hungry for some food truck eats.

First thing, look for the letter grade. It should be posted, but if it’s not, it’s possible the truck is certified in a different county, so just ask.

Also, check for these as well: health permits and business licenses – both should be visible. You can even check out vehicle registration tags, which indicate good operating practices.

“There’s an old expression: ‘When you go into a restaurant, check out the restroom first.’ It might be an indication of what’s inside,” Flynn said.

Since you can’t do that with a food truck, be observant in other ways.

“What is the hygiene of the employees look like? Are they wearing a hair net?” Flynn said.

If you see greasy hair or dirty fingernails, look for another lunch spot. You might think you’re more likely to get sick from undercooked food, but you’re actually more likely to get sick from food borne illness due to bad employee hygiene.

If they’re handling raw chicken, pork or beef – they should be wearing gloves although it is not a law to do so.

Jennifer Hoover of Newport Beach is a big food truck fan. She often hits Gateway to LA’s Tuesday truck fests. She says she relies mostly on word of mouth or website recommendations.

“I’m still here, and I haven’t been sick,” Hoover said.

Along with eyeballing permits and food operator behavior, feel your food. It should be hot. Proper cooking techniques kill bacteria.

Some foods are more risky than others, simply because the way they’re prepared. For example, brownies or corn on the cob are pretty safe. If they’re plunged in fats or oils, that’s pretty safe as well.

However, when it comes to burgers, tacos and salads, you might be rolling the dice.

“These are foods that don’t have another step of cooking, so to speak. Your lettuce, your salad, your tacos and the garnishes on those tacos, if they were contaminated at the source, they could be contaminated when you eat them,” Flynn explained. “Cross contamination is a big deal.”

That’s not to say that you need to avoid taco trucks. Just be armed with the right information to see that they handle these items properly.

Flynn checked White Rabbit, a Filipino fusion truck, and the Wicked Kitchen truck, which serves everything from Thai to Vietnamese to Cajun. Both passed food safety criteria, but that doesn’t surprise Wicked’s Ryan Carlin, who says health inspectors are rigorous.

“They are pretty harsh. They want to really nail us wherever we go,” Carlin said.

Carlin says trucks need permits for every city they work in.

In Los Angeles County, trucks are inspected twice a year. Sometimes they’re scheduled, sometimes they’re random. This year, the L.A. County Health Department inspected 1,429 trucks. Out of those, 1,250 got As, 132 received Bs, and 47 trucks got Cs.

Find the entire article at abclocal.go.com/kabc <here>

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WASHINGTON DC - The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday issued a public health alert for raw chicken packaged at three Foster Farms facilities in California as an estimated 278 people have fallen ill in the past six months.

foster farms recallStrains of Salmonella Heidelberg are associated with chicken distributed to retail outlets in California, Oregon and Washington state, the USDA said in a statement.

The Salmonella outbreak has spread to 18 states, though most of the reported illnesses have been in California.

The outbreak appears to have begun in March and the USDA was notified of the illnesses in July, said Dan Engeljohn of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Investigators had a difficult time pinpointing the source of the illnesses, Englejohn said.

A spokesman for Foster Farms says no recall is in effect and that the infections were caused by eating undercooked or improperly handled chicken.

The USDA has not directly linked the outbreak of illnesses to a specific product or production period. The USDA mark on suspect packages would read: P6137, P6137A and P7632.

State health officials were not planning a recall, but said it is essential that chicken be cooked to 165 degrees.

“This is the important public health issue,” Anita Gore, spokeswoman for the California Department of Public Health. “Chicken can carry bacteria, and chicken needs to be fully cooked.”

Gore also said people need to thoroughly wash their hands after handling raw meat, and anyone who believes they were infected and is showing symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal cramps should contact doctors immediately.

Salmonella is a pathogen that contaminates meat during slaughter and processing, and is especially common in undercooked chicken.

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ORANGE COUNTY, CA - Orange County Produce, LLC (“OC Produce”) is voluntarily working with the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) and California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) to coordinate a recall of fresh red and green Bell Peppers for potential contamination with Salmonella. The FDA has advised that a random sample of OC Produce Bell peppers has tested positive for Salmonella.

Orange County Produce food recallSalmonella is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.

The Bell Peppers

The red and green Bell Pepper recall is limited to 3 lots (Lot # SB 7 920, 923, 924) containing 1,208 25# cartons of peppers. The source of the contamination is unknown. The lots were distributed to farmer’s markets and wholesale food service within Southern California between September 21 and September 24, 2013. The product was shipped in cases under the OC Harvest (25 pound cartons) labels. The product is typically sold to retail, food service, and farmer’s market level in bulk weight and has no retail packaging associated with it. All retail suppliers that received these affected lots have been notified and were directed to immediately remove and destroy any remaining product in their inventories.

This recall was the result of a random sampling event on September 25, 2013 by the USDA which revealed the presence of Salmonella on some of the product. OC Produce’s recall and traceability program enabled the company to quickly identify the company field and harvest dates of the affected product, which originated in Southern California. OC Produce has ceased the distribution and harvest of product from the implicated field while the FDA, the California Department of Public Health and the company continue their investigation into the source of the contamination.

Consumers who purchased the above described Bell peppers between the dates of September 21 and October 5, 2013 should contact the store, restaurant or farmers market from where they purchased the product and inquire as to whether the affected product was sold by that store, restaurant or farmers market location. If so, the customer should discard or return any unused product to that store for a refund.

No illnesses have been reported to date. Other than the red and green Bell peppers described above, no other OC Produce product has been affected by this recall.

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boka-food-truck richmond vaRICHMOND, VA - Food trucks are extremely popular in Richmond. You’ll find them outside businesses at lunch time and catering to crowds at special events. But do these mobile kitchens meet the same health standards as restaurants? How can you be sure the food is safe to eat? We investigated in this special edition of the Restaurant Report.

Food carts and trucks. Mini kitchens on wheels. You’ll be glad to know the state Health Department inspects them often, sometimes monthly, to make sure they meet the same health and cleanliness standards as any restaurant.

“He shows up anytime. You want to make sure your cutting boards, your knife is very clean, all of your cart is sanitized, because he will inspect every single item,” said Tico Sanchez, co-owner of Kenn Tico Cuban Bar & Grill.

We asked some vendors to show us how they keep the carts clean.

Sanchez showed us how everything is wiped down with a rag and sanitizer.

“Over here you have to constantly clean your bottle, all your bottles, have to be cleaned constantly,” he said.

Eliza Diner of the Café Tara cart told us, “I keep a bucket of sanitizing solution back here. I have a clean rag that I use to wipe down after every few customers. I find glove changes are important, of course.”

And they showed us how they make sure hot foods stay at least the required 135 degrees, and cold foods the required 41.

“We keep coolers with plenty of ice, keeping the temperature 41 degrees,” said Sanchez.

“Everything is cooked and prepared in-house in his restaurant,” said Gerardo Fuentes of Thai Cabin. “Then its all wrapped up, made sure it’s all correct temperatures, and shipped here to the carts.”

Now the big question: How do food trucks fair on inspections?

As the Restaurant Reporter, people ask me all the time, why they don’t see food trucks more often in the Restaurant Report. It’s actually because food trucks overall score very well on their health inspections in Richmond. And that’s very impressive because they have to keep their kitchens clean and food at the right temperatures when they’re outside in the elements.

Find the entire article by Heather Sullivan at nbc12.com <here>

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Even if you aren’t a certified food safety manager any food truck owner needs to know about Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points and how it relates to their mobile food business. HACCP is a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement, and handling to manufacturing, distribution, and consumption of the finished product.

haccp logoOriginally developed in 1971 for use by NASA, HACCP is intended for use in all segments of the food service industry including food trucks. Food safety systems based on the HACCP principles have been successfully applied in food processing plants, retail food stores, and food service operations. The seven principles of HACCP have been accepted by most government agencies and the food industry.

The Seven HACCP Principles:

Conduct a hazard analysis

The purpose of a hazard analysis is to develop a list of hazards that are likely to cause injury or illness if they are not controlled. Points to be considered in this analysis can include skill level of employees; transport of food; serving elderly, sick, or very young; thawing of potentially hazardous foods; high degree of food handling and contact; adequacy of preparation and holding equipment available; storage; and method of preparation.

The next step is to determine whether the factors may influence the likely occurrence and severity of the hazard being controlled. Finally, the hazards associated with each step in the flow of food should be listed along with the measures necessary to control the hazard.

Determine critical control points (CCPs)

A critical control point is any step in which hazards can be prevented, eliminated, or reduced to acceptable levels. CCPs are usually practices or procedures that, when not done correctly, are the leading causes of food-borne illness outbreaks.

To determine CCPs:

  • At this step in preparation, can food become contaminated and/or can contamination increase?
  • Can this hazard be prevented through corrective action?
  • Can this hazard be prevented, eliminated, or reduced by steps taken later in the preparation process?
  • Can you monitor the CCP?
  • How will you measure the CCP?
  • Can you document the CCP?

Establish critical limits

A critical limit ensures that a biological, chemical, or physical hazard is controlled by a CCP. Each CCP should have at least one critical limit. Critical limits must be something that can be monitored by measurement or observation. They must be scientifically and/or regulatory based. Examples include temperature, time, pH, water activity, and available chlorine.

Establish monitoring procedures

Monitoring is a plan that includes observations or measurements to assess whether the CCP is being met. It provides a record of the “flow of food” through the establishment. If monitoring indicates that the critical limits are not being met, then an action must be taken to bring the process back into control. The monitoring system should be easy to use and meet the needs of the food establishment as well as the regulatory authority. It is important that the job of monitoring be assigned to a specific individual and that he or she be trained on the monitoring technique.

Establish corrective actions

If the criteria for a CCP are not being met, some type of corrective action must be taken. HACCP plans should specify who is responsible for implementing the corrective action and what corrective action was taken. They should be established in advance as part of the HACCP plan.

Establish verification procedures

These procedures are activities, other than monitoring, that determine the validity of the HACCP plan and that the system is operating according to the plan. An important aspect of verification is to determine whether the plan is scientifically and technically sound. Also, verification shows that all of the hazards have been identified and that if the HACCP plan is properly implemented, these hazards can be effectively controlled. The verification step provides an opportunity to make modifications to the plan if necessary.

Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures

Record-keeping and documentation procedures should be simple to complete and include information that illustrates that the established standards are being met. Employees need to be trained on the record-keeping procedures and why they are critical parts of their job. Examples of records include time/temperature logs, checklists, forms, flow charts, employee training records, and standard operating procedures (SOPs).

The success of an HACCP system in your mobile food business depends on educating and training yourself and your food truck employees in the importance of their role in producing safe foods. It is important to recognize that all of your employees must first understand what HACCP is and then learn the skills necessary to make it function properly. Specific training should include working instructions and procedures that outline the tasks of employees monitoring each CCP.

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The top 10 most ‘unwanted’ pathogen-food combinations have been identified by researchers at the University of Florida Emerging Pathogens Institute. This list of the riskiest combinations of foods and disease-causing microorganisms can act as a tool for those charged with protecting consumers from the creepiest and costliest of bugs.

Food Truck FOOD-SAFETY

A compilation of the number of illnesses, costs, and overall public health burden of certain microbes in certain types of food, the report is said to be the first comprehensive ranking of its kind computed in the U.S.

Food poisoning is unpleasant to say the least and millions of Americans get it each year. However, it can also be deadly: thousands die each year from food-borne illness.

Efforts to protect the public are often fragmented and uncoordinated, a problem the report’s writers hope this research helps address.

“The number of hazards and scale of the food system make for a critical challenge for consumers and government alike,” says Michael Batz, lead author of the report and head of Food Safety Programs at the Emerging Pathogens Institute. “Government agencies must work together to effectively target their efforts. If we don’t identify which pairs of foods and microbes present the greatest burden, we’ll waste time and resources and put even more people at risk.”

So which bugs are the worst offenders? The new report finds five leading bugs — Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Toxoplasma gondii and norovirus — result in $12.7 billion in annual economic loss, with the Top 10 pathogen-food combinations responsible for more than $8 billion.

The food combinations that make us the sickest:

  • - Poultry contaminated with Campylobacter tops the list, sickening more than 600,000 Americans per year. Salmonella in poultry also ranked in the top 10. These kind of poultry-borne infections can cause vomiting but also can lead to death.
  • - Overall, Salmonella was the leading disease-causing bug, and not just in poultry. It can also be found in produce, eggs and multi-ingredient foods.
  • - Listeria in deli meats and soft cheeses, and Toxoplasma in pork and beef are the combinations that most seriously affect pregnant women and developing fetuses, causing stillbirth or infants born with irreversible mental and physical disabilities.
  • - Norovirus is most often caused by foodservice workers who handle food without proper handwashing procedure. The report recommends increased funding for training.
  • - E. coli 0157:H7 is found mostly in contaminated beef and produce, and causes devastating injuries to small children.

For more information on good food safety practices and for a copy of the report, visit the Emerging Pathogens Institute website at www.epi.ufl.edu

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