Sunday, July 1, 2012

Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Power Outages

by Juliet Bodinetz-Rich

The National Restaurant Association had their annual campaign of National Food Safety Education Month in September. If you have not had a chance yet, please take a moment and check out their FREE and invaluable down loads for this year’s campaign “Lessons learned from the Health Inspection” available in English or in Spanish at: The Partnership for Food Safety Education’s campaign was “Home Food Safety Mythbusters program for consumers” with free downloads again available in English or in Spanish at .

Personally, I wasn’t sure if the timing of National Food Safety Education Month seemed ironic or right on track. Locally, we got clobbered consecutively with an earthquake, a hurricane, and flooding. Then to further the indignities, Ocean City had a small tornado (with no warning) to wind down the season. Many of you suffered with power outages in your homes and food establishments. Our household was lucky enough not to experience a power outage, but I do remember very well, Hurricane Isabel from 2003 where we were without electricity for over a week.  

What do we do with our food when the power goes out?!? To be clear and direct, we have to keep it cold or throw it out.

Cold food has to be held in your refrigerator at a maximum internal temperature of 41°F. Following what I call the “magic rule,” food has to be kept out of the Temperature Danger Zone (TDZ) (41°F-135°F) and must be discarded after an accumulative time period of four hours. So translated, that means, food cannot measure an internal temperature between 42°F-134°F or it has to be thrown out at four hours. Bacteria levels have increased to such an unsafe number at four hours that there is nothing we can do to kill enough of them off to make the food safe to eat. Our only corrective action to avoid a foodborne illness is to discard the food.

Let’s imagine the scenario: You enter your food establishment this morning and the power is out. You open your refrigeration unit and take an internal temperature check of some of the foods and they are all measuring inside the TDZ at around 50°F.  I am sorry to tell you that you are going to have to throw all your refrigerated food away. I am going to presume that when you measure the internal temperature of the food in your refrigeration unit that you do not know the precise hour the outage occurred, so unfortunately, it’s best you presume that it was more than four hours ago and that you correct the situation by discarding the food that can be presumed to have been more than four hours in the TDZ.

For your records, you should inventory everything you throw away for your internal food and beverage control accounting or for insurance purposes if applicable.

Now let’s say, you have the same scenario, but when you check the internal temperatures of some of your foods in your refrigeration unit that is not working because the power is out, and you are lucky! The foods are still out of the TDZ with internal temperatures measuring around, 38°F. Now the race is on!  You don’t know when the electricity will come back on and you don’t want to lose your food and monies by having to throw it out after four hours in the TDZ. So now what can you do to keep it cold?

  • The most obvious, keep the refrigerator door closed.  (That won’t last for long though)
  • Buy Dry Ice. If you have enough Dry Ice, it will keep your fridge cold.
  • Use a generator if you have one.
  • If you have room, put your food in the freezer.
  • If your neighbors have electricity – you could use their electricity if you have an extension cord that is long enough to extend the distance.  (I saw that a lot)
  • I was very impressed to see one of our customers rented a refrigerated truck to keep their food safe during their power outage. That impressed me as I’d not personally thought of that one before.
 It’s going to be important that you also keep your freezer door closed.  It’s important to keep frozen food frozen solid. Signs of refreezing are frost bite or ice crystals on the food.  Throw out any food showing signs of refreezing. A full freezer will stay colder longer than a half empty freezer.  You can group packages of food together to consolidate the cold in one section if it’s not full enough.

If you suffered any building damage or flooding, it’s important to throw away any food that got contaminated by the flood waters.  You could save the cans if they are not dented or damaged by washing them before you open them. 

Worst Case Scenario:  You are losing the battle to keep the food cold, BUT you are lucky enough to have a gas stove, I recommend that you start cooking and have the BEST block part ever! 

Juliet Bodinetz-Rich is the executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions and has over 25 years industry and training experience. Her team of instructors’ specialty is food safety, alcohol training and ServSafe training in English or in Spanish and writing HACCP Plans in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. Metro Area., or 443-838-7561. For Latest Food Safety Tips: Become a Fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS

Food Smarts - Happy Summer: Let's Stay Safe at Cookouts

by Juliet Bodinetz-Rich, Executive Director
Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions

I went to a cookout recently and personally observed many critical errors. I sometimes joke with my students, “Do as I say, not as I do.” On this day I found myself correcting situations at the cookout hosted by someone I considered to be “in the know” on food safety. This reconfirmed the truth that food safety guidelines might not change significantly from year to year but they do always need to be practiced. Cookouts are fun, but sometimes we are in such a rush to make a lovely meal, that we don’t pay attention to the obvious, as we are not in our comfort zone … our indoor restaurant or home kitchen. 

At this cookout, I observed carrying of raw meat on a plate to the outdoors with raw meat juice dripping off the plate across the counter top and onto the floor. I observed the coals being too hot before the steaks were put on the grill and this led to the steaks catching on fire and turning black on the grill, but remaining raw internally. In the urgency to get the flaming steaks off of the grill, they were nearly put back on the original plate with raw meat juices. The other raw steaks were put back in the fridge until the coals were not so hot. The problem is that they were put on the top shelf above ready-to-eat foods. My observations really hit home first hand that cross contamination is a major culprit that could lead to foodborne illness when cooking outdoors. 

Food safety has to be practiced in every step in the flow of the food. Whether as a professional cook or as a home cook, we have to always strive to avoid the three leading factors that contribute to foodborne illnesses. No matter: indoors or outdoors; we still have to: 

  • Control Time and Temperature
  • Avoid Cross Contamination
  • Practice Good Personal Hygiene

Here are our suggestions this year for Safe Outdoors Grilling and Serving Food:

1)   To Control Time and Temperature:
  • First, BUY a thermometer like you have in your restaurant kitchen!
  • Check food temperatures at the minimum every four hours if it’s being held.
  • When holding or displaying food – discard food at the minimum at four hours if the temperature is measuring inside the Temperature Danger Zone (41°F - 135°F).
  • USE the thermometer! Meat can look cooked, but still be undercooked.
  • Cook foods to the proper temperatures on the grill: 
    • 165°F - Poultry
    • 155°F - Ground Meats/Ground Fish & Marinated Meats/Marinated Fish
    • 145°F – Meats (any meat with no wings, i.e. beef, lamb, pork, veal) and fish
  • Keep food under refrigeration until ready to grill.
  • Prepare small batches of food at a time.
  • Keep food on ice or under refrigeration whenever possible. 
  • Display smaller quantities of food and replenish from refrigeration as needed. At the minimum, consider having the food displayed indoors for service to avoid being in higher temperatures outside.

2)   To Avoid Cross Contamination:
·         Clean hands! Wash your hands when dirty and before touching a new food.
·         Consider holding/carrying raw meats in a pan versus a plate outside. The pan has sides that will contain raw meat juices so they don’t spill and drip on other surfaces as you are trying to carry it out of the kitchen
·         Make sure all surfaces that touch food are clean and sanitized.
·         Consider using color coded equipment. Besides color coded cutting boards, consider using color coded tongs. This can help you distinguish to use one set of tongs for raw food and another color coded set of tongs for the cooked food.
·         DON’T use the same plate to bring out the raw meats to serve the cooked meats.
·         Don’t store raw meat under refrigeration above ready-to-eat foods.
·         Don’t use the same marinade to baste that you used to marinate meats and fish. Why not reserve a portion of your marinade separate, so you can use it to baste pre-marinated meats or seafood during the cooking process that has not been contaminated by raw meat juices in the marinating process? 
·         Don’t use the same ice that was used to keep food or drinks cold in your drinks.
·         Keep washing your hands! … especially, when changing food handling tasks or after tasting food with your hands and licking your fingers.
·         Keep the food covered as much as possible. We don’t want flies leaving their business on our food. Use lids, plastic wrap/tin foil or consider purchasing the netted covers.
·         Remember to put a serving utensil in each individual dish for serving.
·         Provide clean plates to your guests for second portions.

3)   Practice Proper Personal Hygiene:
·         Wash Your Hands.

I had a lot of fun at the cookout and appreciate all of the host’s efforts to make it so lovely but, I wonder now … ”Will I ever be invited to another cookout after this article?”

Juliet Bodinetz-Rich is the executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions and has over 25 years industry and training experience. Her team of instructors’ specialty is food safety, alcohol training and ServSafe training in English or in Spanish and writing HACCP Plans in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. Metro Area., or 443-838-7561. For Latest Food Safety Tips: Become a Fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS