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How a Wonky Tech Term Could Mean the End of Foodborne Illness

How a Wonky Tech Term Could Mean the End of Foodborne Illness

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Blockchain technology could revolutionize the way we buy our food—but what exactly is it?

Grocery shopping for certain foods can be stressful. Where is this meat from? What kind of fish is that, exactly? And how do you know it's not part of one of the many national safety recalls?

Often times, we’re left in the dark about crucial components of the food production process. And unless we’re willing to pay a premium at the farmer's’ market, many of us are forced into the uneasy position of trusting the safety of the food we see on grocery store shelves, whether it’s fish, beef, or chicken—without being able to ask very many questions.

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However, thanks to a new breed of technology called blockchain, improved food safety may not be as far away as we think. With the simple scan of a specialized QR code, you’ll be able to access invaluable information about the “life” of a certain food product—including whether it’s safe to eat.

Blockchain technology, while enigmatic-sounding, is the backbone of technologies like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. It works mainly by tracking transactions between multiple parties, and ensuring that each record isn’t tampered with or altered. This is essential for something like a digital currency, but could be invaluable in helping foods—like chicken or fish—pass through the dozens of hands necessary to go from the ocean or farm to the grocery shelf, while carrying along all the necessary information about where they've been, and what has happened to them.

The great value of blockchain is that it makes data much less vulnerable to being hacked or lost. Because each “block,” or record, contains a timestamp and a link to the previous block, a blockchain is a traceable, secured database of information.

By keeping a record of all aspects of the food production process, blockchain can eliminate the gap between producer and consumer. In fact, some news outlets, such as Forbes, suggest that blockchain technology has the potential to completely change the way we eat.

And this isn't just theoretical. Carrefour, a major French grocery chain, has announced that they will soon use blockchain technology to track the lives of every chicken sold under their house brand. (The story was covered in Bloomberg Businessweek.) Blockchain records every change a chicken undergoes from hatchery to producer to processor—and ensures that this information isn’t ever modified. Consumers will be able to access all data points associated with the chicken, from the date of birth to the name of its farmer to even its departure date to the slaughterhouse. Consumers can easily access this information by downloading an app to their smartphones and scanning a QR code found on the food label.

Similar to Carrefour's strategy, TE-FOOD, which describes itself as a “farm-to-table traceability solution,” works with clients such as French grocery store Auchan and VISSAN, a top meat producer in Vietnam. By requiring each step in the food supply chain—whether it’s the farmer, wholesaler, or retailer—to sign off on the previous one, TE-FOOD allows any contamination to be easily traced directly to its source. Consumers can also access detailed sourcing information about food products by scanning a QR code on the label.

Carrefour isn’t the first major company to use blockchain technology. A 2017 press release from tech company IBM announced a major collaboration with Nestle, Tyson, Dole Foods, Driscoll's, Golden State Foods, McCormick and Company, Unilever, Walmart, and Kroger to develop similar food traceability software.

Blockchain technology may also be a valuable tool in tackling the food waste problem. To put the issue in perspective, the USDA reports that of the available food supply, nearly 133 billion pounds of it was wasted in 2010, translating to $161 billion in losses. Food contamination has traditionally been difficult to track, and grocery stores will often dispose of large stocks of food as a precautionary measure, even though they may still be perfectly fit for consumption. Because blockchain quickly traces contaminated food to a specific region or farm, grocers will only need to remove products that match the source.

Lastly, blockchain technology could help lessen the economic burden placed on the U.S. from foodborne illnesses each year. A 2015 study by Dr. Robert Scharff from the University of Ohio found that foodborne illnesses cost the U.S. an average of $55 billion annually, in part from medical treatment and from lost productivity at work.

Despite all of its positives, Bloomberg notes that blockchain isn’t a perfect system quite yet. Because each data “block” is manually entered throughout the production process, this does leave margin for human error.

Regardless, blockchain is certainly a positive step towards greater food transparency, decreased food waste, and fewer foodborne illnesses. In the meantime, we recommend staying up-to-date with current food recalls by signing up for the FDA’s email subscription service or by visiting the government organization's Recalls, Market Withdrawals, and Safety Alerts page.

Chicken Is the Number One Cause of Foodborne Illness Outbreaks. Here's How to Stay Safe

More than 9.4 million people get sick every year from eating contaminated food, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 100,000 people were sickened by food-related illness outbreaks between 2009 and 2015, according to a new analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And the food that made more people sick than any other? Chicken. It was confirmed as the cause of more than 3,000 (about 12%) of those cases.

Pork and seeded vegetables came in second and third for number of illnesses caused, both with more than 2,500 cases or about 10% each. Fish and dairy caused more individual outbreaks than any other food groups, according to the analysis, but those outbreaks were smaller and sickened fewer total people.

The report’s findings may not be surprising for anyone who’s ever taken a cooking class or cut into their chicken dinner to make sure it’s cooked all the way. Just last week, a court case made headlines after a healthy and fit mother of two died after eating uncooked chicken at a hotel in Greece. (A coroner said the woman likely contracted E. coli from the raw poultry.)

But the CDC says that its deep data dive, published in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, is important for the food-safety industry: Only a small percentage of the 9.4 million foodborne illnesses reported each year are associated with recognized outbreaks, the CDC said in its report𠅋ut studying those outbreaks can still provide valuable insight into how to keep consumers out of harm&aposs way.

Between 2009 and 2015, according to the report, 5,760 outbreaks were reported to the CDC. (An outbreak is defined as anytime two or more cases of a similar illness result from the ingestion of a common food.) Those outbreaks resulted in 100,939 illnesses, 5,699 hospitalizations, and 145 deaths, and they occurred in all 50 states as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

About half of those outbreaks were traced back to a single virus, bacterium, or other type of toxin. Norovirus, which can be transmitted when infected people handle and contaminate a food supply, was the leading cause—which highlights the need for food-safety improvements “targeting worker health and hygiene in food service settings,” the CDC’s report states. Specifically, it says, rules that keep sick workers away from food, prohibit bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food, and ensure appropriate hand washing need to be better enforced.

Salmonella𠅊 bacteria that’s commonly found in raw chicken, eggs, red meat, and contaminated produce—was the second most common cause of outbreaks. Together, outbreaks caused by Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli were responsible for 82% of all hospitalizations and 82% of deaths.

The report also sheds some light onto where these outbreaks begin. Of the outbreaks that reported a single location of food preparation, 61% cited restaurants as their starting point. Catering and banquet facilities were cited in 14% of those outbreaks, and private homes in 12%. Institutions (such as schools) were responsible for a smaller number of outbreaks but sickened more people per outbreak than any other source.

Foodborne illness outbreaks have been reported voluntarily by state and local health departments since the 1960s, but 2009 was the first year the CDC launched a web-based reporting platform. The report mentioned a few specific outbreaks that occurred during its study period, including ones linked to pine nuts, cucumbers, eggs, cantaloupes, caramel apples, and, yes, chicken.

What this really means for our health

The CDC’s report concludes that, despite recent advances in food safety in the United States, 𠇏oodborne disease outbreak remains a serious public health problem.” It also notes an important caveat: Because the agency only looked at illnesses that affected two or more people, it’s unclear how much of a role these specific food sources and outbreak locations play in individual illness that aren’t associated with outbreaks. (In other words, foodborne illnesses can be caused by many different foods in many different settings—not just uncooked chicken at restaurants.)

Byron Chaves-Elizondo, PhD, assistant professor and food safety extension specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says it&aposs important to put the CDC&aposs findings in perspective. (He was not involved in the new report.) Yes, he says, the percentage of illnesses in this report attributed to chicken is significant—"but so is the burden attributed to fish, dairy, or produce, for example, so we can&apost get carried away by the numbers," he adds.

Plus, he points out, many of the outbreaks included in the study were not able to be traced to a specific food. "That is concerning, and public health authorities continue to make great strides to reduce that gap," he says.

The fact that most illnesses in the report were linked to restaurants also isn&apost surprising, says Chaves-Elizondo, since they serve so many more people than private residences. "We often don&apost have 100 people at home, and if we do, we typically cater the food from a restaurant," he says. But home cooks "should not get too comfortable," he adds, since contamination can and does occur in all types of kitchens.

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How to stay safe when cooking at home

Two ways to protect yourself from foodborne illnesses are to always cook poultry and ground beef thoroughly, the CDC advises, and to refrigerate leftovers promptly after eating. (Cooking poultry to 145 degrees and red meat to 160 degrees will kill most foodborne pathogens.) "Using a food thermometer is the best way to know the internal temperature of the product reached the safety value," says Chaves-Elizondo. "Pink/not pink or chewy/not chewy don’t really cut it."

It’s also smart to avoid recipes that call for raw eggs (including mayonnaise, salad dressings, ice creams, and cake frostings), and if you marinate raw meat or poultry, do so in the fridge𠅊nd don&apost use leftover juices to baste the finished product. "Definitely do not assume that meat marination is an effective antimicrobial intervention," says Chaves-Elizondo.

Watch out for cross-contamination, too𠅊nother common way that pathogens can be transmitted. For starters, don&apost wash raw chicken before cooking it: "The droplets and aerosols can actually spread Salmonella and Campylobacter& to clean surfaces, and they can establish a niche in your sink if you don’t sanitize it often and properly," says Chaves-Elizondo. "Rather, remove any unwanted tissue with shears, discard in the trash, and cook your poultry thoroughly."

If you&aposre worried about the juices that chicken is often packaged in, sanitize the package before opening it and drain it carefully to avoid splashes, says Chaves-Elizondo. Those juices could in fact harbor Salmonella if the chicken itself is infected, he says, "but chances are actually very slim."

Finally, keep uncooked meats and poultry separate from everything else in your kitchen, use separate cutting boards when preparing them, and make sure to wash your hands𠅊nd all surfaces and utensils involved—with soap and water after you handle them.

Putting Food Traceability at Consumers' Fingertips

Imagine that you’re in the produce section at the grocery store. You pick up a container of leafy greens with a QR (quick response) code on the label and you pull out your smart phone. The camera on the device instantly reads the code and tells you exactly where and how the greens were grown, when they were harvested, and who owns the farm. Your phone also recommends recipes and gives you the option of automatically adding the other ingredients you need to your digital shopping list. You decide to buy the greens. You take them home and put them in the fridge. The next day, you get a text message alert: “The product you purchased has been recalled. Throw it away and click here for a full refund.” You toss the greens and breathe a sigh of relief. This is not the future of food traceability, this is what is possible today and what shoppers will increasingly be able to do with any item in the grocery store. As supply chains have gotten more complex and foodborne illness outbreaks continue to take a toll, many food companies have sought to improve traceability, or their ability to rapidly track products from field to customer. Right now most traceability is at the case-level, which means codes are used to track food products in bulk, but once companies have the ability to track product, and capture key data along the way, they can take this one step further and make information available to consumers at the item-level. The Food Safety News traceability series is sponsored by Infor. Giving consumers access to more information via QR codes on individual packages can be win-win. Shoppers like that they can trace their food to the source and it gives food manufacturers and growers a way to interface with their end consumers. There are clear marketing benefits—brands can use certain apps to collect feedback from shoppers, connect via social media, up sell, or offer coupons –but the food safety benefits are also significant. “Ideally, at the consumer-level they will be able to scan the code and up pops a picture of the farmer, recipes, and all the things you want them to have,” said Bill Dewey, of Taylor Shellfish Farms in Washington state, who chairs the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference’s traceability committee. “And then appropriate health officials could use a password to see even more details about the product, including HACCP records.” YottaMark, Inc., whose food traceability platform, HarvestMark, has so far made five billion fresh food items traceable for companies like Driscoll’s Berries and Coleman Natural, has seen the public health benefit of consumer-level traceability first hand. “The sophisticated companies are combining marketing and food safety,” said Elliott Grant, chief technology officer and founder of YottaMark. Several of the company’s customers have been through recalls since gaining full supply chain traceability and have been able to limit the damage. During one recall of leafy greens, 15 percent of consumers who looked up the product using HarvestMark did indeed have recalled greens and were able to take action. In the wake of food safety incidents, companies can also utilize their connection to the consumers affected or inconvenienced to rebuild trust by sharing detailed information or even offering free product. “We want to create end consumer confidence. It’s also about bouncing back,” said Christian Hutter, of Junction Solutions, a technology company that has a traceability platform called CLEARthru, which aims to be more interactive with shoppers. With consumers seeking more and more information about where their food comes from, there is now a flurry of consumer-level traceability initiatives. Last summer, Top 10 Produce, a company that specializes in traceability solutions for small and independent farms, received a $100,000 small business innovation research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study how independent growers can benefit from a mobile commerce platform to sell source-verified food. The grant also pays for more growers to get their own QR code. In an effort to bounce back from the devastating Gulf oil spill and differentiate from the flood of seafood imports, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission has launched “Gulf Seafood Trace,” a voluntary program using Trace Register, a traceability company based in Seattle. The program allows consumers to trace the fish back to where it was caught and get food safety information. Applegate, the fast-growing natural and organic meat company, has what they call “barn codes” that allow consumers to look up their package of meat and find videos about the farmer that raised the turkeys for their lunchmeat. HarvestMark recently conducted a major fresh food traceability pilot project with a major retailer in China that included adding QR labels to individual food products and noting they could be traced back to the farm. “By all measures, it’s a wild success,” said Grant, the founder of YottaMark, Inc. “Sales doubled for these products because there is such paranoia.” Taylor Shellfish plans to pilot QR tags for oysters at its retail shop in Seattle. When customers order a variety oysters on the half shell, the tags, printed on laminated paper, will be stuck in the ice behind each one. Diners will be able to scan the codes and get information about where each oyster is from. “Today, if you’re lucky wait staff might draw on a napkin to indicate where they came from,” said Dewey. Where Food Comes From, a leading third party certification company that verifies many of Whole Foods marketing standards, now has a retail focused “source verified” program that also uses a QR code. The company has a form on its website so consumers can easily request that their grocery stores carry Where Food Comes From approved products. Hutter, of CLEARthru, predicts that, while future traceability regulations might help push the ball forward, ultimately consumer demand will drive widespread adoption. “We know consumers are going to demand better information in real time,” he said. Consumers interested in scanning food to trace it back to the source should start by downloading a QR scanner in their smartphone app store.

Spoilage Examples

Here are some examples of spoilage:

Stale Bread: Bread that has become stale has lost moisture. This is a physical change defined by food scientists as a form of spoilage. Technically speaking, the bread becomes dry because starch molecules in the bread are slowly forming crystals—and capturing moisture from gluten in the bread to do so.

Chilling Injury: A type of deterioration that occurs in fresh produce is called chilling injury, which is browning and pitting that results from extended cold storage (typically below 37°F).

Chocolate Bloom: This is the dull, white streaking we see on a chocolate bar, which actually reflects changes in the crystalline structure of molecules. Bloom is safe, but unattractive. Often, bloom occurs when chocolate is subjected to low or high temperatures (below 27°F or above 80°F).

Freezer Burn: A well-known form of spoilage is freezer burn, characterized by dried-out, light-colored spots on meat. What happens is that ice crystals form in the meat and migrate to the surface, drawing out moisture as they go. Freezer burn, like chocolate bloom, is safe but unappealing. It tends to cause a leathery texture and spotty appearance on meat. Generally, it occurs at frozen meat temperatures above 0°F, so steady, very cold temperatures can help prevent it. Air-tight wrapping helps prevent it as well.

Sour Milk: Milk undergoes gradual change as bacteria ferment its lactose to produce alcohols and acids. Flavor changes, and so does the smell of the product. The characteristic "sour milk" odor comes from lactic acid and related acids produced by bacteria.

Soft Vegetables: Have you noticed that fresh vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, celery, and many others become soft with age? Certain molds and bacteria produce enzymes that cause this change. The crispness of vegetables comes from its cellulose or fiber. The enzymes from microorganisms break down that fiber into smaller molecules that lack woody characteristics, reducing the crisp texture.

Slimy Fruit: Common on aging fruits and vegetables, this is caused by small sugar-like carbohydrates produced by bacteria. Their slime alters both texture and flavor of these foods by changing their natural sugars to related carbohydrates.

Sulfur or Ammonia Odors in Meat: Bacteria in meat bring about a number of changes. For example, types of Clostridium and other bacteria break down proteins into amino acids, and then into foul-smelling byproducts. The amino acid cysteine breaks down into hydrogen sulfide, along with other components. Enzymes in meat also contribute to conversion of amino acids into other unpleasant-smelling compounds with equally unpleasant names like cadaverine and putrescine.

Rancid Fats: What happens when sweet butter or other fats develop a sour flavor? Certain bacteria and fungi convert the fat molecules into glycerol and various acids. The acids impart characteristic sour flavors.

Moldy Cheese: Everyone has seen patchy mold growth on foods, from cheese to produce to bread to leftovers. Molds, unlike some forms of spoilage, generally pose a food safety risk. This is because some molds produce toxins (mycotoxins) that can cause illness.

1. Monitor food temperatures

Why it’s important: As a restaurant operator, the last thing you’d want to deal with is a foodborne illness complaint. That’s why it’s paramount to ensure that food is chilled or heated to safe food temperatures.

The food temperature danger zone is between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit, with the most bacteria growth between 70 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit. The longer a food item stays within that range, the more likely that harmful bacteria will spread.

How technology can help: Most food safety technology companies offer temperature monitoring in some way. Instead of manually checking your food temperature, you can ensure a food product is kept at a proper temperature with a refrigeration monitoring system that can tell you whenever temperatures fall or rise outside of ideal temperatures.

Additionally, there are other types of sensor technology such as handheld probes that you can use to measure and track temperatures in real time. Most Bluetooth sensors have the ability to wirelessly record temperature readings in a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) log which reduces the need to manually log temperatures on paper.

The result: By tracking temperature checks throughout the day and ensuring that your food supply is served and maintained at proper temperatures, you can avoid contamination and throwing away containers of food that have gone bad. This reduces the likelihood of foodborne illness complaints and cuts down on food waste.


'That's an additional reason why we believe Campylobacter can be transmitted through sexual contact like Shigella is - because people can become infected when only small amounts of the bacteria are present,' Dr Kuhn said.

The team believes that Campylobacter infections are likely much more prevalent than the numbers show, with just one in 20 people infected seeking medical advice.

While infection usually isn't serious for most people, for those with underlying immune conditions such as arthritis, it can cause severe complications.

Dr Kuhn added: 'This is an interesting time because COVID-19 has made people more aware of the importance of monitoring infectious diseases in general, not only during a pandemic.

'There are many infections like the one caused by Campylobacter that make people sick.

'It's important that we spotlight the fact that these diseases exist and that we continue to conduct research on their effects and modes of transmission.'


1. Keep a clean work space

Germs can survive across all of the different surfaces in the kitchen, so it's essential to keep the cooking area and your hands clean.

2. Avoid cross-contamination

Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs can spread germs to ready-to-eat foods if not kept separate.

The CDC recommends using separate cutting boards and plates when handling these ingredients.

They should also be stored separately in the fridge.

To cook food safely, the internal temperature must get high enough to kill the germs that could cause food poisoning.

The correct internal temperature varies by ingredient, and only surefire way to tell if food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer.

Storing food properly is essential to combating harmful bacteria.

Perishable food should be refrigerated within two hours of when it was purchased, and the refrigerator should be set to below 40°F.

5. Don't rely solely on expiration dates

Expiration dates aren't the only indication of when a food item should be thrown away.

If something seems to have a strange smell or color, it's probably better to be safe and pitch it.

6. Don't thaw frozen food on the counter

Thawing frozen foods on the counter allows bacteria to multiply quickly in the outer parts as they reach room temperature.

Frozen foods should be thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave.

Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) reintroduce 2015 legislation.

Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have reintroduced legislation to create a single, independent food safety agency. Originally introduced as the Safe Food Act of 2015, the bill establishes the Food Safety Administration (FSA) as an independent agency to administer and enforce food safety laws. It would transfer the functions of specified federal agencies that relate to the administration or enforcement of food safety laws to the FSA.

As stated in the 2015 bill, the duties of the FSA would be to:

  • Promulgate regulations to protect the food supply from contamination.
  • Implement federal food safety inspection, labeling, enforcement, and research efforts to protect the public health.
  • Develop consistent and science-based standards for safe food.
  • Prioritize federal food safety efforts and deployment of resources to achieve the greatest benefit in reducing foodborne illness.
  • Administer a national food safety program based on an analysis of the hazards associated with different foods and the processing of different foods.
  • Require that all food and feed facilities register before operation or importation of food, feed, or ingredients.
  • Establish an accreditation system for foreign governments seeking to certify food for importation to the united states.
  • Establish requirements for tracing food and animals from point of origin to retail sale.
  • Establish and administer a food safety technology program to foster innovations with the potential to improve food safety.
  • Maintain or access an active surveillance system of food and epidemiological evidence.
  • Establish a sampling system to monitor contaminants in food.
  • Rank categories of food based on their health hazard.
  • Establish a national public education campaign on food safety.
  • Conduct research relating to food safety.

The bill also includes provisions regarding prohibited acts, recall authority, penalties for violations of food safety laws, whistle-blower protection, and civil actions.

On June 20, DeLauro held a Congressional Food Safety Caucus briefing with the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America on the state of food safety in America and the urgency of creating a single food safety agency.

On introducing the bill with Durbin said, “For consumers and businesses alike, food safety is a problem we must be focused on addressing. One problem in particular that I believe demands our attention is how hopelessly fragmented and outdated our food safety system is.” In creating a single, independent food safety agency, she said, “Our bill ensures we have a single agency accountable for food safety, research, prevention, inspections, investigations, and labeling. We need a commonsense, 21st century way of ensuring food safety and a single food safety agency is it.”

Supporting the initiative, DeLauro released an Overview of Food Safety in the United States at the Food Safety Caucus briefing finding that federal food safety oversight is fragmented food outbreaks and foodborne illnesses have increased and FDA inspections of imported food have decreased.

What's a cooking tip/strategy/hack that greatly increased your cooking efficiency?

Please share your cooking hack/tip/strategy that greatly increased your efficiency when cooking, reducing prep time, and overall produced a better flow when you're cooking.

As for me, I always take my time and plan ahead. During the prep/cooking process, I think, what could I have done to improve this workflow? What steps or utensils can I skip using. I'm trying to constantly improve my process. There's always a rationale on why I do this first instead of the other steps etc.

I usually need <20mins now to prep and cook a steak dinner for 2. It used to take me 30++mins.

Cut chives first, potato then butter (I always cut vegetables first before meat on any of my cooking processes so as not to transfer bacteria from uncooked meat to vegetables)

Put Potato in boiling water.

Prep Steak, season with salt, pepper, & garlic powder then cook with olive oil + butter + thyme.

Once the Steak is good, I set it aside to rest.

About the time the steak is good the potato should be done. Drain potato, mash, add a knob of butter (I don't like too much butter I use more olive oil instead to improve the texture), and olive oil. Combine and then add the chives.

Voila, the process is smooth, you get a well-rested steak with the hot mashed potato w/ chives.

Realising this was life changing!

Best advice I ever got as a young chef from my sous was whenever you work a new station, just start out on the line, work in a new place, etc to ALWAYS return tools/knives/towels/pans to the same spot during service. Good mise en place isn’t enough on its own. This carries over to homecooking too. Over the course of cooking a meal (or firing up 100+ covers), it may not seem a big deal to spend 2-3 seconds to look around your station to find that whisk, knife, peeler, garlic crusher, etc you need but add that up after many, many times over the course of cooking a meal/service and it’s a lot of wasted time. Not to mention that you’re momentarily no longer focusing on what’s happening in the pan which also adds up and can affect quality. Find a “home” in your station for each piece of regularly used equipment and always return that item to that spot. When you can instinctively reach out and grab whatever you need without looking/thinking and keep your attention on the cooking at hand, your efficiency/consistency/quality will be top-notch. We had an old saying we used when I was a mechanic in the military. “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. Take time to turn actions into habits and habits into muscle memory and the speed will come in time.

Having a bowl on the countertop for scraps / trash has helped me in recipes with a lot of chopping prep, especially since my trashcan isn't readily accessible from my prep area.

Label your shit. Spices, leftover items in the fridge, etc. Just get a roll of painter's tape and a Sharpie, and label everything in the kitchen that can deteriorate in freshness/quality. And for juices or jars of premade sauces or anything you're putting in a freezer, label them with the date when you open/make them.

As an addition: store everything in containers with CLEAR LIDS. It takes all the guesswork out with a label and a clear lid.

Watching others cook dishes from scratch on YouTube. Not necessarily the big channels with ton of editing. But ppl who have a lot of experience and just shared some dishes there.

Watching those I always pickup what they do differently from me and I can decide whether their way is better than mine.

What channel do you recommend?

ON ONIONS: Whenever I cut an onion, I’ll chop up the whole thing or even a few more. I then lay it on a silpat mat on top of a cookie sheet in my freezer. Once frozen, I scoop it all up into a piece of Tupperware and just take out what I need for cooking another dish later. This way, I can buy bulk bags of onions (cheaper) without them going bad before I use them all.

ON MEAL PREP: I use acrylic cutting boards for prep. I use one side for cutting vegetables, then flip over when I need to use for cutting/tenderizing meat. That way, I’m only using one cutting board for prepping dinner. I also keep a spray bottle of bleach under my kitchen sink so I can spray the cutting board with bleach before putting in my dishwasher to kill off any bacteria. I can then spray some bleach on the countertop where I did my prep.

FRUIT/VEG THAT COME IN PLASTIC: I hate plastic, but sometimes I have no choice to buy something encased in plastic. When I buy strawberries, I put them in a large bowl with water & veggie wash or water & hydrogen peroxide, agitate and let it sit while I wash the plastic container with a soapy sponge. I rinse and cut up the strawberries, using the plastic container as a colander and then layer a sheet of paper towel on the bottom before I store in the fridge. I’ve found my strawberries last longer/fresher cut up this way. I figure this saves me from dirtying up another storage container and I’ve reused the plastic container at least once before recycling.


Pilot study

Before data collection, the research protocol was approved by the institutional review board at Purdue University. The survey was reviewed by two food safety experts in consumer research for clarity, comprehensiveness, and establishing content validity. The survey was then distributed to 194 participants to pilot test the face validity and reliability. Twenty-five participants met all criteria and answered instructional manipulation checks (IMC) correctly. The criteria and IMC were presented in the following paragraphs. Cronbach's α was calculated for internal consistency. The flour handling questions Cronbach's α was between 0.89 and 0.92. The pilot study revealed some wording issues, including an overly complicated vocabulary. The researchers reworded the questions accordingly and lowered the readability level to grades 5 and 6 (on the basis of

Flour handling questions

The survey focused on four wheat flour types: all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, bread flour, and quick-bread mix containing flour. “Quick-bread mix” was defined as cake, cookie, biscuit, pancake, muffin, or brownie mix. For each type of flour, questions addressed how the flour was obtained, stored, and consumed. Information on how consumers acquired and stored flour was accessed through multiple-choice questions. Consumers were asked if they had heard of flour-related foodborne recalls or outbreaks and if the information would affect the flour handling and/or purchase intent during and/or after the recalls or outbreaks were over. They were also asked questions to assess knowledge and risk perception of flour handling, including (i) what food products they believed to have a microbial food safety risk (ii) what risk level they perceived for themselves to contract foodborne illnesses and (iii) whether they would purchase flour associated with a recall or outbreak. Consumers were asked if they ate raw cookie dough or batter. Those who answered “never” were referred to as “noneaters” and those that answered “rarely,” “sometimes,” and “always,” were referred to “eaters.” The measurement domains, number of items, and the response format are not described in the “Materials and Methods” section because all instruments are presented in Supplemental Material.

Message evaluation questions

A review of flour product packages (143 packages from 22 brands) for sale by a supermarket chain in West Lafayette, IN, in 2019, revealed the current food safety messages and placement on flour product packages. The current messages were categorized into two groups: containing only the recommendations and containing recommendations and why the recommendations should be followed. The most frequently used message was selected from each group and was evaluated in the survey. Therefore, two of three messages being evaluated were the current messages from flour packages. The third message was developed by the authors to include recommendations, reasons, and the benefits. In this study, only the message content was evaluated. The font size, contrast, and design of the food safety messages varied from brand to brand. Thus, when evaluating the messages, the images on flour packages were not used. Each participant evaluated all three messages, but the order of messages being evaluated were randomized. The randomization was to reduce the biases of the cumulative effect of the messages. After reading each message, participants were asked one question to evaluate the message's effectiveness of preventing consumers from eating or playing with flour, dough, or batter. Eaters were asked two more questions to evaluate the message impact: “due to this message, I will not eat raw dough or batter” and “this message can remind me not to eat or play with flour, dough or batter.” All message impact qeustions were measured on a 7-point Likert scale, where 1 = extremely ineffective and 7 = extremely effective.

Preferred placement of safety and handling messages was also evaluated. The three placements of food safety messages were presented in figures: on the top of the package in the middle of the package and on the side of the package. Consumers were asked to select the figure that showed the preferred message location.

IMC and demographic questions

Two questions were developed to detect the participants' level of disengagement. In this article, we referred those questions to IMC. Previous studies showed some online survey respondents had disengaged behaviors and did not pay attention when filling out the questions (14, 60). IMC questions were inserted in the middle of the questions. For example, in a check-all-that-apply question about flour handling, one of the items was “if you are paying attention, check this item.” If the participants did not pay attention, their answers on the entire survey were not included in the final analysis. Thus, IMC questions were used as additional screeners to improve the quality of the study.

Demographic questions were asked at the end of the survey. Consumers were required to answer every question before moving to the next question. The survey contained 72 questions. The number of questions for each individual varied due to the logic flow of the survey. For example, if the participant only used “all-purpose flour,” then he or she would not see questions about whole wheat flour, bread flour, and quick-bread mix. On average, the survey took approximately 15 min to complete.

Data analysis

When downloading data, Qualtrics XM (Provo, UT) converted the response to numerical values for data analysis. Data were analyzed by using Excel 2016 (Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA) for descriptive analysis and SPSS, version 9.4 (Chicago, IL) for Student's t test and one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA). Statistical significance was determined at P < 0.05. Logistic regression was used between different groups in some demographic categories to see the strength in association of attention to flour packages and responding practices to flour recalls. The output of the logistic regression included a change in the odds ratio (OR) or the exponential function of the regression coefficient ( ⁠(defupalpha>)(defupbeta>)(defupgamma>)(defupdelta>)(defupvarepsilon>)(defupzeta>)(defupeta>)(defuptheta>)(defupiota>)(defupkappa>)(defuplambda>)(defupmu>)(defupnu>)(defupxi>)(defupomicron>)(defuppi>)(defuprho>)(defupsigma>)(defuptau>)(defupupsilon>)(defupphi>)(defupchi>)(defuppsy>)(defupomega>)(defialpha<oldsymbol>)(defibeta<oldsymbol<eta>>)(defigamma<oldsymbol>)(defidelta<oldsymbol>)(defivarepsilon<oldsymbol>)(defizeta<oldsymbol>)(defieta<oldsymbol>)(defitheta<oldsymbol< heta>>)(defiiota<oldsymbol>)(defikappa<oldsymbol>)(defilambda<oldsymbol>)(defimu<oldsymbol>)(definu<oldsymbol< u>>)(defixi<oldsymbol>)(defiomicron<oldsymbol>)(defipi<oldsymbol>)(defirho<oldsymbol< ho>>)(defisigma<oldsymbol>)(defitau<oldsymbol< au>>)(defiupsilon<oldsymbol>)(defiphi<oldsymbol>)(defichi<oldsymbol>)(defipsy<oldsymbol>)(defiomega<oldsymbol>)(defupalpha<f>)(defupbeta<f<eta>>)(defupgamma<f>)(defupdelta<f>)(defupvarepsilon<f>)(defupzeta<f>)(defupeta<f>)(defuptheta<f< heta>>)(defupiota<f>)(defupkappa<f>)(defuplambda<f>)(defupmu<f>)(defupnu<f< u>>)(defupxi<f>)(defupomicron<f>)(defuppi<f>)(defuprho<f< ho>>)(defupsigma<f>)(defuptau<f< au>>)(defupupsilon<f>)(defupphi<f>)(defupchi<f>)(defuppsy<f>)(defupomega<f>)(defGamma<f>)(defDelta<f>)(defTheta<f>)(defLambda<f>)(defXi<f>)(defPi<f>)(defSigma<f>)(defPhi<f>)(defPsi<f>)(defOmega<f>)()⁠ ) for each demographic category. This change was the OR associated with 1 unit increase of the exposure. The OR was the odds that an outcome will occur, given a particular exposure, compared with the outcome occurring without the exposure. In this study, the outcome was whether consumers had a specific practice, and the exposure was the group in each demographic category. If the OR was less than 1, then one group was less likely to have the practice. If the OR was 1, then the exposure did not affect the odds. If OR was greater than 1, then one group was more likely to practice the behavior than the other group was.


Participants were recruited in May 2019 from an online consumer panel of Qualtrics XM, an external online survey company. Qualtrics XM sent invitations to participants across the United States either via e-mail or to the respondents' panel portal. The researchers paid Qualtrics XM for access to a sample that was aligned to specific demographics. Qualtrics XM partnered with sample providers and had access to a pool of 90 million participants who could respond to the survey. All participants agreed to be contacted by sample providers to respond to the survey. The support team ensured that participants received an incentive to complete the entire survey. Qualtrics XM worked with Rybbon Inc. (McLean, VA), a partner that simplifies the process of incentives management. We did not inquire what the incentives were, but they were adequate for the participants to volunteer.

Participant selection criteria included the following: (i) the primary food handler of the household (ii) the primary grocery shopper of the household and (iii) use of wheat flour or quick-bread mix containing wheat flour at least once a month. In addition, quotas for demographic characteristics were set by the researchers to mirror the U.S. population. Due to challenges in recruiting participants, we loosened the criteria of gender. However, the other characteristics, including age, ethnicity groups, and state residents were considered to be representative.


Ensuring the microbiological safety of food for vulnerable groups and providing advice about high-risk foods and food safety are essential to minimize foodborne infections. A significant proportion of the population is more susceptible to foodborne disease, including people who are immunocompromised as a result of disease or of medication, as well as pregnant women, infants, and the elderly. In addition, more sophisticated treatments to control cancer and chronic disease are liable to increase the size of this vulnerable population. There is an urgent need for agreement on the nature and use of low microbial diets in centers treating immunosuppressed patients and for more generally available guidance on the microbiological safety of food and beverages, of the type issued by the FSIS/USDA (2010), for vulnerable people in the community.

The Two Pathogens That Take the Most Healthy Years from Americans’ Lives

Among all the microorganisms that can cause food poisoning, two stood out: Salmonella and the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Together, they’re responsible for more than half of those lost years, but for different reasons.

With Salmonella, it’s the sheer number of victims and the long-term complications some suffer. Most of the recent multi-state outbreaks of food poisoning—from papaya, sprouts, and cucumbers, for example—were caused by Salmonella, which can turn up in almost any food.

Toxoplasma, on the other hand, steals so many years because it often strikes people younger than 65.

The toxoplasma parasite, which lives in the muscles of animals, infects more than 60 million Americans, says the CDC. Most people don’t get sick because their healthy immune system keeps it at bay.

In people with weakened immune systems, a severe infection can cause brain damage, blindness, or worse.

“Consumers can become infected with the parasite by eating undercooked, contaminated meat such as lamb and venison,” the CDC’s Brittany Behm explains. (Beef and pork are no longer likely culprits.)

“People can also get sick by eating food that was cross-contaminated with raw meat, or by not washing their hands thoroughly after handling raw meat,” adds Behm.

Another source of Toxoplasma: cats that shed the parasite’s eggs in their feces.

The CDC advises pregnant women to avoid changing cat litter to lower the risk of eye or brain damage in their babies. “If no one else can perform the task, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands with soap and water afterwards,” the CDC recommends.

“And everyone should wear gloves when handling soil in gardens where cats are around,” says Jitender Dubey, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory.

When Food Poisoning Exacts a Long-Term Health Toll

The misery of a foodborne illness may not end when the vomiting or diarrhea stops. For some people, that’s just the start of years of suffering.

Mari Tardiff, for example, may never walk again, thanks to a 2008 bout with Guillain-Barré Syndrome that struck after she drank raw milk contaminated with Campylobacter.

“It’s Russian roulette,” the Californian told the Washington Post in 2014. “I lost my career as a public health nurse. I lost relationships…I’ve lost my identity.”

Every year, more than 200,000 Americans develop long-term ailments from a bout of food poisoning, Elaine Scallan and her CDC colleagues estimated. 1

About 164,000 wind up with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a mix of abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea, and constipation that’s difficult to treat.

Another estimated 33,000 end up with reactive arthritis after food poisoning with Salmonella or Campylobacter. Reactive arthritis is pain and swelling in the knees, ankles, or feet that’s triggered by an infection somewhere else in the body. 2

“If you know anyone with IBS or reactive arthritis, you know that it can really affect their quality of life and limit their day-to-day activities,” says Barbara Kowalcyk, an assistant professor of food science at Ohio State.

Every year, more than 200,000 Americans develop long-term ailments from a bout of food poisoning.

Then there’s the havoc caused by E. coli O157:H7, the “hamburger bug” that killed four young children and sickened more than 700 people—most of them under age 10—in 1993.

Most had eaten undercooked burgers at Jack in the Box restaurants or became infected by someone who had.

“If the toxin released by this bacterium gets into the bloodstream, it can attack one or more organs,” says Kowalcyk.

“If it primarily hits your kidney, that can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, which can lead to chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure, or kidney failure.”

If the toxin travels to the brain, it can cause neurological damage. 2 “I know a young girl who gets seizures because of it,” Kowalcyk notes.

The toxin can also damage the gut. “Another family I know has a child who survived HUS, but she had to have most of her colon removed,” says Kowalcyk. “She’ll probably have a colostomy bag for the rest of her life, and she’s only 16.”

The young, the old, the immune-compromised, and pregnant or postpartum women are most vulnerable, she adds.

“We can’t predict exactly who is going to develop a long-term illness from food poisoning,” says Scallan. “But vulnerable populations and those with more severe illness are at higher risk.”

How to Lower Your Risk of Foodborne Illness


Photo: © Marc/ (sprouts), © breamchub/ (meat).

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