Elizabeth S. Reames, Merrill, Thomas A., Navarro, Alexis O., Gentry, Ramona S., Morgan, Johnny W. | 5/10/2005 2:14:01 AM
"When in doubt, throw it out." That’s the food safety advice LSU AgCenter agent Alexis Navarro stressed during a recent food safety seminar.
It’s the sort of advice that’s given by LSU AgCenter experts across the state, who teach food safety to everyone from individual homemakers to commercial food handlers.
Navarro’s comments came during a recent "Serving Food Safely" workshop presented to employees of Gambino’s Bakery in the New Orleans metro area.
You might even say Navarro, who works in Jefferson Parish, and LSU AgCenter agent Ramona Gentry of Plaquemines Parish, who joined her in teaching the workshop, were preaching food safety – since they approached it with a zeal that included a variety of catchy phrases designed to help participants remember basic food safety rules.
For Gentry, one of those was "More than two is bad for you," which stresses the maximum time food can be left out.
While "Serving Food Safely" was the curriculum being used for the Gambino’s audience, it is just one of many lesson plans LSU AgCenter agents have used through the years to teach food safety principles.
"Serving Food Safely" was developed by LSU AgCenter and Southern University Ag Center faculty members and was specifically designed for teaching those in the food industry about ways to avoid foodborne illnesses.
The lessons later became the centerpiece of a tri-state initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that involved the LSU AgCenter, Southern and their sister land-grant universities in Arkansas and Mississippi.
"We presented this program in the three states to food recovery agencies – food banks and others who feed the needy," said LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames, who led the development of the food-safety lessons.
Now those lessons also have been offered in a variety of other settings across Louisiana, as well, and Reames says they are particularly suited for school cafeteria workers, daycare workers and other food handlers.
As part of the training, several hands-on exercises help the participants get a feel for the importance of handling food safely.
During one such exercise the Gambino’s employees were given plastic bags, each with a white powdery substance inside. They were allowed to visually examine the bags. Then they were asked to list what they thought was in each bag. The success rate was very low. What looked like sugar was detergent, and what looked like baking powder was carpet deodorizer. This was a lesson in the proper labeling of foods and other products that could be found in a kitchen.
Around the state, one of the main topics stressed in the program is cleanliness, Gentry said, stressing that viruses and bacteria are everywhere.
"You need to wash everything from your hands to fruits and vegetables," Gentry said while making that point to the 37 employees who participated during the training at Gambino’s Bakery in Kenner. Gambino’s is a national supplier of many types of baked goods, including Mardi Gras king cakes.
A major goal of this and other food safety trainings conducted by LSU AgCenter experts is to help people rethink the type of utensils they use in their cooking areas.
"Try not to use sponges, and stay away from wooden cutting boards," Gentry cautioned. "Both of these items are good places for germs to hide and live."
LSU AgCenter agents have been presenting the "Serving Food Safely" program to commercial food handlers and others for just over a year, and they make it available to any group that feels it needs more information on the proper way to handle food. But the program is just one of many – which also include educational efforts targeted toward individuals and families.
The Gambino’s training came after the bakery’s owner met LSU AgCenter faculty members and found out about the food safety training program at the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s annual expo.
"He invited us to come in and provide the food safety training for his workers," Navarro said.
Sam Scelfo, owner of Gambino’s Bakery, said he asked the LSU AgCenter agents to present the food safety information to his employees because sanitation is a priority in his business.
"We send three of our employees to formal training to be certified for food safety, but the rest of the employees never really understand why they’re doing what they do," Scelfo said. "They just know they have to do it, but this training gives them a chance to understand why they’re doing what they do to promote food safety.
"We brought the agents in to train our employees after finding out that the state provides this service through the LSU AgCenter and it’s free."
The Gambino’s owner said he felt since this service was available to all businesses, it would be a mistake not to take advantage of the opportunity.
"Many times food companies don’t realize how critical food safety is. But really it’s one of those things that can either make you or break you," Scelfo said.
"A lot of times we know that sanitation needs to be a certain way, but we don’t know why or what needs to be done," he added, stressing that this LSU AgCenter training helps people develop that sort of understanding.
Scelfo said he would like to bring LSU AgCenter experts back annually to make sure his employees are always updated on the latest food safety information.
Priscilla Green, a Delgado student who works closely with the LSU AgCenter AgCenter agents in the metro New Orleans area, also attended the training with several of her fellow students. Green said the information was familiar to her because of her nutrition background, but that it’s never bad to get a refresher course in the area of food safety.
"Here in New Orleans we eat a little bit of everything, but I was interested in learning to eat the right things. I wanted to learn to eat well and healthy at the same time," Green said of her career choice, adding that food safety is an important area of the many topics covered in her studies.
For information on related nutrition, family and consumer topics, visit www.lsuagcenter.com. For more specific information on educational programs in your area, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.
Alexis Navarro at (504) 838-1170 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ramona Gentry at (504) 392-6690 Ext. 1241or email@example.com
Johnny Morgan at (504) 838-1170 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or email@example.com