This image is a very feeble attempt to show how frustrated I am feeling. The murders of George Floyd and other Black, Indigenous and People of Color and our refusal to recognize that it is their labor and their land and their lives that makes America great makes me complicit in systemic racism.
Without an end to white supremacy, we will never achieve an end to hunger which is my life’s goal. Without recognizing that modern American wealth is built on stolen land, stolen labor, and stolen lives, there will never be food justice.
For food justice to take place, I need to work towards the end of white heteropatriarchal supremacy.
This post is written for me in support of the suffering and injustices experienced by Black, Indigenous and People of Color recognizing that I am implicit in those injustices and my work to support social justice starts here.
Thanks to Rachel Ricketts for her work in helping me and other white women recognize our racism and to do the work to become an anti racist. I recommend her Spiritual Activism 101 course if you are interested in joining me on my antiracist journey.
Are you bored yet? Excited to see other parts of the country opening up, yet worried that this will just extend our time stuck at home. I miss you! I see you! I had a melt down last night; I am so lonely, so useless, scared and frustrated. As a scientist, it is hard to watch the news as people completely mess up the science or worse, deliberately and completely ignore the science. I’m better this morning. I feel more confident that we can get through this and build a better future while we are at it.
“Out of every crisis, every tribulation, every disaster, mankind rises with some share of greater knowledge, of higher decency, of purer purpose. Today we shall have come through a period of loose thinking, descending morals, an era of selfishness, among individual men and women and among Nations. “
I was intrigued enough to read the rest of his speech. I found it very interesting as to how relevant to what we are going through today. How can we use his ideas to make the future that we want to see?
“On the farms, in the large metropolitan areas, in the smaller cities and in the villages, millions of our citizens cherish the hope that their old standards of living and of thought have not gone forever. Those millions cannot and shall not hope in vain.”
This echoes the idea that we want our lives to “return to normal” which is unlikely to happen for a while, if ever. We need to make the future brighter than the world before COVID-19; we need to make the world we want. A world to dream for, a world for our children to live in and grow in and a world we cherish. We don’t have that world yet, so I hope we can use this time sitting on our sofas to change and build a greater and better society. Let’s not return to the unequal society that we had in January 2020 and before. I am particularly concerned about building a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable food system. I am very concerned how damaged our food system has been shown to be by the pandemic.
It is very daunting to contemplate change and being part of a big change is scary. We have to recognize that changes are necessary if we want to provide people the two things that FDR said we most need:
“What do the people of America want more than anything else? To my mind, they want two things: work, with all the moral and spiritual values that go with it; and with work, a reasonable measure of security–security for themselves and for their wives and children. Work and security–these are more than words. They are more than facts. They are the spiritual values, the true goal toward which our efforts of reconstruction should lead. These are the values that this program is intended to gain; these are the values we have failed to achieve by the leadership we now have.”
Today perhaps we wouldn’t say it in quite this way but really all anybody wants is work and security. Essentially what we wanted nearly 90 years ago is the same as what we want now: LOVE AND PURPOSE. We want to receive and give love and we feel love by providing for our families and friends and we find purpose by being of service to others through our work.
We need to make the food system more resilient and that means supporting local food systems and small food businesses. Additionally we need to find purposeful work that people can do from home. I am able to work from home, so why not other people.
Is it now time to talk about a basic income? We know that the $1200 didn’t go far for many of us. One month’s rent and utilities in my case. Do we want a COVID-19 New Deal? If small businesses are truly supported, what services could they provide that we are currently lacking? What work would be appropriate for people during a pandemic? We could pay people to:
Garden to grow food and flowers for us
Create beautiful websites
Make masks and other clothes we might need
In the meantime, while we wait for government action; not forgetting how long it took to get the New Deal; what can we do while sitting on our sofas and Zooming with our colleagues and friends? While, TBH, sitting on our sofas is about the most important thing we are doing right now even if it is boring and being social animals means we want to be sociable, we can also make decisions that influence the future we want to see. We can:
Start a garden, if we have space
Support a local community garden
Buy vegetable seedlings (also known as starts) from a local garden center
Visit a farmers market to support local farmers and food businesses
Sign up for a CSA for a local farm
Purchase meals from local restaurants or buy gift cards for use in the future
Find and support local organizations who are providing local food to those in need
The exact cause of COVID-19 is still unclear. Most likely it reached us from bats and pangolins, escaping from wild animals into semi-wild animals and then to domestic animals such as us. By finding us, the virus (so hard not to write that in capitals THE VIRUS and does everyone else hear it in their heads with a reverberation of doom?) found a host in which it could replicate freely and therefore infect more people and replicate even more. Replication = success for viruses and we don’t know, yet, of anybody who has natural immunity to COVID-19.
The pandemic caused by COVID-19 has not been linked to the continuing crisis of climate change. Yet. Yet, we might want to get used to our current living conditions as climate change will increase the number of pandemics and regional epidemics.
More worryingly still, is that food safety will get more challenging as the climate changes. As temperatures increase and there are more extreme climate events leading to more droughts in some areas and more flooding in others, research into pathogens has shown that there will be more foodborne illness.
We can all do something about this. Most importantly don’t forget about climate change while sheltering at home. It hasn’t, unfortunately, gone away just because the air is now cleaner and animals are taking over our cities and towns.
The bigger picture is to urge our political leaders to start acting on climate changenow. We can do little picture things at home, like turn out the lights when we are not in a room, change our light fixtures to more energy efficient ones, start a garden.
We can also do something about food safety at home. During the COVID-19 shelter in place, we’ve all learnt to finally wash our damn hands. We’ve learnt about cleaning and sanitizing commonly used equipment and surfaces. Even when we have a vaccine for COVID-19 we should keep practicing those good habits. We should make sure we are cooking our food properly to kill off pathogenic bacteria. Especially if we intend to store the food for any length of time.
Finally, we should look to making our local communities more resilient. What are some of the amazing things you’ve seen happening in your neighborhood? Share ideas of community building in the comments so that we can learn from one another.
I’ve been reading about COVID-19 in food processing plants and getting very frustrated. The main frustration is how little we were prepared for something like this to happen and additionally how slow larger manufacturers are to make changes to protect their employees.
It is hard to stop and reflect and to take a pause especially when the food supply chain is struggling and your values demand that you get food to customers as quickly as possible. Remember that your values were also about getting high quality food to your customers too and that means ensuring that they and your co-workers are safe.
As a small food entrepreneur, what can you do differently from the larger food manufacturers? Being small means that you can pivot and change more easily. You know your employees as co-workers and you work alongside them. There is a good chance, that if they get sick, you will get sick too.
Make sure you are following CDC and OSHA guidelines on social distancing, face coverings, personnel health checks, sanitation of facilities, handwashing, etc. Here are some quick easy steps that you can implement to reduce the risk that you and your co-workers will get ill.
Personnel Health Checks
Do health checks with each co-worker every morning. Ask how everyone is feeling, check off COVID-19 symptoms, assure your co-workers that staying home sick IS NOT going to be punished. Common symptoms of COVID-19 are:
Loss of smell or taste
Repeated shaking with chills
Tiredness or fatigue
Gastrointestinal illness (diarrhea)
Check if your co-workers have been exposed to a person with symptomatic COVID-19 during the last 48 hours. This might not be a laboratory-confirmed disease, so it could be someone showing compatible symptoms as described above.
Provide working hand wash stations with soap, water, and paper towels. The water should be warm-hot, but the soap is the most important. Remember to wash your hands often:
Before entering the production area
When leaving the production area
When changing tasks
After using the toilet
Before and after eating
Touch your face
Blow your nose
Pick up something from the floor
Touch a non food contact surface, like a door handle
These should be worn as a protection while recognizing that they need replacing regularly. They are not an excuse not to wash your hands.
Make sure you and your co-workers understand about how to wear, put on and take off masks. Wash hands before and after putting on your mask. Gloves should go on last. Masks should be replaced at a minimum daily and reusable masks must be washed.
Try to keep co-workers 6 feet apart or use screens between employees. If you put in screens make sure they are added to your master sanitation schedule to be cleaned and sanitized, at a minimum, after every shift.
When hiring new coworkers, adapt your onboarding training to discuss COVID-19
Remind current and new coworkers about handwashing, glove, and mask use
New sanitation practices for the facility should be shared with your co-workers
Don’t forget to update your written Good Manufacturing Practices to reflect your new policies and practices.
I know this is all a bit overwhelming. There is so much information and we know there will be more guidance for food businesses in the coming weeks. You do not need to take this on alone. I am here to help you. Schedule your free food safety call today and we can chat about how I can support you getting through the noise so that you are following recommendations. This way you can concentrate on what you love; making great food.
There was a rather feeble story on the NPR radio news yesterday morning about COVID-19 and meat packing plants. So feeble that it gave the impression that it was just one plant in Colorado rather than many plants all over the country. Beef, pork, and chicken slaughterhouse have been affected; in CO, NE, SD, PA, NC, GA. What gives? What is the real story behind so much mismanagement of food processing?
It is a story of vertical integration and consolidation.
It is a story of an industry whose profit margin is so small that it needs to kill and process animals as quickly and “efficiently” as possible where they cut corners on both worker and food safety all the time. An industry who doesn’t care about either animal or worker welfare. Both, in the eyes of management, are expandable. Senior managers earn large salaries; while farmers and workers are lucky to make minimum wage, living paycheck to paycheck, while working long hours in arduous and challenging conditions.
It is a story of an industry whose story of animal and worker abuses go back to before Upton Sinclair wrote the Jungle in 1906, which led to the passing of the first federal Meat Inspection Act and the first federal Pure Food and Drug Act.
It is the story of a country whose soul is based in eating red meat; whose heart is in the fresh faced cowboy riding the range and whose very breath is in the American dream of [white] immigrants making it big.
It is the story of a country that is much uglier with the American soul being one of stealing land from indigenous people and stealing labor from stolen Africans. The heart is one of exploitation and the breath is one of white supremacy.
The story of the American dream is one of freedom and rugged individualism; of good Christian men telling lesser people how they should live and behave. At the heart of America is conformity. Even the idea of rebelling is stereotyped. The ideal is that everyone should toe the line and not criticize this great and God-given country.
Red meat is at the heart of this story of America. Eating red meat puts hairs on the chests of young men and allows them to grow up to be true Americans. They can be individualistic as long as they go to church on Sundays and hide their emotions every day of the week.
Few of us fit into this American ideal. Many of us are women. Many of us are immigrants. Many of us are not Christian and shudder from the hypocrisy of the many apparently practicing Christians. Many of us struggle to believe in the American dream when it prevents 80% of the population from having a life of their own choosing.
The story of COVID-19 and meat processing hits hard at the soul, heart and breath of the American dream. It shatters the American dream into pieces everytime another food worker is diagnosed with the virus. The American dream is killed when anyone dies of COVID-19 because we as a country cannot sit on our sofas, in our houses, to stop its spread.
How can we change this story?
There are many ways we can change our own stories. At the moment the most challenging is to suck up that fact that everything fun is being cancelled. Be grateful that your state leaders are cancelling memorial day parades, summer concerts, July 4th activities. Big events will cause, at a minimum, the most vulnerable to get very ill and quite possibly die. Find ways that you can celebrate at home; perhaps include friends and neighbors while socially distancing. Look for ways to build a community. Find your local food pantry online; find a mutual aid group to volunteer. You can buy books for children who are off school. Make bread and give it to a neighbor. Start a garden.
Think of the future. Do we want to return to how life was before? It is very tempting, isn’t it, to say yes! I want my good life back. Think about this carefully. Was it that good? Did you love going to work? Were you treated fairly by your bosses? Did you have the kind of life you would choose for yourself? Was it right that so many couldn’t get food to eat and that farmers and food workers struggled to make ends meet. Once the pandemic is over, are you going to forget who the essential workers really were?
We need to rebuild a country that has a resilient, sustainable, and equitable food system. We need a country where all workers have the right to paid sick leave, to decent livable wages, and to time off. We need a country that supports the less well off. Where it isn’t your fault for being poor. That the social safety net helps us to recover from misfortune. Where an illness or accident won’t bankrupt you and your family. Everyone needs to have equal access to a decent education and housing. There needs to be no more school to prison pipeline, no more redlining of housing.
I have been watching Ken Burns’ Country Music. The second episode “Hard Times” opens with the comment “The depression had been going on for four years by this time”. Can you imagine four years of this? Four years of being scared to go outside and being worried about where you are going to get food from. Scared of every ache and pain? I did some research and the depression started in 1929 and the New Deal was not passed into law until 1933 and even then it wasn’t the panacea we were taught it was in school. In fact Roosevelt was so worried about his popularity in 1937, that he cut funding and the depression got worse!
This means our grandparents, and in some cases our parents, who survived the depression and World War 2, essentially lived through 15 years of uncertainty. Think about that as we enter week 7 of Shelter in Place. We should be grateful for the decades we have had of certainty instead of moaning about not being able to buy garlic. [Or is that only me?]
I want to go back to the time before! The time before we were scared of hugging our friends, before we had heard of people suffering horribly due to COVID-19, due to lack of food and financial resources.
But we will never be able to go back. EVER! Like Pandora’s Box, COVID-19 has lifted the lid on how broken our welfare system is. That many people do not have resources they need to survive a severe economic downturn and that essentially our leaders do not care unless they can line their own pockets and those of their friends.
We need to plan for the future and make sure this doesn’t happen again and again and again, like it has in the past. I would love to live in a society where no one goes hungry and there is good support for people who have lost their jobs for whatever reason. Do you have dreams of the future once Shelter-in-Place is over? If you agree with me about reducing hunger, you could reach out to your local food bank to see what support they need or check with a neighbor to see if they need help with grocery shopping or just someone to talk to.
We read about people who are unable to get to the store or unable to buy food. Do you need food or have food to donate? Check out this map from Why Hunger to find the nearest food pantry and food bank.
I described March to a colleague as going by really fast and lasting 1000 years. Has your March been similar? I started off the month in high hopes for the future and for my clients and I ended it scrambling to cope and understand what the COVID-19 pandemic would mean for me, my clients and food safety. It has been a whirlwind coupled with relentless amounts of information and advice which is constantly changing. How can anyone be expected to work under that, let alone the whole world.
I live in fear of hearing that family members are ill and check every ache, pain and sneeze just in case it is my turn to be ill. I just got over a cold. It was even hard to admit that I wasn’t feeling well because that might invite the VIRUS into my life.
Some good is coming out of our struggles. Our emergency food system ramped up its services, which are desperately needed now so many have been laid off or put on furlough. School food services recognized that their role during the closures and lockdowns was to ensure that children still have access to healthy food options. It is unfortunate that either of these emergency food systems are necessary in one of the wealthiest countries of the world.
Amongst the horror stories, we must recognize how fortunate we are. We mostly have food, and drinkable water, shelter. If you are reading this you probably have internet access and electricity. Even though it is hard sometimes, I write a gratitude journal entry every morning and I typically end with “I am grateful for every breath, I am grateful for my life right now and I am grateful for love.”
During the lockdown we have discovered the importance of our food workers; grocery store workers, instacart buyers, farmers, farm workers, line workers at manufacturing plants. In some ways we are now finally realizing that our safety, our lives depends on them. Perhaps now is a good time to respect them more and better them better and at a minimum pay them proper wages with decent benefits.
Fortunately, according to FDA food is not responsible for transmitting the virus; neither is packaging. This is a huge relief. That doesn’t mean that food safety risks have gone away. It is even more important that we follow good hygiene and sanitation practices.
I hope you and your loved ones are well and that you are able to keep doing the work that you value. I hope that time with your family is something that you enjoy and relish. I also hope that you get some time to spend on you.
I am here for you. I am putting together a list of resources on COVID-19 and food safety for small food businesses that I will share with you throughout the month here.
While COVID-19 may not be spread via food, one thing’s for certain that in light of all this safety and health standards will be elevated on how we practice hygiene in this country. Now more than ever you need to be installing and adhering to strict food safety plans and protocols. You do not want to risk your business by not being up to code. Click here to schedule a food safety call and we can chat about what you can do right away to ensure you are in full compliance.
There is a lot of fear in the world right now. One of the things I fear at the moment is that the people who over shopped in the last few weeks are contributing to an epidemic that has been going on for a long time – the epidemic of wasted food. Over 40% of food grown is wasted. This is because we don’t respect the work and resources that go into growing and producing food. This is really frustrating to me.
I hope the people who stocked up last week are cooking. Creating delicious meals from food that farmers grew for us to eat; that dairies processed for us to drink; that chefs and food scientists created to help us eat with more convenience. That when you eat, you will think of the farmers, who up to now you didn’t respect. Farmers who spend every day of their lives making sure we get food that is good to eat; farmers that work mostly on small farms and worry about making ends meet.
We’ve heard about people working from paycheck to paycheck; farmers work from harvest to harvest. And harvests are YEARLY. They put seed in the ground, feed their animals with the HOPE that they will get money back. Their work is backbreaking and dangerous and mentally draining. Look at the statistics for farmer suicides and realize the main reason for this is because we won’t pay the real price for food.
Food workers, from farm labors to servers in restaurants, are EXEMPT from minimum wage laws. They do the most important work to keep us healthy and we treat them like shit! The food chain workers in Florida have asked fast food restaurants to pay one cent/pound extra for tomatoes through their Fair Food Program and Wendy’s won’t do it.
I read about people complaining that food workers work when they are sick because that will make their food unsafe, even though COVID-19 is NOT a foodborne illness. Food workers working when they were sick was a problem before the current virus. Why? Because fast food chains don’t offer sick leave. Neither do many food companies offer their line workers sick leave. If you miss work, you are more likely to be fired than get sick pay. If you need to complain, complain about the lack of sick leave.
If you bought food last week in a panic; please please please make sure that you use it up or give it to neighbors or your local food pantry. Learn how to cook or bake while you are sheltering in place. Read up on how food is grown and processed and manufactured.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that when food entrepreneurs want to reduce foodborne illness they need to think about HARM, which stands for Heat, Acid, and Reduced Moisture. In that post we discussed heat and today we are going to look at acid. In today’s blog we are going to discuss how utilizing acid will reduce bacteria in our food and make it safer to consume.
I’m going to share with you 2 specific strategies for doing this. Knowing that acid can reduce bacteria in our food is helpful especially if you have a food that you don’t want to heat to a very high temperature.
We can’t talk about acid without discussing pH. Luckily for you, I wrote about pH in an earlier post on my LabCat blog, so a quick reminder that pH goes from 1 to 14, with 1 being battery acid, 7 being neutral and 14 being strongly basic/alkaline. Like us, bacteria do not like either extreme of the pH scale. However, since most food is below neutral we control bacterial growth with acid.
The FDA has useful definitions:
Acid foods are those foods which naturally have a pH less than 4.6
Acidified foods are those foods to which acid(s) or acid food(s) are added; and have a final pH that is similar to the acid/acid food that was added.
Low acid foods are any foods with a finished equilibrium pH greater than 4.6 and a high moisture content.
The reason why a pH of 4.6 is so important is because of Clostridium botulinum. As I wrote in my first blog post here, this was one of the reasons why my tagline says “noncompliance = death”. Because of this bacteria, we have to be very careful of shelf stable packaged food as C. bot likes a closed environment where there is no oxygen.
We can add acid, such as pickles in vinegar, or we can cause the food to make acid for itself. A classic example of this is sauerkraut.
In my book, where I have milk as a case study for food processing, for the section on acid I discuss yogurt and how bacteria are used to convert the lactose into lactic acid which reduces the pH of fresh milk from 6.5-6.7 to 4.0-4.6 depending on what kind of yogurt is being made.
The growth of bacteria gives some interesting flavors and allows the milk to set in a way that adding acid to milk would not. In fact adding acid to milk causes the milk to curdle as the proteins separate out forming small curds as shown in the picture below.. Some very fresh cheeses such as Indian Paneer are made this way.
If we let bacteria make the acid from the lactose present in the milk, the acid forms more slowly forming firmer curds. When a hard cheese is made, the moisture content is also reduced, which is something we will discuss in the next HARM post..
While acid is a way to make food safe, it should not be the only way we rely on nor should it be a substitute for a food safety plan. One lapse in safety could cause an outbreak of Salmonella and lead to a multi-million dollar lawsuit and/or an expensive recall. Don’t leave the safety of your consumers and the security of your business to chance; schedule your free food safety coaching call NOW!
There are millions of people that are going hungry in the USA and billions worldwide at time that food is apparently cheap.
If you have been reading my blog for awhile, or even my old blog in the past, you have been part of my journey. I started my business because I couldn’t find opportunities that would allow me to strengthen the food system while using my technical knowledge. I love food science. I love how I can help small emerging food businesses with their food safety and coach them to make great products at the same time. I am proud that I know why bread goes brown when you toast it and how it goes stale when you leave it on the counter. I also think it is important that scientists are aware of the wider implications of their work. This larger picture, however, is lacking in the education of food scientists. Very few are taught about the implications of the food industry and research on the food system or on consumers..
To fill this gap, I am writing a book under contract with Springer, called Food Science and Food Systems: A Need for Change. I have 10 months to write this! Time is ticking. The purpose of this book, from my perspective, is to introduce food scientists and people working to make the food system stronger to each other! The book will look at the important issues facing our food; such as climate change, social justice, land access, and wellness, and discuss them from my perspective as a food scientist and interview people to get other perspectives.
As well as interviews, there will also be case studies throughout the book, showing how food is affected by the issues. Chocolate is one such case study; milk is another.
Want to know more? Sign up for my newsletter so that you get regular news from me about my book. Want to be interviewed for the book? Sign up here.