Food Adventures with Connie

Archive for the month “January, 2016”

My Oatmeal Secret

At the risk of being judged, I’m going to tell you a little secret. I roll my own oats. I know, I know. You’re thinking I’m one of THOSE people. No, I don’t buy everything organic. No, I don’t fear processed foods. For me it’s a matter of texture. I HATED oatmeal growing up. I used to watch Oliver Twist – remember the scene where they’re scooping gruel into the boys’ bowls? You know the one, “Please, sir, I want some more.” No thank you. I’d rather starve.

So here’s what changed me from an oatmeal-hater to an oatmeal-lover.  I’ve always loved to cook and one year for Christmas I received a Family Grain Mill and a Family Flaker Mill (I’m not being paid to endorse these items, I just love this oatmeal enough to want to share with you how I make it). I received both the KitchenAid® attachment (so the machine does the work) and the handcrank (so the kids do the work – they still think this is fun).

Here’s what oats look like:

oat-groats

I buy whole oat groats (groat is the word for raw grains like oats, buckwheat, or barley with their hulls removed) in 25 pound bags and then store them in an air-tight 5 gallon bucket with a Gamma Seal® lid (these lids spin on and off and are a must-have if you’re into food storage).

Here’s what oats look like after running them through the flaker mill:

rolled-oats

I usually process a gallon ziptop bag at a time and store them in the freezer so they’re ready to use whenever I need them. It’s important to store them in the freezer because after the kernel is crushed the oils inside come in contact with air and can turn rancid. Trust me, you don’t want that.

Here are my three favorite recipes for using oatmeal:

Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins (I double the amount of topping.)

Blackberry Baked Oatmeal with Caramel Sauce (I use frozen blackberries. I love berries and buying them by the case, frozen within hours of harvest, is the most affordable way to eat high-quality berries all year long.)

Oatmeal Cookies (I make them with toasted pecans and sweetened dried cranberries.)

oatmeal-cookies

Now, I expect you to eat your oatmeal!

For information on the health benefits of eating oatmeal (it is a superfood, dontcha know?) check out this blog from K-State: What’s So Great About Oatmeal?

New Food Safety Rules and How They May Impact Your Pantry

By now you may have heard that there are new food safety rules going into effect in the United States. But how will these new regulations impact the foods you feed your family?

selection of fresh fruits and vegetables

As stated on the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) webpage, “The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years, was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. It aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.” It includes regulations for fresh produce growers, food processors, and food importers and the foreign companies they work with.

The key components of FSMA are:

  1. Preventative Controls – food facilities are required to evaluate the hazards in their operations, implement and monitor effective measures to prevent contamination, and have a plan in place to take any corrective actions when necessary.
    Produce growers and food processors don’t want to make their customers sick and most are already taking food safety precautions. In addition, many growers already undergo third-party audits required by retail buyers that certify their compliance with food safety standards. Food processors usually employ quality assurance technicians that sample and monitor product and food contact surfaces every shift, testing for the presence of physical, chemical, and microbial hazards. The U.S. has one of the safest food supplies in the world.
  2. Inspection and Compliance – The industry will be held accountable for their responsibility to produce safe products through FDA inspection.
    It is unclear exactly what this will look like, how frequently facilities will be inspected, who will cover the costs, etc. but these inspections will be in addition to those third-party audits already required by many retail buyers, and produce growers and food processing facilities will likely have to shoulder the additional cost which may translate into higher prices in the market.
  3. Imported Food Safety – The FDA will work with food importers to ensure that foods coming into the U.S. are safe and requires certification, based on risk criteria, that the imports are in compliance with food safety regulations. The FDA has the authority to refuse admission of imported food if the foreign facility or country refuses to allow an FDA inspection.
    According to the FDA’s Food Safety Legislation Key Facts webpage, “An estimated 15 percent of the U.S. food supply is imported, including 60 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables and 80 percent of seafood,” so this may affect availability of some products at your local market, though food safety risk is a valid reason to refuse product entry, as I’m sure you agree. Most foreign suppliers will comply in order to continue to sell to the U.S.

FSMA currently includes five rules (though more are proposed): 1) the Preventive Controls for Human Food Final Rule, 2) the Preventive Controls for Food for Animals Final Rule, 3) the Standards for Produce Safety Final Rule, 4) the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals Final Rule, and 5) the Accredited Third-Party Certification Final Rule. For more details, please refer to the Final Rules.

Overview of the Standards for Produce Safety Final Rule

In my role working with fruit and vegetable growers in Nebraska I am focused on understanding and teaching the Standards for Produce Safety. This final rule was released November 13, 2015 and is described on the FDA’s FSMA Final Rule on Produce Safety webpage. It “establishes, for the first time, science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption” and contains six key components:

  1. Agricultural Water
  2. Biological Soil Amendments
  3. Sprouts
  4. Domesticated and Wild Animals
  5. Worker Training and Health and Hygiene
  6. Equipment, Tools and Buildings

It also contains details on operations that are exempt from the rule, such as those that only grow commodities rarely consumed raw (e.g., asparagus, winter squash). The FDA has created a flowchart to help growers determine if their farm may be eligible for exemption. Exempt growers must file for exemption, review their status annually, and maintain records. Non-exempt growers have from one to four years to come into compliance with the rule, depending on whether or not they grow sprouts and based on their annual gross produce sales (smaller operations are given more time to become compliant).

Q & A

I polled my friends and relatives to learn what questions they might have about the implications of this rule.

Q: Why do we need another regulation? Isn’t our food supply already safe?
A: Yes, our food supply is one of the safest in the world. This regulation allows the FDA to implement a mandatory inspection process for all non-exempt food producers to make sure they’re meeting food safety standards (shifting their focus to preventing foodborne illnesses rather than responding after contamination has made people sick) and gives the FDA the power to force a product recall where in the past a recall could be encouraged but was voluntary.

Q: How will I know if produce I’m buying is following the FDA guidelines? Will they be marked with a sticker or special packaging?
A: No, there will be no special packaging or product identifiers to let you know if the farm your food came from follows FDA’s FSMA rules or was inspected. My advice to you is to get to know your local growers and talk to them about how they grow and handle your fruits and vegetables. If you buy all your produce at the grocery store, talk to the produce manager to learn what they require of their growers; as mentioned above, most retailers already require third-party audits where an inspector will visit a farm and certify that they follow Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs).

Q: Will this affect Americans differently depending on where they live?
A: No, the rules apply to all non-exempt U.S. food producers and importers so it will affect the food you buy to feed your family, regardless of which part of the country you call home.

Q: Will the produce be coated with any substance that will require me to wash it more than I already do before eating it?
A: No, FSMA does not mandate produce coatings. Fruit and vegetable coatings are primarily used to maintain quality during storage, not to affect food safety.

Q: Do farmers’ market growers have to follow the same guidelines or are they exempt because they are on a much smaller distribution scale?
A: Farms that have less than $25,000 in annual gross produce sales are NOT covered by this rule, though the farmers’ market may require that they understand and implement food safety precautions on the farm. When in doubt, talk to the growers and the market manager about the steps they take to provide you with safe food.

Guidance for Growers

If you are a fruit or vegetable grower, save or print a copy of the FDA’s Key Requirements: Final Rule on Produce Safety as a reference.  MSU Extension also has a series of fact sheets that may be useful as you try to understand exactly what the Produce Safety Rule means to your operation:

Stay tuned as Nebraska Extension will be offering food safety trainings for growers later this year.

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