I love life!

Hi, I am Jo and this is my blog about my life. Here you will find entries on cooking, gardening, food safety and the interesting things happening in my search for an inexpensive and healthy way of living. My home is located in North Florida and I am relearning how to take care of myself at almost 50. This is the deep South so my garden and season may be a bit different than yours. I look forward to seeing what you have to say as time passes. Read on and have a beautiful day!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hey, Big Grocery Chain or Big Restaurant Chain or Whoever this applies to - Listen Up!

Ok, big food chain outlet, I know you have boat loads of  buying power and are raking in huge profits. Don't try to tell me about your little profit margins and how hard it is to make a buck. Keep it to yourself. I also do not want to hear about the bad economy and how it affects the amount and quality of items on you have on your shelf or serve to your consumer.  And when I come in to inspect or even just for dinner do not tell me you do NOT know how your facility got into rough shape.

You have no idea? Let me clue you in...the list is pretty straightforward.
1) You do not pay part time employees over minimum wage thus the quality of  help suffers in many instances.
How hard do you think someone is going to work for slightly over $7.00 an hour? Answer: Not very hard!
2) Part time employees do not last very long thus the turnover is high and most of your employees are part time as you do not have to pay them benefits. See #1.
3) Training is minimal. M-I-N-I-M-A-L. That is a whole other blog post. (Most facilities have training programs and some are extensive. It is all in the implementation.)
4) Managers are focused on bonus numbers , i.e. results. Examples: of items a bonus can be based on include Lower waste (shrink), lower labor cost and  increased departmental or facility sales and /or iincreased profits overall. Year over year, month over month, etc. Sometimes making #3 null and void due to #5 .
5) Food safety is not cost effective (until someone gets really sick). It takes extra time, increases waste and can result in lower sales thus it is is not bonused in many facilities. See item #4.
6) Building maintenance costs money. See profits on item #4.

There it is in a nutshell!!!
Consumers are at the hands of whomever is providing their food. What can you do?

You can take matters into your own hands and research the food safety ratings for restaurants and grocery stores in your state. My state has most major grocers ratings online as well as all permitted restaurants. You can look up the ratings and then determine if you wish to shop or dine at that location. Be warned a negative score can be the result of a hot water tank going out or a simple one time event. If there is a history of inspections that are below par then there is definite cause for concern. That shows a lack of awareness for safety on the part of the facility management. Then vote with your wallet and go elsewhere.

You can look for alternative food suppliers in your community. Farmers, CSA's and Green Markets to name a few. Talk to the suppliers and if possible visit the farm. Be aware these have their own cautions and that is also another post (in the near future).    

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What Not To Do or Say During a Food Safety Inspection...or... Don't be Stupid 101

Working as a food safety inspector I have learned that roughly 98% of the population think they know all about food safety, however, even those that are Certified Food Managers have gaps in their education. It is a lot of information to know and consistently apply on a daily basis. Contrary to popular belief the inspectors are not, "Out to get you." I love nothing more than to write a "good" in a facility. We have a set of guidelines we use that we are required to check during every inspection. If you do not meet the minimum requirement then there is a deficiency that needs to be corrected. By the way if you are trying to endear yourself to me "Larry the Cable Guy" Health Inspector jokes are not the way to accomplish that goal.  First off I am a female, secondly this is not a fictionalized inspection in a made up hick town.

Most facilities have deficiencies. If you are processing food, human error will bite you every time. Employees forget to date items in the walk in or reach in cooler, foods are not covered in the walk in, someone turns off the running water over whatever is thawing in the sink....the list is endless. Working to educate your employees may be an unforgiving task but if you don't those same employees will do something amazingly stupid when we are there for our inspection.  Examples of awesome stupidity I have personally witnessed in major grocery stores include:

1) An employee wearing his apron into restroom, using the facilities then walking into the processing area in that same apron.
2) An employee smoking outside then walking to the processing area and resuming work without washing his hands.
3) A district trainer eating noodles over the platter of noodles is bad enough. To make it worse she used her fingers.
4) An employee wrapping cut watermelon without wearing plastic gloves.
5) A store manager was coughing  and stated to me she was very ill with flu like symptoms. She then walked directly into a processing area with me. Forcing me to inform her she could not be there as she could contaminate the foods being packaged. Note: She is in charge and I had to tell her it was unacceptable to be present in the facility. This falls into the truly ginormously stupid category.

The things people do and say never cease to amaze me. Do managers honestly think lying to us will make it better? We are lied to on a daily basis and the lies are the same almost everywhere. They are just told by a different person at a different facility each day. Here are some examples of lies we hear.

1) "We have a Certified Food Manager. We just don't have his / her certificate posted."
2) "Our hot water just went out." ( It is not even installed.)
3) "Rodents, we don't have rodents." ( Droppings all over facility.) The variant of this is , "Roaches, we don't have roaches." ( Roaches crawling everywhere .)
4) "That should not be happening because I have told them in the past not to do it that way." As the employee looks on incredulous.
5) "I called to get that repaired this morning." To which I now say, " Really, do you have a work order number?"
6) "We have never had this problem before." I do have access to previous reports and yes, it has been a problem before.  
7) " I know the Commissioner/ Important people/ Mayor / God." Really, I am so glad to hear it because maybe they can help you get this place cleaned up.
8) My favorite! Though not a lie. " You can't shut me down."  Ummm, actually, yes I can if you are an immanent health hazard.  

The other great thing is that even though managers are trying to cover everyones a**es, line employees will tell it to you like it is. You want to know what is going on? Ask the deli clerk or the talkative produce employee and you will get answers like this.

1)" Oh, we haven't had hot water at that sink for at least a month." Deli Clerk
2) " We are supposed to clean those racks every few days but we have not done them for over a week." Meat Cutter
3) " Rats. Yeah, we got em. They have been all over for a while now." Stock Clerk.
4) " We don't use that sink as a hand sink. We use it to wash coffee pots." Convenience Store Clerk
5) " What is sanitizer ?" Deli Clerk
6) " We just heat it up on the steam table." Deli Clerk
7) " Glad you are here. It is 'bout time someone did somethin 'bout them roaches." Convenience Store Clerk
8) " Nah,we don't thaw it under water we just sit the box of frozen chicken on the counter and pull from it all day." Deli Clerk
9) " That cooler has felt warm for about a week - at least." Meat Clerk
10) " Shoot, you want me to do all this extra stuff. Ain't gonna happen." Convenience Store Clerk

Another time I'll write a couple posts about what you can do for food safety in your own home. A couple tips to tide you over.
1) Wash your hands.
2) Wash you produce.
3) Cook poultry to 165 degrees.
4) Cook ground Meats to 155 degrees.
6) Don't buy dented cans even if they are less expensive.

These examples are the extremes of what I see every day. Please, remember most places have few violations and honestly try to provide safe and wholesome food. If you want to know about food safety in your area check you state website to find out which governing body regulates food in your state. They are all different.
Happy Shopping!  



Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Pantry - Finally!

We have a well stocked pantry. Actually, two of them. We do not have a stockpile. Simply put "stockpile" has a negative connotation to many people. When one thinks of "stockpile" I tend to think of a garage full of food and that is simply not who we are or what we have in our home. We have a healthy supply of items we use on a regular basis. Simple semantics I know.

I have actually been called a food hoarder. Mainly by people who have never been in my home. Sharon Astyk is a writer who focuses on climate change, peak oil and energy conservation. She addresses food hoarding in her book Independance Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation. I am paraphrasing here so bear with me. Food hoarding is when food is a scarce resource and you purchase large amounts of it to stockpile and sell for personal gain.  Buying food in times of plenty ( at a lower cost) and storing it, even stockpiling it, in your home as a hedge against future hard times is not hoarding. It is a prudent use of your time and money. Let's not even address true hoarding as that is an illness and does not apply to most of the population. Her book is enlightening and she takes food preservation and storage even further than I have even considered. I have a couple months supply- she has 6 mos to a year. The book is witty, well written and has helped me  to modify what and how much I keep in the house.

A pantry is a great asset to your home when it is well stocked. Our pantry has items we eat and use on a regular basis. Most of the items are bought at the lowest price we can find and stored in either a small closet pantry or in a converted armoir - both in the kitchen. We store extra toilet paper, towels, cat food, toiletries and cleaning supplies in the garage. As an estimate we have at least a couple of months supply of food in our house at any given time. The downside is that we like fresh produce and don't care for frozen. Additionally, we both dislike canned vegetables with the exception of canned tomatoes and beans. A garden offsets some of the produce we consume annually.

Our pantry holds dry cereal ( bought on sale with coupons), assorted flours ( wheat, rice, potato, tapioca, corn, masa etc.) , sugars ( brown, white, powdered), sweeeteners ( honey, maple syrup, crystalized honey, agave nectar), rolled oats, dried milk ( regular and buttermilk), egg replacer ( We don't eat many eggs and it is great for baking), rice (white, brown, arborio and basmati), assorted other grains (millett, barley, quinoa),
assorted dried pasta, canned milk, condiments ( mustard, ketchup, steak sauce- all purchased with coupons), homemade jam and lime marmalade ( no one eats the maramalade..lol), home canned peppers, snacks (rice cakes, chips, nuts- coupons again) onions, canned tomato products, assorted oils and vinegars, leavening agents and a lot of oriental items like rice paper wraps. We have a large assortment of herbs and spices either purchased on sale, in ethnic stores or dried from the garden. Our freezer has a variety of meats and fish purchased on sale.

With all of this and fresh produce we can fix a meal at almost any time. It does require some planning as to what to purchase when. I purchase items when my levels get below a predetermined amount. Usually when there are two of the item left on the shelf or less than a weeks worth of other items.

But how does it save money you ask? The main way we save is through cooking our own meals. Yes- you will need to cook. A pantry full of prepared foods is a full pantry yet you most likely are not eating as healthy and will not save enough money.  Doing your own cooking and some of your baking can really drop the amount you spend. You are buying items on sale not just when you need them thus if there is an amazing buy on canned tomatoes purchase enough for several months and store in your pantry thus also increasing your savings. Don't just buy something when you are running out. Buy pantry items before they run out when they are on sale or if you have coupons for them.

It is possible for us to save even more money by purchasing larger amounts of foods. Splitting bags of grains with another person or coming up with more storage space are just a couple of options.  Normally, the larger amount of an item that you buy the lower the price. However, if you do not like rolled oats a 50 lb bag will haunt you no matter what the savings might have been.  I tend to buy a 3 to 6 month supply of most items we use a lot of like cornmeal, rice or rolled oats.

Once you have your pantry together you will need to maintain the products. Normally,  the purchases are brought home and they are repackaged into smaller amounts. A 10 lb bag of rice is first put in the freezer (to kill grain insects) for several days then taken out and repackaged into 1/2 gallon glass jars or quart jars. Flours that will go rancid quickly in the heat are stored in the freezer. We are in the subtropics and rancid flours and grains can happen fairly quickly.

Meats are repackaged into amounts we can consume at one meal, dated and frozen. A couple of times a year I will can peppers or make jam and these items go into the pantry as well. The peppers are from the garden or purchased in large amounts from a local grower. The jams are made from cherries from our tree, strawberries from a local U-pick or if all else fails from bags of frozen berries purchased at Sams Club.

Almost everything is purchased at the lowest cost I can find for that item in my area then stored in the pantry until needed. It works for us because it is convenient, saves money and help us to eat healthier. So maybe it is a stockpile....but I am going to be old fashioned and call it a pantry. Happy Savings Everyone!  


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Maggie and Stella

Today I was honored to pick up my grand daughter Maddy from daycare and spend the afternoon playing with "Monkey" and "Ducky." We had snacks and juice and played "Itsy Bitsy Spider". Then we had dinner and played with Papa when he came home from work. Almost nothing was accomplished during the afternoon and early evening while Madelyn graced us with her beautiful presence. Not that we expected it to. Papa Rob is now in the garage working on the mower and I am trying to catch up on blogging. That "Pantry" entry is still hanging out there waiting to be completed. And so it waits.

So while bathing Maddy I remembered baths given to me by my grandmothers Maggie and Stella. My mothers mom "Margaret" - "Maggie" and my dad's mom "Stella." Two amazing women who did all they could to help make their families lives better and I am sure bathed a lot of grandchildren through the years. Stella had a shower in her bathroom with large pink roses on the walls and small rose soaps that we didn't use but that smelled amazing. Maggie had a slightly more utilitarian bathroom but she also had the same large rose wallpaper as well as a drawer of makeup left from my Aunt Lisa.  In her bathtub one could fine Caress soap or Ivory shampoo. I wonder if  Maddy will remember the smell of  lavender soap and the feel of air dried towels against her skin?

Maggie and Stella both were avid gardeners and I recall spending hours watching them a.k.a. "helping" them garden and preserve what they grew. Stella had a large garden at my uncle's farm and Maggie had an equally large plot at my aunt's house.  Both of them made the worlds best pickles. Maggie made sweet baby pickles and Stella made mouthwatering bread and butter pickles with slices of onions and lots of mustard seeds. Yum.

From them I unknowingly inherited a love of both home canning and gardening.  I remember steam billowing out of the conservo on grandmas stove and grandma (Stella) telling grandpa (Leonard) to wipe the rims with a damp towel before topping with the canning flats. There were days of the house smelling like cooked chicken as countless poults were sacrificed, cooked, then canned to be enjoyed on a cold winter day. Beef was done the same until someone found a place where it could be cooked and canned in metal cans for the family instead of spending hours canning in a hot humid kitchen. It all made the best chicken and noodles or beef and noodles you could ever taste! So much family working together- aunts and uncles in and out of the house while it was all going on. As a child I found it all mesmerizing. I loved sitting at the octagonal table in the dining area watching it all not realizing the necessity as well as the amount of effort it took to get it all done.

Maggie's kitchen was smaller and her work space was the kitchen table. She would soak her small cucumbers in salt water rinsing them and changing the salt water every few days. She used a round white enamel dish pan that hung year round in the laundry room by the back porch. After several soakings over a matter of days they were cooked in a sweet and savory liquid then magically canned when no little fingers were around to get in the way. The pickles were enjoyed over holidays and at family gatherings.. if Grandpa Leo did not get them first.

Today when I can jelly or pickles I am usually alone as my family is scattered. My husbands boys are near as are the grandkids. I wonder sometimes who will carry on some of the traditions and foods that we grew up with or if anyone will even bother? I do know when that when I am up to my elbows in dirt planting my little garden or have steam billowing into my kitchen while pickles are being canned that Stella and Maggie are near and nodding in approval. And sometimes I even talk to them telling them how much they are missed and how much they taught the little girl that followed them around watching all they did to keep everyone fed.