Entries tagged with “Food Safety”.


One of the things that surprised me the most about the massive salmonella-related peanut recalls earlier this year was how many of the people we think of as “the good guys” got caught in the mess along with everyone else. Small, local companies, trying their best to source high-quality ingredients, wound up using the same nuts as the country’s biggest chains, from a company that reportedly knew it was sending out contaminated goods.

I wrote in the Sunday Seattle Times about how companies get caught in the national food distribution web, and how some locals are trying to disentangle themselves from it as best they can. We looked at why CB’s Nuts will never be another Peanut Corporation of America, and how Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream is making its add-in ingredients by hand, from fresh caramel sauce to cookie dough. 

The full story is online here.

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Enjoying a dish cooked “sous vide” at one of the many Seattle restaurants that use the high-tech technique? Chances are the restaurant is unwittingly violating county health codes.

The King County Health Department recently notified restaurants that the sous vide process — cooking vacuum-sealed food in water baths at low, precisely-controlled temperatures — requires a variance from the health department, as well as an approved Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan, a detailed food safety plan more commonly seen in large-scale or industrial operations. 

The first (and only, to date) legal kid on the block? It looks to be four-star Crush on Madison, where chef-owner Jason Wilson is legendary for his aromatic, tender, sous-vide short ribs, and employs the technique for other ingredients from carrots to calamari. Crush has been working on its plan for weeks, and recently submitted it (along with $400 in new fees) and provided inspectors with a sous vide class and demonstration. Chef-owner Jason Wilson thought last night the plan had been approved; the health department said approval was “really close.” 

Don’t blame restaurants if they don’t have a plan on the books, though — chances are they had no idea they needed one. Restaurants statewide, not just in King County, have technically been required to get the variance since 2005, a health department spokeswoman said, following changes in the state food code. The department only recently realized, though, that sous vide cooking was increasingly common in Seattle restaurants. Many — if not most — high-end restaurants use the techniques, whether advertised on the menu or not. Chefs love sous vide cooking for its even precision, for the way it preserves and even intensifies flavors, allowing them to play with taste and texture. 

The regulations stem from food safety worries, chiefly fears that the low temperatures and oxygyn-free environment  could increase the risk of botulism. Sous vide cooking has been similarly regulated in New York, where, the New York Times reported, plans must “include step-by-step specifications that regulate how the food is packaged, what equipment is used to cook it, what internal temperature the food must reach, and how it is chilled. The rules require cooks to use expensive water immersion units or combination convection ovens and industrial vacuum-packaging machines.”

In King County, the health department recently alerted restaurants to the requirements, and are working with them to get on board. 

If they’re serving sous vide food now, it’s technically against the health code — but inspectors are not giving cease and desist orders, they’re letting the restaurants they work with know they’ll either have to start the permit process or cook up something different on the menu.

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jamjars1 Between recession and home-cooking renaissance, canning is making a comeback.

You can join in with a national “Cans Across America” event Aug. 29-30, spearheaded by some of our own Seattleites. Or, get an in-depth head start with a series of canning classes in Everett, offered by the WSU Snohomish County extension. 

Plenty of people have avoided canning because they’re afraid of risking botulism. Until recently, that category included me. I only canned my first tomatoes last year, taking a WSU King County Extension class to gain confidence, due to my acute… ah… awareness of food safety. As I wrote then, in my childhood home “any word association game would have paired “pork” in the same column as “trichinosis,” and the words “canned mushrooms” would logically have been followed by the term “botulism.”

I’ve had the canning bug since, moving on to jams and other preserves and pickles, reveling in the classic “ping” of a jar lid and the recipes of mavens like Marisa McClellan. But, as I’ve grown more comfortable with the safety procedures myself, I’ve started wondering: Is botulism really that prevalent? Do I need to wash my jars in hot soapy water AND sterilize them in boiling water AND dry them in an oven at the appropriate temperature AND add the proper amount of acidifying ingredients AND process them for the recommended length of time in boiling water? 

I don’t want to fool around with anything marked “fatal nerve toxin,” of course, but I also wondered how significant the risk is. While we do hear about occasional botulism cases –a nurse and her young children dangerously sickened by green beans this year, for instance — we hear about far more deaths from e. coli and salmonella and listeriosis. I don’t hear a lot about death by jam.

Checking in with the experts, here’s what I learned: (more…)

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Gabriel Claycamp of The Swinery and Culinary Communion announced yesterday that (after various delays) the King County Health Department “has fully approved our bacon” and that it is now available for pre-order (e-mail him at sales@swinerymeats.org). Claycamp also also urged “any haters out there” to call the health department and verify that he is 100% legal.

Not being a hater, but being a journalist, I checked in with the health department, and got this caveat: While Claycamp has indeed received a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points permit to make and sell bacon at his Beacon Hill business, a different permit — his annual permit to operate a food establishment in that space — has actually expired. It was only good through March 31.

(more…)

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Kurt Timmermeister, who has sold raw milk from his Vashon Island dairy farm for the past four years, is done. In the next few weeks, he wrote, he will give up his license to sell fluid milk and will concentrate instead on making cheese. He’s ordered a cheese vat-pasteurizer from the Netherlands, and a holding/chilling tank from Canada, and will only sell milk until the new equipment is here and hooked up. First on his cheese list is a Camembert, well-suited to the “rich, creamy milk” from his Jersey cows.

Timmermeister has written eloquently about the licensing and health department hassles surrounding raw milk, and its potential benefits and dangers have long spurred debates and lawsuits — but he didn’t invoke the controversies when describing the changeover.

He wrote:

“At the end of last year, I had a bit of an epiphany. I was done selling milk. 

My attention span is limited. I can only find something exciting for a period of time. Then I want to try a new challenge. I had learned the milk trade. The barn was built, the dairy too and the pastures were coming in nicely. A new challenge was needed.”

 

 

 

 

Read more, and keep up with his cheesemaking journey, here.

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