Secretary Perdue has proclaimed September “National Food Safety Education Month (PDF, 346 KB)“. To celebrate, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is developing innovative food safety trainings for school nutrition professionals and honoring training graduates like Barbara Griffiths MSBA, RD, SNS, who make safe and nutritious foods a priority in their programs. As a graduate of USDA’s Produce Safety University, Griffiths has learned to source local fruits and vegetables from growers within her community and turn them into innovative menu items!
Why is produce safety so important? Without cooking produce, there is no “kill” step to destroy pathogens that may be on our food. By understanding how to mitigate the risk factors associated with fresh produce, school nutrition professionals play a vital role in ensuring safe and nutritious produce for their students. In 2018, Produce Safety University will again train over 150 school nutrition professionals, who, like Griffiths, will be prepared to promote produce in school meals and help others to do the same. In October, state agencies can nominate school nutrition professionals to attend USDA’s Produce Safety University training.
By Nicole Chimbetete, University of Minnesota School of Public Health Graduate Student
Located just south of St. Paul, Minn., the Independent School District (ISD)-169 Food and Nutrition Department has made it a priority to implement the USDA Farm to School program throughout the school year. The USDA’s Produce Safety University helps ISD-169 serve a ‘Local Lunch Food’ at least once a month. These lunch options are locally grown, produced and sourced from Minnesota’s beloved farmers and manufacturers.
Root vegetables are an essential part of traditional Minnesotan diets. To celebrate National Farm to School Month in 2016, it was no surprise that the district took on the challenge of adding beetroot to a contemporary favorite – hummus! The result: A bright red-purple, lemony, super creamy and flavorful snack full of vitamins and minerals. The new menu item’s name, “Viking Hummus,” alludes to the pride in the local National Football League team. Throughout the month, the beet hummus recipe went through multiple reviews, involving focus groups and student taste tests. After receiving a 90 percent approval rating, the recipe went mainstream and was distributed throughout the schools in November for the Local Lunch Food.
USDA’s Produce Safety University offers a one-week training course which helps school foodservice staff identify and manage food safety risks associated with fresh produce. After attending this training course, District Food and Nutrition Supervisor, Barbara Griffiths, began to envision how safe, local produce could be brought into ISD-196, despite Minnesota’s short growing season. The first step was to identify community partners who could overcome seasonal supply fluctuations to provide high-quality, safe produce. Griffiths developed a key partnership with Bushel Boy Farms, a hydroponic greenhouse farm in Owatonna, Minn., that grows great-tasting tomatoes throughout the school year. The district partners with other growers to source menu items such as apples from Rabideaux’s Fruit Company and beets used in “Viking Glory” from Pahl’s Market. Griffiths likes buying directly from these local farmers because the shortened supply chain alleviates some food safety concerns, provides the freshest tasting product and reduces the carbon footprint through efficient delivery systems.
ISD 169’s Food and Nutrition Department hopes their efforts to integrate local foods into school meals will make students excited about nutrition, motivate them to prepare foods at home and contribute to their positive attitudes towards healthy life long eating habits, which will foster a healthier community for generations to come.