Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Disease prevention at Virginia Boy Scout camp

I found another camp kitchen story Monday evening. The Waynesboro News Virginian published this one on its website on August 4, 2008.

The story recounts food safety measures being taken by head cook Annette Bess of Camp Shenandoah, a Boy Scout camp in Swoope, Virginia.

After a serious E. coli outbreak at a camp in nearby Goshen, "safety vigilance is a constant," says the lead paragraph. The outbreak closed the larger camp and sent 17 campers and one adult to the hospital.

The article first gives you the impression the Bess implemented a series of measures in reaction to the Goshen outbreak. When you read it, it’s clear that she uses standard measures to reduce or eliminate the possibility of a food-borne illness striking Camp Shenandoah.

Bess brings food safety credentials to her leadership role at the camp from her regular job:

Bess, a food services supervisor in the Waynesboro Public School division, is one of eight people on the camp’s food service staff and has gone through numerous training seminars on food handling and safety practices. She outlined steps the camp takes to ensure proper food sanitation, saying that it is as much about common sense as anything else.
That common sense approach includes "preventative measures, she said, include cooking and holding foods to their proper temperatures, checking food with calibrated thermometers, taking food temperatures three times a day and following proper sanitation procedures," says writer Jimmy Laroue.

The camp incorporates other measures into its prevention plan. It excludes sick staff members from preparing food and stores chemicals and food items in separate locations. Staff monitors refrigeration temperatures throughout the day.

And Bess discards all leftovers "just to be on the safe side." Although this sounds wasteful, it's a smart move.

Many camps use the family style of service. The cooks dish the meal onto platters and bowls. A waiters from each table then brings the dishes to the dining table, where the diners serve themselves as they do at home.

From the moment the food leaves the kitchen, it's under assault. Contaminants attack the food from many quarters -- dirty hands, sick campers and an open-air dining area.

The "safe side" -- and many state health codes -- dictate that such food not be re-used.

The article is a reminder to all cooks -- not just camp cooks -- of the four-fold approach to food safety. While the article doesn’t cite, Bess clearly follows its four-fold approach to fighting the bacterial growth in food. These measures come from the FightBac website:

  • Clean -- Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Wash utensils and surfaces with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food. Using a disinfectant cleaner or a diluted mixture of bleach and water on surfaces can provide some added protection.

  • Separate -- Keep raw meat, poultry, eggs and seafood and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods; never place cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, eggs or seafood.

  • Cook -- Cook food to a safe internal temperature (this varies for different cuts and types of meat and poultry) and check for doneness with a food thermometer. Cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm.

  • Chill -- Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food and leftovers within two hours and make sure the refrigerator is set at no higher than 40°F and that the freezer unit is set at 0°F. Use an appliance thermometer to monitor the temperature of your refrigerator.
The goal of Camp Shenandoah and Bess is to keep the Boy Scouts returning year after year. Like a restaurant, the camp uses good food and a good reputation to ensure that all campers return home healthy.

That gives the Scouts a head start for next year's camp.

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