Tag Archives: cross contamination

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Living with Dietary Restrictions: Vegetarian and Vegan

Remember back when you were younger and you parents demanded you eat your veggies?   This more than likely happened to all of us, but for some it was a message that really stuck.   Much of that growing population falls into the vegetarian (and on the stricter end, vegan) category.   A study done by Vegetarian Times found that the U.S. alone has, “7.3 million people follow a vegetarian-based diet” and “1 million, of those are vegans.”

Image from MorgueFileUnlike our previous Dietary Restriction blogs on being dairy and gluten free, going vegetarian or vegan is most often a choice rather than a dietary necessity and often the reasons behind it are different depending on the person.  Many make the decision based on the need or want to personally be healthier while at the same time it can be done for the health of the Environment.   There is also a high concern for animal welfare that brings many to the conclusion of eating sans meat and /or dairy.   For a vast majority one glimpse into the horrifying realities of factory farms and their treatment of animals used for food is more than enough to both turn their stomach and switch their outlook on consuming animal products of any type.   Taking these motivations and concerns into consideration, it is becoming increasingly common to see more options, creativity and innovation in the vegetarian and often vegan items available.  Often one taste of these delicious dishes (more often than not accompanied by increased education on the subject) is just enough to open new eyes to the vegetarian and vegan world.

What’s the difference between vegan and vegetarian?

While vegetarian and veganism may sound one in the same to many there is a strict difference between the two.  Often vegetarianism is seen as more of a food choice while veganism is seen as a lifestyle due to the whole-life philosophy behind the decision.

Vegetarian:  Vegetarians are the more lax of the two in terms of animal products that they are willing to consume.  According to VegetarianVegan.com, “Vegetarian is a blanket term used to describe a person who does not consume meat, poultry, fish, or seafood.”  This means that there are several sub-categories of vegetarianism, but the basic understanding is that a vegetarian does not consume any type of animal meat, yet does occasionally use milk, eggs and other animal products or by-products.   Sub-categories of vegetarianism include more strict eaters such as ovo-lacto-vegetarians (do not consume eggs/milk), ovo-vegetarian (do consume eggs, not milk), lacto-vegetarian (do consume milk, not eggs) and the strictest for which is vegan.

Vegan: While vegan is a form of vegetarianism, as stated previously, it is the strictest version.   Those considered vegan do not eat any animal products or by-products including everything from meat to dairy to even honey.   Many vegans are also against using animal products like wool and silk in daily life as well.                      

What products should be avoided?

Image from MorgueFileFor both choices it is important that all meat products including poultry and fish are avoided.  However, vegans take the restrictions just a bit further to avoid animal byproducts as well.  The most obvious of these byproducts are items like eggs and dairy (milk, cheese, ice cream, etc.).  However, there are also many common products that come from animals that we may not even normally be aware of.  Kidshealth.org gives the following examples: gelatin (made using meat byproducts), lanolin (made from wool), rennet (an enzyme found in the stomach of calves, young goats, and lambs that’s used in cheese-making), honey and beeswax (made by bees), silk (made by silkworms), shellac (the resinous secretion of the tiny lac insect) and cochineal (a red dye derived from the cochineal insect).

What are some alternatives?

Because animal products aren’t on the top allergen list, it can sometimes be difficult to know what does and doesn’t work.  One benefit to eating vegan is that oftentimes items that are dairy-free may also be vegan due to the lack of milk product used.  This also means that there are a ton of different lines of milk and cheese alternatives made from soy, rice, almonds and even hemp (Indy Vegans has a great list comparing each type to help in making your decision). However, there are many  other great food options as well.

Another great option are the Follow Your Heart products.  This line offers everything from eggless mayonnaise (called Vegenaise) to vegan cheese, sour cream and cream cheese which is all animal product free.  If you’re in the mood for something a little sweeter online stores like Chicago SoyDairy and Literally Divine have got great options for your sweet tooth.  Chicago SoyDairy specializes in items like marshmallows (even non-animal product Easter Peeps called Tweets) and ice cream.  Literally Divine offers a wide array of truffles and toffee that is all natural, organic and vegan.

Eating Vegan and Vegetarian on the Go

The nice thing about vegetarian and vegan eating is that while they may be few and far between one or two options are usually available at most restaurants, even if it means a veggie only salad with oil and vinegar dressing.  If that’s not necessarily your idea of a worthwhile restaurant tip, then Happy Cow may be just your ticket to finding some tasty, creative dining outside of your own home.  Happy Cow is a search engine that allows you to enter in where you’ll be dining and then provides you with different nearby options and the degree to which the food is vegetarian.  VegGuide.org is another similar site that allows users to give a description and rating of the restaurants vegan and vegetarian friendly options.

Just as in our previous dairy-free post, it’s extremely important to be aware of the possibility of cross-contamination if you are dedicated to eating vegetarian or living a vegan lifestyle.  Whether you’re out to eat at a chain restaurant or at a family pitch-in making sure that you know the ingredients included in a dish can truly help you maintain your dietary choices.  Indy Vegan instructs, “Being vegan means reading labels. I don’t care how much you hate it and how much time it takes, it’s just something you have to do. And if you don’t know, ask!”  And in situations like pitch-ins, it’s a great opportunity to introduce non-vegans/vegetarians to your dietary habits, but remember to do so in small doses as not everyone is apt to dive right in to the tofu salad, but may be more willing to try out a smaller dose of something like non-dairy cheese.

In the meantime, if you’re on the go and curious as to where it’s safe to eat, you can rest assured that there are options available.  One huge and ever changing option is the sandwich shop.  While it is important to make sure that bread is made without using animal products, this is often your best bet.  One national food chain that offers a great vegan/vegetarian array is Which Wich.  They have everything from a traditional veggie blend, to a hummus based sandwich all of which are served on bread that contains no animal ingredients.  If you’re in more of a sharing mood, Barcelona Tapas, a Spanish tapas chain has many great vegan options like grilled and marinated vegetables and even churro’s for dessert.  Even bigger chains like Chili’s have a few vegan options here or there.  While many of the foods are blatantly booked as vegan, items like fajitas and veggie quesadillas can be specially ordered to fit your needs.  In general many Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants also very easily fit into the vegan lifestyle since many dishes are already vegetarian due to religious reasons.  Items to try are samosas, hummus, falafel and Dal.

Delicious Vegan and Vegetarian recipes to try at home

Mac and Cheese Pizza from the Tolerant Vegan

Green Dream Soup from Indy Vegans

How do you or your family members deal with being Vegan and/or Vegetarian?  Please share your story. 

Milk; Image from MorgueFile

Living with Dietary Restrictions: Dairy Free

Milk; Image from MorgueFileThink about what you’re planning to have to eat today.  Does a dairy product make it onto the menu?  If you’re part of the 75% of the world’s population that is lactose intolerant to some extent or a lower 3% with a milk allergy, you may be giving a bit more thought to your daily dairy intake.   Read on to find the differences between an intolerance and an allergy, what is being done for sufferers and a few helpful and delicious dairy-free recipes.

What’s the difference between
lactose intolerance and a milk allergy?

Lactose intolerance is an inability to digest the milk sugar, lactose, found in dairy products.

Milk Allergies are more focused on the proteins or caseins within milk products.

What products should be avoided?

For both you should avoid dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, milk, butter, chocolate, goat’s milk products and any product labeled as containing milk or milk ingredients.

What are some alternatives?

Most dairy-based product have an alternative that uses a soy or rice base although sometimes soy may also cause allergic reactions and intolerances.

Eating Non-Dairy on the Go

While it may take a bit of pre-planning using online allergen guides, many restaurants now have tasty options for those with dairy-free eating restriction.  There is also a handy databases like Allergy Eats and Allerdine which allow you to search for restaurants in your area that have special food safety measures for patrons with food allergies.

The most important tip when eating out (other than avoiding the obvious dairy products) is to be aware of cross-contamination.   This can happen through using the same frying oil, grills, woks or cutting boards for the dairy and non-dairy foods.  Another way to prevent cross-contamination is to bring along your own wet cloth to wipe down any surfaces just in case the allergens were left from the previous diner.

It’s also imperative that you open a dialogue between yourself and the wait staff and/or management.   While you may have already looked at the allergen guides, it’s always a wise idea to double check to confirm that the item you’re ordering is cooked and prepared separately and without any allergy/intolerance inducing elements.  Making these inferences every time and at every location is important since staff, preparation guidelines, etc. may change from visit to visit.

Places like Chipotle, Qdoba and Subway are some of the more obvious options since you’re able to add exactly what you want (be sure to watch out for cross contamination).   However, there are many options at your average sit-down restaurant like Denny’s, Chili’s, Red Lobster and Outback Steakhouse as well.  In fact, Outback not only gives suggestions on menu items, they also give advice on how to request the food be cooked and what extras should be left off to ensure a higher degree of safety.

And just in case you’re planning a trip to Disney with your dairy-free eater, not to worry, there are plenty of tasty options there too including tofu ice cream, waffles with fruit and dairy free whipped topping, rice milk and dairy free pasta.

Deliciously Dairy-free recipes to try at home

Gluten Free & Dairy Free Lasagna

Chocolate Chip Cookie Muffins – Milk Free Recipes

How do you or your family members deal with lactose intolerance or a milk allergy?  Please share your story.

Article sources
1)     Dairy Free Living
2)     Kids Health
3)     Mayo Clinic
4)     National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)  
5)     PubMed Health

A crash course in food safety

Recent outbreaks of salmonella in the food supply have brought the restaurant and foodservice industry into the media spotlight. News of illness and recalls associated with spinach, tomatoes and jalapenos has been a serious cause for concern to those who make their livelihood in the foodservice industry. Yet, however widespread it appears to be, according to the National Restaurant Association, the U.S. food supply is the safest in the world.

While recent events have proven it is often difficult to know you’re purchasing food products from safe sources, operators can lessen the risk of receiving contaminated food products by washing hands frequently and thoroughly, not allowing employees to work when ill, segregating fresh produce from other refrigerated foods and washing fresh produce in running water before serving.

The Big Three

In addition to purchasing food from safe sources, other factors that contribute to food-borne illness in foodservice include time-temperature abuse; cross-contamination; and poor personal hygiene. The North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM) refers to these as the “Big Three” of unsafe food handling:

  1. Time-temperature abuse occurs when cooked or raw foods are not held or stored at required temperatures; when food is not cooked or reheated to temperatures that kill microorganisms; and when foods are improperly cooled.
  2. Cross contamination occurs when bacteria is transferred among different surfaces and food items. For example, using a cutting board to cut raw meat, and then using it to slice fresh vegetables is a great way to transfer microorganisms.
  3. Last, your staff can transmit diseases through poor hygiene; for example, improper hand-washing, coughing or sneezing around food, handling food after touching open sores or scratches or coming to work when they are sick.

Foods most likely to cause problems

The FDA identifies several groups of foods that, by their nature, are more likely to become contaminated because of the way they are typically processed and handled during distribution:

  • Milk and milk products
  • Red meat and poultry
  • Fish, shellfish and crustaceans
  • Untreated raw eggs
  • Baked or boiled potatoes
  • Cooked rice and beans
  • Tofu or other soy-protein foods
  • Synthetic ingredients such as textured soy protein in meat alternatives
  • Garlic and oil mixtures
  • Sprouts and sprout seeds
  • Sliced melons

It is important that these food products are properly handled, stored and prepared. According to NAFEM, most foods outside these categories are more “forgiving” when it comes to handling abuse and the potential for foodborne illness. In the next section, we’ll go over some important HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) guidelines for safely handling these types of foods. The NRAEF (National Restaurant Association Education Foundation) is also a helpful tool for food safety guidance and training. The ServSafe program provides training and certification to foodservice professionals.

The 7 Principles of HACCP

HACCP is a systematic approach to the identification, evaluation and control of food safety hazards based on the following seven principles:

  1. Conduct a hazard analysis
  2. Determine the critical control points (CCPs)
  3. Establish critical limits
  4. Establish monitoring procedures
  5. Establish corrective actions
  6. Establish verification procedures
  7. Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures

For more information about HACCP guidelines and procedures, please visit FDA.gov.

Essential E&S

According to NAFEM, equipment manufacturers are driven more than ever before by a demand from the foodservice industry marketplace to design equipment and supplies that address these critical food safety and sanitation concerns. Here a just a few common items that promote sanitation and food safety:

  • Color-coded cutting boards. As mentioned earlier, using the same cutting board for raw meat and fresh vegetables could result in a foodservice nightmare. Using a set of color-coded boards helps prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen. You should use a different cutting board for fish, cooked foods, fruits and vegetables, poultry, and red meat.
  • Blast Chillers. Blast chillers are designed to rapidly chill cooked food through the temperature danger zone (135°F to 40°F) to assure food safety. Most models of blast chillers come equipped with probes for critical temperature monitoring and many even have on-board computers and printers for HACCP record-keeping.
  • No-touch faucet handles. Many faucets come with an option for wrist handles, which don’t require users to touch the faucet after washing their hands. More manufacturers are designing sinks and faucets that promote proper hand washing techniques.
  • Antimicrobial technology. A wide variety of equipment and supplies now come coated with antimicrobial protection to ward off bacteria. Everything from youth seating, mop handles, carts, slicers, shelving, dish dollies, thermometers, knives, gloves and floor mats are now available with Microban.
  • No-touch waste containers. Many manufacturers sell “no-touch” models of trash cans and other waste receptacles that don’t required users to make contact with the container. Lids are available in a variety of styles that promote cleanliness.
  • Sneeze Guards. Because the last thing you want is someone sneezing on your salad.
  • Safety Ice Scoop System. Another restaurant item that often gets negative media attention is ice, but using an ice scoop holder will remind staff not to leave the ice scoop in the bin, and most models prevent hands from touching the surface of the scoop.