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Pundit’s Mailbag — Salad Bars Are Tricky Business

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, May 13, 2010

Our piece, Every School Needs A Salad Bar AND A Commitment To Operating It Safely, brought a note from a well known food safety consultant:

I just read the Perishable Pundit feature on salad bars and food safety

This one is right up my alley… Salad bars (and buffets) are tricky business.

Regarding mayonnaise-based salads, it is not the mayo that is dangerous (commercially produced mayo has a pH that is so low that there is no problem for it to sit at room temperature, although for best quality it should be refrigerated), but the issue is that mayo is sometimes mixed with a “Potentially Hazardous Food (PHF),” which must be held cold, below 41 degree F. When mixing the two, it is important, when possible to Chill the Mayo first, and Chill the PHF also, so that when they are mixed, there is no time for them to be in the danger zone.

Of course, this is not the case with “home made” mayonnaise, which contains raw egg — a very scary proposition. When making home made mayo, I always recommend using pasteurized eggs, available from, for one, Sysco. There is no altered taste whatsoever.

— Fred Stein
President
Safe Food Connection!
Delray Beach, Florida

We appreciate the education on mayonnaise-based salads. We noticed when we were critiquing the CSPI report on “risky foods” that potatoes, which were implicated in the list unfairly because of problems with potato salad, were double-victimized because the potato salad that was implicated was typically not a commercial product — it was home made potato salad.

Unfortunately, once you get to store — or cafeteria — level, all kinds of things happen. We know of one store, part of a large convenience store chain where the manager, wanting to reduce the shrink he was realizing from cracked eggs, decided to boil them in the coffee pot and then make egg salad with them! Breaking who knows how many food safety protocols in that process!

So it would be a mistake to assume that every operator will follow all recommended food safety procedures.

We can’t run scared just because there is some risk. Risk is ubiquitous in life, and if there is an upside, we have to try to manage the risk.

That why we called for both offering a food safety program and getting a commitment from the schools to adequately staff the salad bars and raised the issue of whether we ought to make sure that the salad bars are used for fresh produce, not products more likely to be dangerous to the children.

Many thanks to Fred Stein for helping to educate the industry on this important issue.

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