Spent the last eight days of May on a “road trip.” Did read Food Safety News every day along with a local newspaper like the Lexington Herald-Leader.

This weekend finds me digging out and trying to catch up. Incoming email totals about 400 per day. But enough about my problems.

It was the first real “road trip” we’ve taken in years. A real road trip is one where you drive the backroads, staying off Interstates as much as possible. It can put you a little out of touch. You can even lose cell phone service.

So, I was out of touch on May 29 when the good news came down. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) last Wednesday announced it was no longer going to tell us how to make Jambalaya.

Having just come through the back roads of five southern and border states, I can attest to the fact that no one needs the government telling them how to make Jambalaya.  Not on Beale Street in 200-year old Memphis or any of the other places I’ve been these past few days.

Now how did this all come about you might ask?

Well, it seems that almost six years ago, the McCormick & Company owned Zatarain’s,  based in New Orleans, suggested in a formal petition that FSIS remove the requirement that Jambalaya contains 25 percent cooked ham and revise references in the “Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book for tomatoes and rice.

The petition specifically requested the following language to define Jambalaya:

“A Louisiana-style rice-based dish involving spices and seasoning, which may contain tomatoes. The product can contain meat, seafood, and/or vegetables such as sausage, chicken, ham, pork shrimp or bell peppers. It must all be comprised of at least 50 percent rice. Labeling must show true produce name, e.g.-Ham, and Shrimp Jambalaya.”

After thinking about for the past six years, however, FSIS decided that instead of revising the entry from the Policy Book, it would remove it entirely. In the future, products labeled as Jambalaya will just have to disclose its level of meats and poultry.

The Zatarain definition is correct in that Jambalaya likely did originate in Louisiana, but spread throughout the South and beyond in recent years.

“Just as there is no set standard list of ingredients that must be included in Jambalaya, even the dish’s origins are open to speculation, wrote San Francisco food writer and chef, Eric Burkett, in Food Safety News almost a decade ago. “Some cookbooks–many, actually–suggest it has French roots. The French word for ham is jambon which sounds like… well, you get it. Perhaps a more likely source is that classic Spanish dish, paella, which its rich assortment of surf and turf mixed with fragrant saffron rice. The Spanish ruled Louisiana for nearly 40 years, and Spanish influence over the region was much longer.”

As good-to-great Jambalaya can be, it always involves a word of caution. There’s no room for error when dealing with shellfish and other ingredients. Two years ago Jambalaya served as a fundraising event for Louisiana parish softball league, sicked 160 people and resulted in one death. Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium commonly found on raw meat and poultry, were the pathogens doing the damage because the Jambalaya was not prepared and held at correct temperatures.

So, just because FSIS is no longer telling us what has to go into Jambalaya, don’t forget the usual precautions and make sure you can trust the restaurant.

One piece of news from the road that was kind of fascinating. It seems eastern Kentucky has visions of becoming the “high tech agriculture” capital of the country and some big money is involved.

Here’s the vision. Why since about one-half of the U.S. population is within one day’s drive of the Bluegrass State do these nearby communities rely on faraway California and Arizona or even Mexico for fresh produce.?

Last Sunday, it was announced that a company called AppHarvest was getting $82 million in cash investment from Equilibrium Capital to begin construction on the first 60 acres or 2.7 square feet of greenhouses near Pikeville, Ky.

And as we loved to say when I was in the development business, “earth-moving equipment is already on the site.” I think I remember seeing something about this on “60 Minutes” some time ago. A bunch of super-rich people went around the country coming up with ideas for areas in economic hurt.

And for Eastern Kentucky, they see a new hub of regional produce.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)