Be ready for power outages

Refrigerator thermometer

I live in an area that may be affected by hurricanes. So, it’s time for us to seriously think about preparing for storms and getting our emergency checklist ready. Even if you don’t live in a hurricane zone there may be other weather situations that may cause power outages and potential food safety problems associated with losing power for an extended time.

Two items I don’t usually see on emergency supply lists are freezer and refrigerator thermometers (these are good to have all year round, not just in an emergency).  Place a thermometer in both the freezer and refrigerator. With these thermometers, you can tell the actual temperature the inside these appliances if the power is out.  Just touching or thinking they “feel cold” isn’t good enough!

Also, get a tip-sensitive digital food thermometer as they use in restaurants. This will allow you to check the temperature of your food. The best and most accurate way to determine if food is safe to eat is to know its temperature. 

I’ve seen postings on the internet about putting a cup of water in the freezer, allowing it to freeze and then putting a coin on top of the ice.  The idea is that if the ice melts and the coin sinks you’ll know that the power was out and the temperature in the freezer warmed. (You’d also know that by the condition of your ice cubes and ice cream!)  It’s a good concept if you weren’t home when the power went out and now the food has refrozen. Unfortunately, this cup of ice can only tell you that the power was off and the ice melted, it can’t tell you how warm it got inside the freezer.  In most cases, if the ice melted, and you weren’t around to take the actual temperature, you’d probably have to pitch most of the food because there are just too many variables and unknowns.

After the power has been out for more than 4 hours you’re going to have to ” break the rule” of leaving the refrigerator door shut, check the temperature, and make some decisions about what to do with the perishable food. Foodsafety.gov recommends, “Food (stored in refrigerator) should be safe as long as power is out for no more than 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) that have been above 40 °F for over 2 hours. Never taste food to determine its safety!” See their handy chart here

Coin in freezer–does this really work?

One more important step in being ready for power outages is to stock foods that can be eaten and prepared without refrigeration or cooking. Canned foods, nuts, snacks, dried fruits, and water can be prepared quickly without opening the refrigerator or freezer door and they require little preparation or clean up. They also come in handy when you don’t have time to go to the store. Don’t forget the manual can opener! 

More things to consider: cash, gas, medicines, baby food, pet food, paper plates, cups, napkins, and plastic utensils. 

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS,
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

Here is a shopping list for foods that do not need refrigeration along with meal ideas of how to prepare them

Download handout: shop for emergency meals

 

Is that a girl pepper?

As educators, it seems like one of our major jobs these days is helping people sort out the truth from the myth and misinformation on the web. Sometimes these articles and memes sound like they might be true and then then next thing you know everyone’s talking about it and then everyone believes it.

Perhaps you’ve seen the one about buying green peppers by their sex. The post reports that peppers with three lobes or bumps on the bottom are male and better for cooking. Female peppers supposedly have four bumps and are full of seeds, sweeter and better for eating raw.

Let’s set the record straight, peppers don’t have genders. When you look into the botany of peppers there is a little truth to the sex thing. Peppers grow from flowers that do have both male and female parts. But the peppers themselves do not.

So, what about the number of lobes on the bottom of the pepper? Like many other things (including people) the shape is determined by weather, growing conditions, and genetics. The number of the bumps don’t give us any clue to the flavor or sweetness of the pepper.

Just like many other fruits and vegetables, the degree of sweetness is generally a factor of the ripeness of the item. So, if you want sweeter peppers, select those that are red, yellow or orange. Yellow and orange peppers are a separate variety. Green peppers will gradually turn red on the plant but not yellow or orange.

When selecting pepper, for the best value, get one that is heavy for its size. As bell peppers ripen, they begin to wrinkle and lose the firmness in their skin. Therefore, avoid dull, shriveled or pitted peppers. Refrigerate peppers in a plastic bag and for best quality use within five days.

Bell peppers are a great source of vitamins A and C and beta-carotene. If your budget will allow, pick the colorful red, orange or yellow peppers. They have more vitamins and beta carotene than their green counterparts. Peppers are fat-free, saturated fat-free, low in sodium, cholesterol-free and low calorie.

Just another case of you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Butter Beans

If you’re not from the south, you may not be familiar with the vegetable known as a “butter bean”.

Technically they are what other parts of the nation call lima beans and belong to that genus and species Phaseolus lunatusis. They are sometimes called sieve beans, calico beans or Madagascar beans. But, most frequently in the South, they are known simply as “butter beans”.

Like other beans, the butter bean contains fiber, iron and B-vitamins. They are a rich source of low-fat protein.  A ½ cup serving of butter beans contains 5 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, 17 grams of carbs, and 4 grams of dietary fiber for 100 calories.

Lima/butter beans grow in pods that are removed before eaten. They can be eaten “green/fresh” when they are young. Or left on the plant to mature more and harvested for “dried” beans.

If you’re purchasing or preparing freshly shucked butter beans it’s important to remember NOT to eat the beans before cooking. Lima and butter beans contain a substance called linamarin and if they are eaten raw forms hydrogen cyanide which is poisonous.

Luckily butter beans and Lima beans are not usually consumed uncooked.  Cooking the beans for 20 minutes will destroy the toxin.

A few things to think about:

  • the linamarin is still present in the dried beans-they need to be heated/cooked after soaking.
  • read packages of frozen Lima or butter beans to ensure they have been cooked—simple blanching—which is common in frozen foods may not be enough to destroy the linamarin.
  • make sure your Lima and butter beans are thoroughly cooked before serving

No matter what you call them, butter beans are good eating.

Here is a favorite recipe for Vegetarian Paella using lima or butter beans:

Vegetarian Paella
Serves: 4 | Serving Size: 2 cups
Total Time: 25 min | Prep: 10 min | Cook: 15 min

Ingredients:

Olive oil cooking spray
1/2 onion, dice medium
1/2 red bell pepper, dice medium
1 carrot, peel and slice thin
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup sliced kale
1 plum tomato, dice medium
1 cup low-sodium tomato juice
1 cup water
2 cups instant brown rice
2 cups frozen Lima beans

Directions:

Heat a wide, shallow 3-quart sauce pan over medium-high heat. Lightly spray with olive oil cooking spray. Add onions, peppers, carrots, and mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes until vegetables begin to brown.

Add the rest of the ingredients and reduce heat to medium. Cover pan and cook for 5-6 minutes until liquid is absorbed by rice and rice is tender.

Serves 4. Each 2 cups serving: 311 calories, 2g fat, 0g saturated fat, 0gtrans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 40mg sodium, 64g carbohydrate, 7g fiber, 6g sugars, 11g protein.

By: Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Buying Pineapple

The other day I was at the grocery store and there was a pile of pineapples at a very good price. I picked one up and thought to myself “what do I know about buying pineapple?”  I seemed to remember something about the leaves pulling out—but is that bad or good?  I just grabbed one and hoped for the best.

But, now that I’m home, I decided to look it up and share because I figured I’m not the only one in a quandary.

I learned that pineapples do NOT ripen after they are picked. They just get older. So quickly my pineapple went from the counter to inside the refrigerator.  The sooner you eat the pineapple the better—for best quality eat within four days to a week of purchase.  Once cut, continue to store covered in the refrigerator and eat within two days.

If allowed to fully ripen on the plant a yellowish-orange rind will give you the best fruit quality. Pineapples ripen from the bottom up, so the more yellow as it moves up the body the better. But this doesn’t mean that a green pineapple is bad and many are picked and shipped with green color.   Unless you’re standing in a pineapple plantation, having one shipped directly to you from a grower  or have a plant in your garden, you’re going to have to trust that the growers picked the pineapple at the appropriate degree of sweetness and ripeness. There is no “season” for pineapples. They are available year round.  In general, pineapples from Hawaii are shipped only to the west coast of the continental US and other parts of the country get pineapple from Mexico and Costa Rica.

If there is a pile of pineapple—pick one of the bigger and heavier ones.  You just get more for your money.

The best way to tell if you have a good pineapple is that it looks fresh and the leaves are still green.  Avoid bruised, mushy skin and soft spots on the body.  The base of the pineapple should not be wet or moldy.  Does it smell pleasant and sweet?  If it smells slightly spoiled or like fermentation or vinegar—avoid that one!

Two slices of pineapple (about 4 ounces) has 50 calories, zero fat, 1 gram sodium and 19 mg of vitamin C which is about 60% the amount needed for one day.

Remember when I thought about the leaves?   This tends to be an “old wives tale”.  Being able to pull the leaves out of the crown is not a sign of ripeness or quality.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Best ways to prepare and serve fresh pineapple:

  • grilled and warm
  • cubed and placed on skewers
  • slice and place on salads
  • chopped and put on any protein dish
  • add to stir fry dishes
  • add to salsa

Download Recipe PDF:

Wild Rice with Pineapple

 

 

 

Treat it like meat

  • Wash your hands before and after handling.
  • Avoid cross contamination.
  • Cook thoroughly.

What am I talking about?  Believe or not….flour.

Generally we don’t  think of flour as a “risky” food, but some food safety specialists are now suggesting that we start treating flour like we would raw meat.  There have been several recalls within the past few years linking flour to pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses such as E. coli and Salmonella.

To most, flour seems dry and harmless, but we need to remember that it is not a “ready-to-eat” food. It is made from milling wheat which is a raw agricultural product that has been (obviously) grown outdoors where it could have been contaminated. This leaves the potential that “raw” flour may contain bacteria that could make someone sick. Flour should be heated before consumed.  When baking with flour, using baking mixes and other flour-containing products always follow proper cooking instructions.

Another potential problem is cross contamination.  Flour dust spreads easily. Always wash your hands and work surfaces after handling flour.

You can reduce the risk and “pasteurize”  the flour by heat-treating it in an oven or toaster oven before putting it in cookie dough or cake mixes.  Place the flour about ¾” thick on a cookie sheet. Bake for five minutes at 350 degrees F.  This treatment has been proven to kill bacteria found in flour.

Needless to say, this is another reason not to eat raw cake mix or batter and children shouldn’t be allowed to play with or eat raw dough. Remember: seniors, the very young, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems are the most susceptible to foodborne illness.

If you STILL want to lick the beaters—you know the risk.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Resources:

  1. For information on food recalls go to www.foodsafety.gov/recalls-and-outbreaks
  2. Heat treatment of flour will be presented at the International Association for Food Protection Conference in July 2019
    https://iafp.confex.com/iafp/2019/meetingapp.cgi/Paper/21486
  3. North Carolina Extension’s Safe Plates Information Center https://www.facebook.com/SafePlatesFSIC/
  4. E. coli in raw flour: the risks are real.  http://news.nutritioneducationstore.com/?s=flour

 

SIX Healthy Tips for July 4th

It must be “human nature” but even those who do a good job of healthy eating at other times seem to resort back to “traditional” foods on holidays. These foods are typically chocked full of empty calories, fats and sugars.

Rethinking the menu and “tweaking” your shopping list a little can take your 4th of July meal from calorie overload to healthful.

July 4th Healthy Holiday Tip #1—Lighten up. Can you substitute some ingredients when making favorite recipes? Gotta have potato salad?  Use non-fat plain Greek yogurt, nonfat sour cream or low-fat mayo for part of the regular mayo in the dressing. Or look for a new kind of veggie salad that uses a light vinaigrette instead of one that is bathed in high fat mayo or salad dressing.

July 4th Healthy Holiday Tip #2- Double or triple-up on veggies. Set out a series of vegetable platters or arrangements instead of cheese or antipasto plates.  Make sure you have lettuce and tomatoes as sandwich toppers. Try roasted vegetables or vegetable kabobs on the grill. Corn-on-the cob (roast with olive oil and seasonings and forget the melted butter).

July 4th Healthy Holiday Tip #3 – Pick some whole grain products.  Select whole grain buns, whole grain tortillas or whole wheat pita bread for sandwiches.  Whole grain chips and salsa can be an alternative to fried potato chips and dip.

July 4th Healthy Holiday Tip #4—Look for lean protein. How about fish patties or crab cakes instead of burgers?  Grill salmon instead of steak. Instead of brats or hog dogs on the grill go for grilled skinless chicken. For a fun and colorful entrée put hunks of chicken on skewers with the vegetables—this also helps reduce portion sizes and cooking time—and adds even more vegetables to the meal.

July 4th Healthy Holiday Tip #5—Burn those calories. Don’t forget to pack games and balls. Start a new tradition of a family softball or volley ball game. Walking and/or throwing Frisbees are also great activities that can involve family members of all ages.

July 4th Healthy Holiday Tip #6—Enjoy the company of family and friends.  Remember what we’re celebrating at this holiday. Don’t just focus on food and eating. Be mindful of the non-food intangibles like music, games and fireworks.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Food Poisioning Goes Viral

I’ve often wondered what makes a YouTube or a post on Facebook go viral. Knowing my interest in food safety, a friend recently shared a Fox News story that I’m sure helped make this story on a food poisoning death go viral https://www.foxnews.com/health/student-died-after-eating-leftover-pasta-in-rare-food-poisoning-case The story became popular was picked up by several other social media outlets. This video now has over 4 million views.

In case you haven’t seen it, the original video was by a YouTuber named Chubbyemu. The recreated story was about a student who died of a foodborne illness. The video is about 14 minutes long and I found it difficult to watch as its original purpose is to train emergency room physicians about possible food borne illnesses. If you read the original account of the illness and death you see that Chubbyemu took some liberties and sensationalism with this dramatic educational piece.

The real story happened back in 2008 and Belgium health specialists wrote about it in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology in 2011. Their report shares that a 20 year-old man died after eating five-day old pasta that had been left at room temperature. He suffered headache, abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea and died about ten hours after eating. The body was autopsied and the leftover spaghetti also studied. The investigators indicated that Bacillus cereus (B. cereus) was the mostly likely cause of death.

B. cereus is a bacteria that produces food borne Illness caused by toxins. It is frequently found in cooked pasta and cooked rice, but also can be found in sauces, soups and leftovers that have sat out too long at room temperature. The young man in our story heated the pasta in the microwave, and perhaps he felt that was a way to prevent a food borne illness. What many people don’t know is that after these toxins have been produced they cannot be destroyed by heating. The key way to prevent the development of B. cereus is taking care with these foods after cooking especially during cooling, storage and reheating. These foods should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours and according to the USDA cooked pasta leftovers eaten within three to five days.

If anything good has happened out of this young man’s death and the viral story 11 years later—perhaps more people have become aware of this food borne illness and the importance refrigerating foods as soon as possible and then not keeping the leftovers in the refrigerator too long.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

J Clin Microbiol. “Sudden Death of a Young Adult Associated with Bacillus cereus Food Poisioning.” 2011 Dec; 49(12): 4379–4381. doi: 10.1128/JCM.05129-1122012017

Food Safety Talk Podcast #174 No Borscht Collusion (location on podcast 54:10) http://foodsafetytalk.com/food-safety-talk/2019/1/30/food-safety-talk-174-no-borscht-collusion?

USDA FoodKeeper https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/foodkeeperapp/index.html

Do you play refrigerator Tetris?

Refrigerator Tetris is when you have just so much stuff shoved into the refrigerator that it looks like you’re playing that popular video puzzle game.

This is probably not the best situation.

The first problem is air circulation.   With food crammed every which way the refrigerator may not have good air flow.  Boxes of food could be blocking the vents. This could prevent the refrigerator from properly cooling—or just the opposite—keep it too cold and freeze lettuce and other items.  Not only does overfilling block air vents, restrict circulation it can reduce the energy efficiency.

Here are three rules to help you keep your food fresh and to avoid the risk of foodborne illness:

  1. Don’t overload your refrigerator. Lots of food can alter the temperature in the refrigerator.  The best refrigerator storage temperature is 40 degrees or below.  The only way to really know what the temperature is to use a refrigerator thermometer. Higher temperatures will shorten length of time the food will keep without bacteria growth.
  2. Take some advice from food service professionals in regards to where food is placed in the refrigerator. Raw meats, fish and poultry should be stored BELOW foods that won’t be cooked—this includes ready-to-eat foods, raw fruits and vegetables.  Most home refrigerator designs don’t usually help with this since many of them have the fruit and vegetable crisper drawers below where there is space to store the raw meat.  In this case, consider storing the raw items in sealed containers or securely wrapped to prevent the raw juices from dripping and contaminating the other foods.
  3. Perishable foods shouldn’t be stored on the refrigerator door. This is another one of those design features that may not be “food safety friendly”.  Even though there is room for it—don’t store milk on the door. Those little cubby holes for eggs should also be ignored; eggs should be stored in their original cartons inside the refrigerator and not on the door. These foods are perishable and every time the door is opened they are exposed to warmer room temps. This could reduce their quality and leave accessible to a foodborne illness pathogen.

Keep the Tetris puzzles for the computer and don’t play games with your food’s safety.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

Teach Food Safety with Recipes

I’m a strong believer in teaching with recipes. Not only do they instruct how to cook, but they can provide information on nutrition and food safety. When people are preparing meals can be that important teachable moment https://news.nutritioneducationstore.com/teachable-moments/

This approach to teaching is supported by a study published in the Journal of Food Protection .* The study’s author, Sandra Godwin, PhD, RD, from Tennessee State University observed that participants who received recipes with food safety instructions significantly improved their food safety behaviors when given specific food safety instructions in recipes. The study showed that only 20% of people used food thermometers when using recipes WITHOUT safety instructions and 86% used thermometers when given recipes WITH safety instructions.

Looking at making recipes a tool for teaching food safety, the Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) has developed a way to help recipe writers and food editors (and I’m hoping educators, too) incorporate food safety instructions into their recipes. They’ve developed a Safe Recipe Style guide. Check it out at: https://www.saferecipeguide.org/

This website has several drop down menus that include much of what even a food safety novice would need when writing recipes.

The Safe Recipe Style Guide addresses the four major areas of food safety concerns in the home kitchen:

  1. internal cooking temperatures
  2. hand-washing
  3. cross contamination
  4. produce handling

A couple examples from the style guide: “All recipes should start with instructions to wash hands with soap and water because current studies show that a large majority of people do not wash their hands properly – or at all – when handling food.” Or “cover and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes or until cooked through and internal temperature reaches 165 F on food thermometer.”

It really couldn’t be easier now to incorporate some of these food safety ideas into your teaching—be it a newsletter, blog post, recipe demonstration handout, or newspaper column.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

*J Food Prot. 2016 Aug;79(8):1436-9, Recipe Modification Improves Food Safety Practices during Cooking of Poultry. Maughan C, Godwin S, Chambers D, Chambers E IV.

Here is a fun example using our chicken stew recipe and the food safety style guide:

Provencal Fennel Chicken Stew

Serves 8 | Serving Size: 1/2 cup
Total Time: 45 min | Prep: 10 min | Cook: 35 min
This recipe is inspired from the Provence of France, located in the Mediterranean

Ingredients:

1 tsp olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup onion, peeled and diced
1 cup celery, rinsed well and diced
1 tsp ground fennel seeds
3 plum tomatoes, rinsed, cored, seeded, diced
4 cups chicken broth, low or reduced sodium
2 chicken breasts, diced (do not rinse chicken before preparation*)
2 potatoes, rinsed, peeled, and diced
pinch garlic powder
black pepper to taste

Directions:
Food safety prep tips:
  1. Wash your hands with soap and water before starting to prepare your food.
  2. Using a clean cutting board and knife, prepare the vegetables. Follow the guides above for rinsing your veggies well under cool running water. Make sure you get all of the dirt off of the potatoes.
  3. Cut the chicken in chunks and then thoroughly wash and sanitize the knife, cutting board, and any surfaces that came into contact with the raw chicken, including your hands.

Directions:

  1. Saute the olive oil, garlic and onion over medium heat in a large nonstick stockpot or Dutch oven.
  2. Add the celery and fennel and saute briefly until they become translucent.
  3. Add the tomatoes and saute briefly, about one minute.
  4. Add the broth, chicken, potatoes, and seasonings. Cook over medium heat, at a simmer, until the chicken is done and the potatoes are tender, about 20-25 minutes. The chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 and when it is white all the way through when cut.
  5. Serve the stew hot with chopped flat leaf parsley.
  6. Refrigerate leftovers promptly in a large shallow pan.
Chef’s Tips:
You can grind the fennel seeds in a coffee grinder or spice grinder.

Infused Water:

We’re seeing them everywhere these days from cafeterias, hotel lobbies to gyms. What am I talking about? Infused water containers. You know those large water containers with ice and other added ingredients such as fruits, vegetables or herbs. I’ve seen many varieties including lemons and limes with the rinds, cucumbers with mint and strawberry basil.

They are all the rage for several good reasons: encouraging hydration, providing a low/no calorie sugar-free beverage, adding ingredients/flavors that may entice people to drink a little more water, reducing waste by encouraging refilling water bottles and saving money by not buying bottled water.
I personally am a little leery to use them…for several food safety reasons. Perhaps, I know too much, but I wonder if the people preparing these containers on a daily basis know or use any food safety practices.

First: Are the containers washed, rinsed and sanitized between uses? I’m a little less concerned when they’re in food service locations…but the one at my gym scares me.

Second: Do they wash and/or scrub the added ingredients? Do the preparers use gloves when chopping and adding these ingredients? This would be “bare hand contact” with ready-to eat foods.

Thirdly: Do the “users” of these containers cross-contaminate the spouts with their refillable bottles? This is especially important if the “mouth” on their already used bottle touches the spout on the large container.

There’s not a lot of real scientific data out there on the safety (or the lack of safety) of these water containers. You’ll need to make your own decision if you feel there is a risk when opting to refill your water bottle. Some key points to consider when evaluating these containers is to make sure they have a lid and there should be ice present to insure the water is kept cold, ideally under 41 degrees F.

Infused water cucumbers

If you like the idea of infused water, but would rather make your own to insure the safety, here are a few tips:

  • Date the infused water container and refrigerate if you have any leftover.
  • Examine the fruits and vegetables in leftover water as they may break down and decompose quickly. Use within 2-3 days.
  • Make sure the fruits and vegetables you are using are fresh and free from spoilage or bruises.
  • Wash and scrub these products as you would any fruit or vegetable you are eating.
  • Some recipes for infused water call for allowing the water and additional ingredients to “infuse” for 1-2 hours at room temperature. I think this is just asking for trouble. Infused waters should be kept in the refrigerator or iced down, check the ice frequently to keep the temperature of the water at 41 degrees or below. Proper refrigeration will make your infused water more refreshing and safer, too!

Here are our favorite flavor ideas, using fruit and herbs or spices together:

  • Strawberries and green tea
  • Peaches with lemons and mint
  • Oranges and cloves
  • Fresh cherries and cinnamon
  • Limes and cucumbers
  • Grapefruit and rosemary
  • Blueberries and basil

Infuse the flavors in the refrigerator and then add a swish of sparkling water for a really refreshing treat!

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Related posts:
https://news.nutritioneducationstore.com/germy-water-bottles/
https://news.nutritioneducationstore.com/hydrate-for-health/