Sodium Sneaks Up On You

I think most of us are aware of sodium in many canned foods and routinely purchase low sodium products. But sometimes it pops up where you least expect it.

I’m talking about commercially prepared salsa.

Salsa is running neck-to-neck with ketchup as the most popular condiment in the United States.  More and more I’m seeing recipes that use salsa as an ingredient in a recipe.  I recently made soup that used an entire jar of salsa to add a bolt of flavor.  The recipe encouraged cooks to purchase their favorite type of salsa—chunky, smooth, hot, mild, with beans or without…..whatever you wanted to add a punch to this soup recipe.

Not only did it add a punch —it added a lot of sodium. I sure was surprised. When was the last time you really read the Nutrition Facts on the label of a bottle of commercially made salsa? Yikes!  I think that it’s interesting to note that the word salsa comes from Latin for salt or salted.

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty—the Nutrition Facts label clearly read contains 210 milligrams of sodium per serving.  The kicker is the serving size.  Just two tablespoons is a serving. There were 24 servings in the bottle.  This is kind of like that old commercial for chips….who can eat just one serving of salsa?  Think about the last time you were at a Mexican restaurant and they put that basket of chips and bowl of salsa in front of you? Did you stop at two tablespoons?

The entire 24-ounce jar of chunky mild salsa contained 5250 milligrams of sodium.  The recipe made 12 one-cup servings—so the sodium provided by the salsa alone was 438 milligrams. This is on par with a serving of soup from a can.

So, what’s good about salsa?  It can be low in calories (10 per serving), low in sugar (1 gram) and contains some fiber (1 gram).

The amount of sodium in the diet has been linked to increased blood pressure and increased risk of cardiovascular disease in adults. The 2015-2020 US Dietary Guidelines tell us that adults and children ages 14 and older should limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day. This is about what you get in one teaspoon of salt.   For people with high blood pressure, a further reduction to 1,500 mg per day is recommended.

It sure is easy to grab a jar of salsa from the cupboard and use it as an ingredient. But like most processed food, it can backfire.  When shopping, read nutrition labels and try to find a product with less sodium per serving. Other obvious solutions would be to cut back on serving size. Another idea is to experiment and modify the recipe using low-salt tomatoes or tomato sauce and add your own herbs, peppers, and spices. At a restaurant opt for a fresh Pico de Gallo instead of an unknown (possible sodium bomb.) Trader Joe has a fire-roasted salsa that has no salt added and is especially nice for adding to dishes like soups (tip and favorite of Barbara Rice, RD, LD).

Making your own salsa can give you that flavor boost with limited (or no) sodium, too.  Not only do they provide fresh flavor but also some fresh vegetables to the diet.

Here is a free salsa recipe that is very easy to make and it contains no added salt:

https://foodandhealth.com/recipes.php/recipe/832

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

 

 

Consider Pasteurized Eggs

Eggs are considered potentially risky for some people.  The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) food code puts them on the TCS (foods that need time and temperature control for safety) list.

The major concern is Salmonella which ranks second (11%) of all foodborne illnesses in the United States. (Note:  Norovirus is first with 58%).

For the average healthy adult, the risk of getting sick from a Salmonella contaminated egg is very low. It is estimated that as few as three in 10,000 eggs are contaminated.  But it’s important to remember that children, the elderly, pregnant women and those people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to a foodborne illness. I know a sanitarian that says she’ll eat an undercooked egg, but is careful not to give one to her children.

Typically, people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps between 12 and 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most individuals recover without treatment.  In some cases, diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized.

One way to reduce the risk from Salmonella bacteria in eggs is to cook them until they reach at least 145 degrees F.  At this temperature both the whites and yolks are firm. Yes, this means the yolks should not be runny. This rules out sunny-side-up, over-easy, soft boiled, runny scrambled and my poached egg. For dishes containing eggs like quiche and souffle, they should be cooked until an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is reached.

There is an alternative — but it does cost a little more — use pasteurized shell eggs. These eggs can be served undercooked without a risk. While these products look like and can be used like regular “shell” eggs, they have been heated to destroy potential bacteria. Look for them in the egg section of the grocery store.  But read the packages carefully, make sure the carton says “pasteurized”.  Some “specialty” shell eggs such as organic, lower cholesterol, higher vitamin — are NOT pasteurized. Usually, pasteurized eggs have a marking on the shell itself to help you not confuse it with “regular” eggs.

Other sources of pasteurized egg products include whole-out-of shell eggs (liquid eggs—frequently used in restaurants) and low-cholesterol egg products (made primarily with egg whites). These pasteurized products usually come in containers that look like little milk cartons and can be found both fresh and frozen in most grocery stores. They are great if you have a recipe that calls for an uncooked egg such as egg nog, hollandaise sauce, homemade mayonnaise, and uncooked ice cream and will be serving it to potentially “at-risk” individuals.

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

 

References:

Food Safety Talk 156: Rank the Kato’s, June 16, 2018, http://foodsafetytalk.com/food-safety-talk/2018/6/16/food-safety-talk-156-rank-the-katos

Just a poached egg https://news.nutritioneducationstore.com/just-a-poached-egg/

Estimates of Foodborne Illness in the United States https://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/2011-foodborne-estimates.html

What Causes Food Poisoning?     Centers for Disease Control and Prevention                                                               https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foodborne-germs.html

Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart  https://www.fsis.usda.gov/safetempchart

 

Cranberries for Next Year

Since cranberries are a must for most families at Thanksgiving, I bet there are cranberries in your house right now?

According to the Ag Marketing Research Center, Americans consume nearly 400 million pounds of cranberries per year (that’s about 2.3 pounds a person) and 20% of this is during Thanksgiving week.

Fresh whole cranberries are available in our markets now, but won’t be there for long. The season is September through January.

If you’re buying fresh berries, look for those that are red, ripe, plump, hard and shiny.  Before use, they should be sorted and washed. Take out any bruised, shriveled, soft, spongy or brown berries. White berries are safe to eat; they have just not developed their full color.

They are usually sold in 12-ounce bags that are equal to about 3 cups whole berries or 2 ½ cups of chopped. Fresh berries will keep in the sealed bag in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.

Since the season is so short, why not buy a couple of extra bags to freeze for use during the next year?  Instructions on the bag say to simply throw them in the freezer as purchased. These berries won’t be washed, so you’ll need to wash and sort the frozen berries just before use.  When removed from the freezer and thawed the cranberries will have a soft texture and are best used for cooking and baking.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation encourages rinsing and sorting the berries before freezing. They recommend placing the clean and dry berries on a tray so they will freeze individually and then pack loosely into freezer containers or bags.  Like other frozen fruits, cranberries should be added to recipes still frozen to prevent the juices from flowing out of the fruit.

Holiday Food Safety

Holiday Quiz

Here is our favorite recipe for Cranberry Sauce.

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

 

 

Got Chickens?

Backyard poultry —cute little chicks and ducklings—are becoming popular with both rural and urban families.  This can be an educational opportunity for families as well as a way to have fresh eggs.

But, backyard poultry has been recently been linked to illnesses.  Over 1000 people in several states have become infected with different strains of Salmonella. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at least 175 people have been hospitalized and two people have died.  Most of those who are ill are children younger than five years old.  Poultry can carry the bacteria and not appear sick themselves.

The CDC offers these recommendations to those who have backyard flocks: 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water right after touching backyard poultry and adults should supervise hand-washing by young children if they come in contact with the chickens and chicken equipment.
  • Children under five (and adults over 65 and those with chronic illnesses) should avoid handling chicks, ducklings or other poultry because their bodies may not have the ability to resist infection.
  • Children should not be allowed to play or eat in areas where the poultry roam.
  • Keep other household pets away from the chicken area—they may carry the bacteria to the family and home.
  • Don’t kiss or snuggle backyard poultry.
  • Keep chickens out of the garden. Fresh chicken droppings can be a risk of contamination to fresh produce.
  • Don’t let the poultry in your house.
  • Keep shoes on while working with poultry outside of the house. Remove those shoes before going into the house!
  • Wash the chicken’s equipment outside and not in the kitchen with the people’s food and dishes.

While as cute as can be, take care and be mindful of this potential risk. 

Cheryle Jones Syracuse. MS

Professor Emeritus

https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/farm-animals/backyard-poultry.html

 

Digital Influencers Lack Food Safety Expertise

“You can’t believe everything you see on the internet.” I think we’ve all said this to clients or classes at one time or another. But we all know that when someone wants a recipe or other information the first thing most people do these days is grab their phone and “Google it”.

But, what about food preservation?  This really isn’t the same as cooking chicken for dinner or finding a cake recipe. Preserving foods safely requires the following research-based practices.  The two most respected resources for food preservation are the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Guide to Home Canning https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html  and the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) https://nchfp.uga.edu.

So the question is….do people looking for food preservation recipes on the internet find safe and research-based recipes?

This was the question a group of researchers from the Cooperative Extension, University of Maine asked. According to a news release this group of researchers specifically looked at recipes for home-canned salsa found on popular food blogs. They selected salsa recipes because it is a popular condiment in the United States and found 56 recipes for canning salsa on 43 different food blogs.

They developed a tool to compare the bloggers’ recipes with a known safe recipe for home-canned salsa  https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_salsa/choice_salsa.html  from the NCHFP.  The procedures and results of their study were published in Food Protection Trends Vol 39, No. 5.  http://www.foodprotection.org/publications/food-protection-trends/archive/2019-09-adherence-of-food-blog-salsa-recipes-to-home-canning-guidelines/

A quick summary of what they found: Only four or 7% of all the recipes met all of the researchers’ criteria for safety.

What’s the “take-home message” for us? 

  • Unless you’re a food preservation food scientist, this isn’t the place to be creative and develop your own recipes.
  • Food bloggers could be a great source of safe recipes and a good way to teach—not only food preservation but also food safety in general.
  • The researchers’ recommendations suggest that one thing educators can do is reach out to bloggers (they called them digital food influencers) with information on food preservation and safety and encourage them to recommend USDA and NCHFP resources to their readers and followers to help reduce risk.

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

 

 

 

Getting to Know Barley

The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that all adults eat at least half their grains as whole grains – that’s at least 3 to 5 servings of whole grains every day. The average American eats less than one daily serving of whole grains, and some studies show that over 40% of us never eat any whole grains. So, I’ve been on a mission to try different whole grains to add variety to our meals.

One whole grain that tends to be forgotten by many is BARLEY.

As a kid, I remember loving those little white fluffy things floating in my canned vegetarian vegetable soup.  That’s the barley.  If you are like me, this is the extent of your experience with barley, you may be surprised to know that it is the world’s fourth most important cereal crop after wheat, rice, and corn.

Barley can be prepared in many ways in addition to soups and stews. It used as a hot side dish or served as a cold salad. Or eaten like oatmeal. Barley flour is used in bread, pancakes, muffins, and cookies. If you’ve never eaten barley plain, the flavor can be best described as “rich” with a mild sweetness.

Nutritionally ¾ cup cooked barley contains 160 calories, 8 grams fiber and 6 grams protein. It is an excellent source of manganese, selenium, and thiamin and a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and niacin. There has been enough research documenting barley’s role in protecting heart health that the U.S. FDA allows barley foods to claim that it reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.

I went looking for barley at my local store.  It’s in the section with the dry beans and rice. I had to look high up on the shelf and found “pearled barley.”  Barley has a particularly tough inedible hull that adheres to the grain kernel. This hull is difficult to remove without losing some of the bran. The easiest way to get this off is to scrape or “pearl” it. That’s why it’s called “pearled barley.”  This process does remove some of the bran. Thusly, “pearled” barley is not technically a whole grain.

I contacted Kelly Toups, Director of Nutrition at the Whole Grains Council about only being able to find “pearled” barley on the grocer’s shelves. She responded that this is not a big problem because barley is different than other grains because the fiber is distributed throughout the grain kernel, rather than being concentrated in the bran.  This means that even pearled barley has a rather impressive amount of fiber.  Barley has 17% fiber which is the highest of all the whole grains. Comparing it to other whole grain foods: brown rice contains 3.5% ?ber, corn about 7%, oats 10% and wheat about 12%.

Toups told me that “whole grain barley does offer higher levels of many essential nutrients when compared with pearled barley.  One 45-gram serving of hulled (whole grain) barley has approximately an additional gram of fiber and protein, and has about twice as much magnesium as pearled barley.”

If you want to get the entire whole grain goodness of barley look for hulled barley or hulless barley. If you can’t find it at your store’s whole-grain aisle, barley can be purchased online.

Tips for cooking barley:  combine one cup of dry uncooked barley with three cups of liquid. This will expand to about 3 ½ cups of cooked grain. Whole grain barley can take 45-60 minutes to cook when simmered slowly. It can be helpful to use a rice cooker since you can cook almost unattended.

Reference:  Oldways Whole Grain Council, https://wholegrainscouncil.org

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

 

J is for Jicama

Jicama is a fun vegetable that’s worth getting to know. It looks like a big flattened potato with brown bark-like skin.  The “j” in jicama is pronounced like an “h”– (HEE-kah-ma). It is native to Mexico and is sometimes called a Mexican potato, Mexican turnip or a yam bean.

Technically jicama is a legume and its large tuber root is eaten raw or cooked. Peel off the brown skin and inside you’ll find crispy juicy white flesh. Some people describe the flavor as a cross between an apple, a pear, and a water chestnut. It has a texture similar to a radish.

Jicama is frequently used raw because of its crisp texture and crunch.  Quite often recipes call for it to be shaved thin, grated or cut into “matchsticks.”  Two great things about jicama:  the white flesh doesn’t discolor and turn brown like potatoes and it tends to stay crispy after mixed with dressings and/or cooked.  A one-pound jicama yields about three cups of chopped shredded flesh.

Jicama is available year-round in the produce section of most supermarkets. Select jicama that is firm, unblemished with a slightly silky sheen and free of cracks and bruises.  Pick smaller vegetables, they tend to be sweeter and crisper.  Sometimes stores display jicama in the area of the produce section that are misted. But, this is not a good idea, when exposed to water jicama tends to mold and become soft. These are ones to avoid.  Jicama should be stored in a cool dry place. Once cut jicama should be stored in the refrigerator

Jicama does not contain any sodium, fat or cholesterol.  It’s a good source of fiber and an excellent source of vitamin C. One cup of sliced raw jicama contains about 50 calories.

Try it on your next vegetable platter, in a stir-fry or as a crunchy addition to a salad.

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

Got Gas?

Beans are frequently touted as a great source of low-fat protein along with fiber.  But, many people have an embarrassing problem with beans.  This is one of those topics people don’t talk about…..gas.

One specific sugar in beans —oligosaccharide—tends to be the culprit. It’s just not broken down and absorbed like other sugars.  When beans get into the digestive system this sugar starts to ferment—making gas.

There are a few things you can do to help reduce the gas:

  1. Easy does it. If adding beans or other high fiber foods to your diet start slowly. Let your body adjust slowly. Be sure to include beans on a regular basis, a couple of times a week at first and then more often.  The more you eat, the less gas will be a problem.  The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we eat 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups of legumes (beans and peas) each week.
  2. Soak well.  If using dried beans soak them for at least 48 hours. Change the water at least once during the soaking. Rinse well before cooking and use fresh water for cooking. Cook until very tender.
  3. Cook canned beans a little more, too. Rinse canned beans. This also helps to reduce the sodium.
  4. Use an over-the-counter enzyme supplement that can help break down the gas-producing sugars.
  5. Experiment with different types of beans, some people tend to react to different varieties.
  6. While there is no research to prove this works, some people swear that adding herbs and spices while cooking can help. Try a tablespoon of fennel, cumin, ginger, a Mexican spice called epazote or an Indian spice ajwain to a pot of beans.  Even if it doesn’t help with the gas problem, the bonus is….. you’ve tried a new flavor!
  7. Start the digestion in your mouth by chewing a lot. Slow down your eating and chew. This can help breakdown the carbohydrates.
  8. Drink plenty of water. This helps your digestive system handle the increased fiber. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest 25-38 grams of fiber per day for most adults. And research indicates that a high-fiber diet helps you have a healthier digestive tract, physical health, and even mental health.

One more bean tip:  many grandmothers used to put baking soda in their bean water while cooking—some saying this helps to reduce gas. While baking soda does help make the beans tender, especially if you have hard water, this comes with a cost. Adding baking soda causes the beans to lose some vitamins.

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

 

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