Welcome to my blog on healthy eating and food safety. I look forward to your comments and feedback regarding use of this tool to disseminate educational information. This blog will be updated on a regular basis.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Steaming Vegetables is a Healthy Preparation Method

Steaming Vegetables Is a Healthy Preparation Method
Cooking vegetables in water causes some of the nutrients to leach out into that same water. For example, boiled broccoli loses glucosinolate, the compound that may be responsible for its cancer-fighting properties. Steaming vegetables may help retain more nutrients. Steamed broccoli holds on to more glucosinolate than boiled or fried broccoli. This 2008 study published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has been followed up by a study conducted at the University of Illinois. Broccoli is an excellent source of sulforaphane which is a plant compound which has shown anti-cancer properties. For the sulforaphane to form, another compound must be present – myrosinase.   Research found that broccoli when steamed retained the myrosinase necessary to form the cancer-fight sulforaphane.  Boling and microwaving broccoli even for one minute destroyed the myrosinase.

 Here are some tips for easy and effective steaming. 

·         Cut the vegetables into uniform sizes so that they cook at roughly the same rate and are all done at the same time. You can mix vegetables, but be aware that more tender vegetables, like broccoli, will cook faster than denser vegetables, like carrots. If you want to steam mixed vegetables at the same time, add the longer-cooking veggies first and then the quicker-cooking veggies after a few minutes. You can also cut the denser vegetables slightly smaller so that they cook more quickly and finish at the same time as the rest of the vegetables.
·         Arrange the vegetables with the toughest, thickest parts in the middle where they will get more steam and heat.
·         Herbs, spices and garlic can be added to the water which will enhance flavor. Another option is to replace water with broth. 

No matter how you slice it, vegetables are good for you pretty much any way you prepare them, and most of us don’t eat enough of them.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Use Only Microwave Safe Containers When Cooking and Reheating Foods

Use Only Microwave Safe Containers When Cooking and Reheating Foods
The accessibility and convenience of microwave ovens make them a great choice for cooking and reheating food. Whether at home, work, school, college dorm, traveling in your camper or staying at a hotel, microwaves are usually readily available. With so many consumers utilizing microwaves it is important to use proper containers in the microwave.

Many food containers are not safe for use in a microwave oven. Manufacturers label safe cups, bowls and plates stating “microwave safe.” Containers that do not have this label should not be used in the microwave. If you have ever been surprised by how hot a plate or bowl can become after being removed from a microwave, you know not all containers distribute heat the same. Glass and ceramic containers, along with plastic utensils that are labeled “microwave safe” are good choices. Do not use glass or ceramic that contains a metal rim.
If you cannot find a label indicating the bowl or plate is microwave safe you can test it using these instructions:
1.       Place the empty container you want to test inside the microwave.
2.       Place a second container with one cup of tap water inside the microwave.
3.       Heat on high for one minute then carefully test the temperature of the empty container.
If the empty container is cool it is microwave safe; if it is slightly warm only use this container for reheating. If the container is hot it is not microwave safe and should not be used in the microwave.
Be sure to remove food stored in take-out containers, plastic cold-storage containers or on a polystyrene tray and transfer to a microwave safe container before reheating or cooking. Food packaging containers are not safe for use in a microwave as they were not designed for exposure to heat. It is not safe to heat food in plastic bags, brown paper bags, on paper towel, paper napkins or a colored paper plate. All of these items can emit chemicals that can migrate into food.
Microwaves provide a quick and convenient cooking option however food is only safe to eat if the food container used is designed specifically for heat. Consumers should always use safe microwave reheating information to ensure proper internal food temperatures to prevent “cold spots” in your food which are a haven for harmful bacteria.
Source: Michigan State University Extension

Monday, October 13, 2014

Veggie Chips

Veggie Chips
There are many new products on the market including an assortment of veggie chips.  While many of these new products are made with vegetables and a few flavorings, other products are potato- or corn-based with a few vegetables added in. 
Veggie chips are often a healthier option than regular chips.  Here are some tips when selecting veggie chips.

Look at the ingredient listing which is found below the Nutrition Facts label to determine the actual vegetable content.  Look for products that list vegetables as the first ingredient.  Ingredients are listed in descending order of weight in the product.  Also look for the percentage of vitamin A which is part of the Nutrition Facts label.  Many vegetables contain vitamin A and the percentage should be 25 percent of the Daily Value or greater.

Check the amount of fat in a serving which is also found on the Nutrition Facts label.  Many of these chips are processed with oil and contain a fair amount of fat.
Pay attention to the serving size.  While it can be easy to eat a significant amount of veggie chips, check the Nutrition Facts label to determine number of chips per serving.

Making veggie chips is easy.  Here is a recipe for making kale chips.
1 head of kale, washed and dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt    
1.       Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
2.       Remove ribs from kale and cut into 2 inch pieces.
3.       Place in bowl and toss with olive oil and sea salt.
4.       Bake until crisp. Turn leaves over 10 minutes and bake for 17 to 20 minutes total.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Harvesting Produce for Storage Success

Harvesting Produce for Storage Success
With the temperatures steadily dropping and frost on the roofs in the morning, it is reminding us that winter will soon arrive. Here are some tips for storing produce in preparation for the chilly months ahead.

Harvest fruits and vegetables at, or near, peak maturity.  Choose produce that is free from disease or insect damage. Harvest and handle produce carefully so it is not to bruised or cut.  Remember to leave a 1” stem on most vegetables to reduce water loss and spoilage. Choose types of produce, and varieties, suited for storage.

Do not wash potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, or garlic before storage. Leave a fine layer of soil on potatoes and leave skin on garlic and onion.  For longer storage, dip tomatoes (red or green),
winter squash, and pumpkin in a very dilute bleach solution, dry and store1½ teaspoon bleach per gallon of water

If you plan to use in garden storage, root crops such as beets, carrots, rutabagas, parsnips and turnips can be left in the garden into late fall and early winter.  Mulch heavily with straw to keep the ground from freezing and allow extended harvesting.  Harvest prior to a hard freeze.  Leave 1” of stem. Store at 32°‐40°F in a sealed bag with a few holes to help retain moisture.
Curing vegetables can improve storage.  Potatoes, onions, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and
winter squash (except acorn) benefit from postharvest curing.  Curing heals injuries and thickens the skin, reducing moisture loss and guarding against decay.

Curing Temperature
Storage After Curing
60-70 degrees F
35-45 degrees F
60-80 degrees F
32 degrees F
Sweet Potatoes
80-85 degrees F
55-60degrees F
Winter Squash
 uring Temp Humidity* Storage after Curing
Four categories of temperature and humidity (RH) define optimum storage conditions.
Warm and dry: 50‐60°F, 70% RH.  A basement corner can be excellent for storing pumpkins and
winter squash.
Cold and dry: 32‐40°F, 65% RH.  An extra refrigerator for garlic and onions.
Cool and moist: 40‐50°F, 90% RH.  Sealed bags in a ‘warm’ refrigerator.
Cold and moist:32‐40°F, 95% RH.  Sealed bags in a cold refrigerator.

 Source: Barbara Ingham, UW-Extension Food Safety Specialist

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

October is National Popcorn Poppin' Month

October is National Popcorn Poppin’ Month
October is National Popcorn Poppin’ Month, a harvest time celebration of one of America’s oldest snack foods. As farmers head into the fields to gather crops, families and friends gather to honor this perennially popular food.

Popcorn existed long before today’s dizzying array of snacks, tracing its roots back thousands of years. Yet, throughout the ages, this enduring fan favorite has remained relatively unchanged. Popcorn kernels are the seeds of a large grain plant known also as maize. Once the kernels are stripped from the cob and dried to 14% moisture, they can be popped and eaten.

This seed-to-snack simplicity is just part of the allure. Whole grain, naturally low in fat and calories, and gluten free, popcorn is a good fit for today’s health conscious consumer. Yet it’s the taste and versatility that continues to make this one popular snack food. Americans consume some 16 billion quarts of popcorn each year. That’s roughly 51 quarts per man, woman and child.
Here are some interesting facts about popcorn.
  • Compared to most snack foods, popcorn is low in calories. Air-popped popcorn has only 31 calories per cup. Oil-popped is only 55 per cup.
  • Popcorn is a whole grain. It is made up of three components: the germ, endosperm, and pericarp (also know as the hull).
  • Most U.S. popcorn is grown in the Midwest, primarily in Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri.
  • Most popcorn comes in two basic shapes when it's popped: snowflake and mushroom. Snowflake is used in movie theaters and ballparks because it looks and pops bigger. Mushroom is used for candy confections because it doesn't crumble.
  • There is no such thing as “hull-less” popcorn. All popcorn needs a hull in order to pop. Some varieties of popcorn have been bred so the hull shatters upon popping, making it appear to be hull-less.
Enjoy this great tasting low calorie (if butter is not added) whole grain snack.

Monday, October 6, 2014

CDC Studies Provide State-Specific Information on Adult Consumption of Sugar Sweetened Beverages

CDC Studies Provide State-Specific Information on Adult Consumption of

Sugar Sweetened Beverages
In two recently published studies, CDC researchers (for the first time) have analyzed state-specific data from the Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) on how often adults consume sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), specifically regular soda and fruit drink (not 100% juice).  SSBs are a major source of added sugars and have been linked as a contributor to obesity as well as other chronic health conditions. Researchers examined whether factors such as age, sex, and race/ethnicity, as well as behaviors were associated with drinking sugary beverages. The studies--one that is online in CDC’s Preventing Chronic Diseases Journal (PCD) and the other in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)--used data reported from 6 states with the 2011 BRFSS and reported from 18 states with the 2012 BRFSS, respectively. Both the 2011 and 2012 BRFSS included an Optional Module that states chose with two questions about SSB consumption. The questions allowed respondents to report on frequency of two different types of SSB intake—soda and fruit drinks (e.g., Kool-Aid™ and lemonade).
About the 2011 BRFSS Study published in PCD
Nearly 39,000 adults residing in 6 states (Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware, Hawaii, Minnesota, and New Jersey) were surveyed by telephone. Researchers were interested in how socio-demographic characteristics (age, sex, and race/ethnicity) and  respondents’ behavioral characteristics, such as whether or not they were physically active, ate fruits and vegetables, smoke, and drank alcohol were related to SSB intake. Almost 1 of 4 adults (24%) of adults reported drinking at least one of the two types of SSB daily. Those who drank SSBs one or more times per day were more likely to be:
  • Younger adults
  • Men
  • Non-Hispanic black adults
  • Adults with low income
  • Adults with low  education  
  • Adults who ate fruit less than once a day
  • Adults who were not physically active
  • Adults who currently smoked
Findings also showed that adults who reported drinking any alcohol drank sugar sweetened beverages one or more times per day less frequently.
About the 2012 BRFSS Study published in MMWR
In this study, 115,291 adults in 18 states were surveyed and researchers evaluated socio-demographic characteristics related to SSB intake (i.e., regular soda and fruit drinks). Among the 18 states, about 1of 4 adults reported SSB intake daily. Other findings from the study showed: 
  • The prevalence of daily SSB consumption among states ranged from 20.4%‒41.4%.
  • Mississippi (41.4%) and Tennessee (39.2%) had the highest prevalence of daily SSB consumption.  
  • The prevalence of daily regular soda consumption was the highest in Mississippi (32.4%) and Tennessee (30.2%). 
  • The prevalence of daily fruit drink consumption was the highest in Nevada (18.7%), Mississippi (17.0%), and Tennessee (16.5%). 
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends reducing foods and beverages with added sugars. Reducing SSB intake may help with reducing calories and the risk of chronic diseases prevalent among adults in the United States. People who want to reduce their daily added sugar intake could consider replacing these drinks with healthier options such as water.
The findings in these studies can be used by states to understand current SSB intake among adults. The optional module is available in the BRFSS for states to conduct surveillance of SSB intake.    
More Info   
·         CDC: Rethink Your Drink


Friday, October 3, 2014

Stay Safe-Check the Kitchen Dish Towels

Stay Safe – Check the Kitchen Dish Towels
 A new study suggests that if you are looking for contamination in your kitchen, you just might check those kitchen towels. A recent study published in the journal Food Protection Trends investigated the occurrence of bacteria in kitchen towels often used to dry dishes, hands, and other surfaces in the home kitchen.

Several studies have documented the common occurrence of large populations of fecal bacteria in kitchen sponges and clothes used when washing dishes by hand, where the moist environment and collected food residues create an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria.

In the August study, a total of 82 kitchen hand towels were collected from households in 5 major cities in the United States and Canada and the numbers of  total bacteria,fecal bacteria, and Escherichia coli (nonpathogenic, generic) in each towel were determined. Households that provided the towels answered a survey related to towel use and frequency of cleaning including: age of towel (in months), frequency of washing of towel in days per month, towel frequency of use, and the number of days since the towel was last washed.

All kitchen towels collected in the 5 cities had at least 1,000 bacteria per towel and some had 1,000,000,000 per towel. The overall average across the 82 kitchen towels was 100,000,000  per towel. Fecal bacteria were detected in 89.0% of towels and E. coli in 25.6% of towels.

The results show that kitchen towels can be a source of bacteria that can cross-contaminate otherwise clean dishes, hands, and surfaces.  Frequent cleaning is a must! The best choice for high-bacteria kitchen clean ups, such as wiping up after handling raw meat, fish, poultry or eggs, is to use a paper towel. If you don’t use paper towels for clean-ups, here are some kitchen safety tips:
If you use a kitchen towel, launder it after each meal.
  • If you can’t do laundry right away, remove the towel from the kitchen to a rack for drying, and then launder once you have enough for a load.
  • Use hot-water machine washing followed by machine drying to help reduce the number of bacteria harboring in your towel.
  • Keep one set of towels just for hand-drying in the kitchen, and another for drying dishes and counter-tops. Launder at the end of each day. Color-coating the towels, i.e. green ones for clean hands and red ones for kitchen surfaces, will help prevent cross contamination. And if you have young children, color-coding towels will make learning easier.
  • Don’t hand-dry dishes with a cloth towel. Allow dishes to drain in a drying rack, well separated to facilitate air movement.
Source: Barbara Ingham, UW-Extension Food Safety Specialist

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Apple Season Is Here

Apple Season Is Here
The apple crop in Wisconsin is ready for enjoyment.  If you are fortunate enough to have access to apples, here are some ways to enjoy them now or to preserve for the future.

Apple Butter
8 pounds apples (Jonathan, Winesap, Golden Delicious, McIntosh
2 cups cider
2 cups vinegar
2 ¼ cups white sugar
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1.      Wash, remove stems, quarter and core fruit. Cook slowly in cider and vinegar until soft. Press fruit through a colander, food mill, or strainer.
2.      Cook fruit pulp with sugar and spices, stirring frequently.  To test for doneness, remove a spoonful and hold it away from the steam for two minutes.  It is done if the butter remains mounded on the spoon.  Another way to determine when the butter is cooked adequately is to spoon a small quantity onto a plate.  When a rim of liquid does not separate around the edge of the butter it is done. 
3.      Sterilize clean half-pint and pint jars by covering with water and boiling for 10 minutes.  Remove and drain hot sterilized jars.  Fill hot jars with hot fruit butter, leaving ¼ inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles, wipe jar rims and adjust lids. 
4.      Process in water bath canner; five minutes for half-pints and pints.

Yield: 8 to 9 pints
Source: making Jams, Jellies & Fruit Preserves, Wisconsin Safe Food Preservation Series, UW-Extension

Select apples that are sweet, juicy and crisp.  For a tart flavor, add 1 to 2 pounds of tart apples to each 3 pounds of sweeter fruit.  Wash, peel and core apples.  To prevent browning, slice apples into an antioxidant solution  including 1)crush three vitamin C tablets and dissolve in one quart of water 2) lemon juice and water (use 3 tablespoons per quart of water), or FruitFresh®. 

Drain slices and place into an 8- to 10-quart kettle. Add ½ cup water. Heat quickly until tender, 5 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.  Press through a sieve or food mill, or skip the pressing step if you desire chunk-style sauce. If desired, add 1/8 cup sugar per quart of sauce. Taste and add more if preferred. Reheat sauce to boiling. Pack hot sauce into clean, hot jars leaving ½-inch headspace.  Remove bubbles and wipe jar rims clean. Adjust lids. Process in a boiling water canner: 15 minutes for pints, 20 minutes for quarts.
Source: Canning Fruits Safely, Wisconsin Safe Food Preservation Series, UW-Extension

Drying Apples
Select mature, firm apples. Wash well. Pare and core. Cut into rings or slices 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. Dip in ascorbic acid or other anti-darkening solution for 10 minutes. Remove from solution and drain well.  Arrange in single layer on trays.  Place in food dehydrator and set on fruit/vegetable setting. Dry until soft, pliable, and leathery; no moist area in center when cut (6-8 hours).

Monday, September 29, 2014

If You Can't "Beet" Them, Then Enjoy Them

If You Can’t “Beet” Them, Then Enjoy Them
Beets are a fall vegetable that often get upstaged by other more prominent vegetables like squash, sweet potatoes and carrots. 

 Beets are good sources of nutrients, vitamins C and K, fiber and iron.  They are also a good source of betaines and betalains, compounds that can help reduce inflammation and keep your liver healthy.

 Here are some ways to make the most of beets’ health benefits.
·         Roasting beets with the skins on preserves their nutrients and brings out their sweet side.  Don’t forget the antioxidant-rich edible leaves and stems: sauté with minced garlic and olive oil until wilted and tender. 
·         Beets can be used to make juice.  For a healthy juice blend, combine one or two small beets with carrots and apples.
·         Raw, grated beets add crunch to a salad.  Sprinkle with walnuts and Parmesan or goat cheese to compliment beet’s flavor.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Scent-sational Cinnamon

Scent-sational Cinnamon 
In the United States, the products cassia and cinnamon are allowed to appear on labels as “cinnamon.”  Cassia is harvested from the cassia tree.  Cassia has a slight bittersweet flavor and is darker reddish-brown in color.  It is also less expensive than cinnamon. Cinnamon has a sweet, warm and woodsy fragrance.  It is light brown or tan in color.    

Cinnamon sticks are about three-quarters of an inch thick with many concentric, paper-thin rings.  Cassia is also rolled into quills, but the individual layers are noticeably thinker and usually fewer.

Cinnamon is a great addition to many foods.  Here are some ways to use this scent-sational product.

·         Add cinnamon to pancake and quick bread batter.  I add cinnamon to cookies made with dried fruit and oatmeal.
·         Sprinkle cinnamon on oatmeal.
·         I like to roll out yeast bread dough into a rectangle and brush with a little melted butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and walnuts. Roll the dough from the short end, place in 8 inch x 4 inch  bread pan, let rise until dough is one inch above top edge of pan and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 27 to 30 minutes or until top of loaf is golden brown.
·         I make my own granola and add cinnamon to the recipe.
·          Many food preservation recipes call for cinnamon or cinnamon sticks.
·         Cinnamon is an ingredient in Indian curries. 

Cinnamon should smell sweet.  If it does not, toss.  Sticks last up to one year and ground cinnamon for six months.    

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Study: Young People can Benefit from More Information About Energy Drinks

Study: Young People can Benefit from More Information About Energy Drinks
For most students, the school year includes some late nights writing papers, studying for exams or socializing with friends. But popular energy drinks used by many teens and young people to stay awake might be setting the stage for potential adverse health effects, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Energy drinks are growing in popularity among young people with about half of the energy drink market consisting of adolescents and young adults. When used in excess, these drinks can cause health impacts such as elevated blood pressure, dehydration and difficulty sleeping.

Energy drinks that contain caffeine, sugars and other substances first made their appearance in the U.S. in 1997. Researchers from the CDC report that since their introduction, sales of the drinks have boomed. In 2011 alone, about half of all college students consumed energy drinks at least once a month, contributing to $9 billion in the drinks’ sales.

To learn more about teens’ perceptions of energy drinks, CDC researchers used data from a 2011 survey that looked at the health beliefs and behaviors of 779 young people between the ages of 12 and 17. The study, “Perceptions About Energy Drinks Are Associated with Energy Drink Intake Among US Youth,” (found online at http://ajhpcontents.org/doi/abs/10.4278/ajhp.130820-QUAN-435) measured energy drink consumption and the participants’ perceptions about energy drinks.
--Overall, eight percent of young people drank energy drinks weekly. Twenty percent wrongly perceived that energy drinks are safe for teens, and 13 percent wrongly perceived that energy drinks are a type of sports drink.
--Factors that went along with energy drink use among young people included alcohol use, increased physical activity, less fruit and vegetable consumption, and increased fast food consumption.
--Participants who believed that energy drinks were safe for teens were more likely to be male, drink alcohol, use marijuana and drink non-diet soda.
The study results suggest that youth who believe energy drinks are safe are more likely to participate in unhealthy behaviors—possibly due to a lack or awareness or education, peer influence or risk-taking behavior.
Because of their potential harmful effects, it’s important for us to know how young people perceive the health risks of energy drinks. This study’s findings suggest that young people may need more information to make healthier choices.
Source: Beth Olson, Nutritional Sciences Specialist,University of Wisconsin-Extension.