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 12, 2015

Making Wise Choices When Eating at Italian Restaurants

Making Wise Choices When Eating At Italian Restaurants
Consumption of food prepared away from home plays an increasingly large role in the American diet. In 1970, 25.9 percent of all food spending was on food away from home; by 2012, that share rose to its highest level of 43.1 percent. A number of factors contributed to the trend of increased dining out since the 1970s, including a larger share of women employed outside the home, more two-earner households, higher incomes, more affordable and convenient fast food outlets, increased advertising and promotion by large foodservice chains, and the smaller size of U.S. households. (Source: USDA Economic Research Service)

Ethnic restaurants have increased in popularity due to the great flavors and wonderful dishes they serve. Italian restaurants area popular choice.  Here are some tips for making wise choices.
·       Make marinara sauce or light tomato sauce your go-to salad.  White sauces can have lots of calories.
·       Order a garden salad to enjoy prior to consuming the pasta entrĂ©e.
·       Limit the amount of bread consumed. It is easy to over eat bread.
·       Bacon, cheese and olives can add sodium and calories to entrees.
·       Pay attention to the number of glasses of wine consumed. The calories in alcohol can add up.
·       Use red pepper flakes to add more flavor without adding calories.   

Friday, October 9, 2015

Foods Labeled "Natural"

Foods Labeled “Natural”
Americans are looking for foods that will allow them to eat healthier.  According to a Nielsen Healthy Eating report, the term natural helped sell $40.7 billion of food products in 2014. 

As defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a natural food is one that does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.  Due to this definition, the word “natural” can mean a variety of things. Instead of having an exact definition for the term, the FDA has set guidelines for its use. 

If you are uncertain on whether or not the food is considered “natural” check the ingredient listing. The food should not contain:
·       Hydrogenated oils
·       High-fructose corn syrup
·       Monosodium glutamate
·       Artificial sweeteners
·       Preservatives

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

October: National Cranberry Month

October: National Cranberry Month
October is National Cranberry Month, and you can add fresh cranberries to breakfast breads, toss dried cranberries into a salad, or mix up a refreshing beverage with one of the many forms of cranberry juice.

Nutrition and health: Cranberries are fat-free, cholesterol-free, sodium-free, and a good source of Vitamin C and fiber. Cranberries are thought to provide health benefits because of their flavonoid and phytonutrient content.

Forms and availability: the peak harvest season for fresh cranberries is October through December.

Selection and Storage tips: Choose fresh cranberries that are full, plump, firm and dark red or yellowish-red. Avoid cranberries that are soft, shriveled, or have brown spots. Fresh cranberries should be stored in the refrigerator, preferably in a crisper for about three to four weeks. Cranberries freeze very well, either whole or sliced. When sealed in an airtight container, frozen cranberries will keep for up to nine months.

Getting culinary with cranberries:  cranberries are versatile and can be combined with many other flavors. Try mixing cranberry juice with other juices such as apple, orange or grape. Dried cranberries can be added to nuts, trail mix, granola, oatmeal, or even chicken salad. Fresh or dried cranberries work well in quick breads such as muffins, sweet breads, and yeast breads. These berries also work well in pies, cobblers, chutneys, salsas and relishes.

Check out the U.S. Cranberry Marketing Committee website at www.uscranberries.com, which includes many healthy cranberry recipes.

Source: Lisa Franzen-Castle, RD, PhD, Nutrition Specialist University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension

Monday, October 5, 2015

Making Jerky

Making Jerky
Jerky is a lightweight, dried meat product that is a handy food. It is an item often made in the fall.. Jerky can be made from almost any lean meat, including beef, pork, venison or smoked turkey breast. (Raw poultry is generally not recommended for use in making jerky because of the texture and flavor of the finished product.

General Tips for Safe Food Handling
The following general tips for safe handling are based on USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline recommendations.
·       Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meats.
·       Use clean equipment and utensils.
·       Keep meat and poultry refrigerated at 40° F or below. Use ground beef and poultry within 2 days, red meats within 3 to 5 days or freeze for later use.
·       Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter.
·       Marinate meat in the refrigerator. Do not save and re-use marinade.

When preparing jerky from wild game, it is important to remember that the wound location and skill of the hunter can affect the safety or the meat. If the animal is wounded in such a way that the contents of its gut come in contact with the meat or the hunter’s hands while dressing the meat, fecal bacteria can contaminate the meat. It is best to avoid making jerky from this meat and use it only in ways that it will be thoroughly cooked. Deer carcasses should be rapidly chilled to avoid bacterial growth. The risk of foodborne illness from home-dried jerky can be decreased by allowing the internal temperature of the meat to reach 160°F, but in such a way as to prevent case hardening. Two methods can be used: heating meat strips in marinade before drying or heating the dried jerky strips in an oven after the drying process is completed. Directions for both methods will be presented here. When the strips are heated in a marinade before drying, drying times will be reduced. Color and texture will differ from traditional jerky.

Preparing the Meat
Partially freeze meat to make slicing easier. The thickness of the meat strips will make a difference in the safety of the methods recommended in this book. Slice meat no thicker than ¼-inch. Trim and discard all fat from meat because it becomes rancid quickly. If a chewy jerky is desired, slice with the grain. Slice across the grain if a tenderer, brittle jerky is preferred. A tenderizer can be used according to package directions, if desired. The meat can be marinated for flavor and tenderness. Marinade recipes may include oil, salt, spices and acid ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, teriyaki, or soy sauce or wine.

Jerky Marinade* for 1.5 to 2 pounds lean meat (beef, pork, venison)
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon each of pepper and garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon hickory smoke-flavored salt

Combine all ingredients. Place strips of meat in a shallow pan and cover with marinade. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or overnight. Products marinated for several hours may be more salty than some people prefer. If you choose to heat the meat prior to drying to decrease the risk of foodborne illness, do so at the end of the marination time. To heat, bring the strips and marinade to a boil and boil 5 minutes before draining and drying. If strips are more than ¼ inch thick, the length of time may need to be increased. If possible, check the temperature of several strips with a metal stem-type thermometer to determine that 160°F has been reached.  

Drying the Meat
Remove meat strips from the marinade and drain on clean, absorbent towels. Arrange strips on dehydrator trays or cake racks placed on baking sheets for oven drying. Place the slices close together, but not touching or overlapping. Place the racks in a dehydrator or oven preheated to 140°F Dry until a test piece cracks but does not break when it is bent (10 to 24 hours for samples not heated in marinade). Samples heated in marinade will dry faster. Begin checking samples after 3 hours. Once drying is completed, pat off any beads of oil with clean, absorbent towels and cool. Remove strips from the racks. Cool. Package in glass jars or heavy plastic food storage bags.

If the strips were not heated in marinade prior to drying, they can be heated in an oven after drying as an added safety measure. Place strips on a baking sheet, close together, but not touching or overlapping. For strips originally cut ¼ inch thick or less, heat 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 275°F. (Thicker strips may require longer heating to reach 160°F.)

Making Jerky from Ground Meat
Jerky can be made from ground meat using special presses to form or shape the product. Disease-causing microorganisms are more difficult to eliminate in ground meat than in whole meat strips. If ground meat is used, follow the general tips for safe handling tips listed previously. Be sure to follow the dehydrator manufacturer’s directions carefully when heating the product at the end of drying time. Again, an internal temperature of 160°F is necessary to eliminate disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7, if present.  

Storing the Jerky
Properly dried jerky will keep at room temperature 2 weeks in a sealed container. For best results, to increase shelf life and maintain best flavor and quality, refrigerate or freeze jerky.

Reprinted with permission from the University of Georgia.  Harrison, Judy A. and Mark A. Harrison (2003). Preparing Safer Jerky . Athens, GA: University of Georgia, Cooperative Extension Service.

Friday, October 2, 2015

October is National Apple Month

October is National Apple Month
Apples not only taste great but they also provide essential vitamins, minerals and fiber that help to protect from chronic diseases

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we eat more fruits and veggies than any other food group − for adults, that´s 3½ to 6½ cups (7 to 13 servings) daily for better health. At least 2 of those 3½ to 6½ cups of fruits and veggies should be fruit.

So what equals one cup of apples? 1 small apple
½ large apple
1 cup sliced, raw or cooked apples
½ cup of dried apples
1 cup of 100% apple juice or cider
1 cup of applesauce

Nearly 100 varieties are grown commercially in the United States, but a total of 15 popular varieties account for almost 90 percent of production:
Not sure which variety is best used where? Check out our downloadable apple variety guide.

Source: US Apple Association

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Eating Out at Mexican Restaurants

Eating Out at Mexican Restaurants
There has been a proliferation of ethnic restaurants opening in our community.  It is fun to try the many entrees that are being offered.   While many of these eating establishments offer healthy options, there are some items that have lots of calories.  Here are some tips for making wise choices when eating at Mexican restaurants.     

·       Do not over consume the chips.  It is easy to eat a basket of chips which can result in consuming lots of extra calories.
·       Choose grilled items when possible.  Grilled meat and vegetables will have fewer calories than foods that are deep fat fried.
·       Take advantage of ordering a la carte.  This can reduce the expectation of needing to eat all of the food that comes with a dinner selection.
·       Drink wisely.  A margarita has a lot of sugar and calories.
·       Skip the fried tortilla shells and fried strips that often come with salads. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Resources for Home Food Freezing of Produce

Resources for Home Food Freezing of Produce
Freezing is the easiest, most convenient, and least time-consuming method of preserving foods. Adding these to the frozen bounty of the past fall's harvest makes for tightly packed freezers. You can freeze almost any foods and a list of foods and freezing instructions can be found here: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze.html. For a table of foods that don't freeze well see: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze/dont_freeze_foods.html.
Freezing to fend off food spoilage
Food spoilage is caused by microorganisms, chemicals, and enzymes. Freezing foods to 0 degrees F. is recommended for best quality.
o   Freezing stops the growth of microorganisms; however, it does not sterilize foods or destroy the organisms that cause spoilage. A few organisms may die, but once thawed to warmer temperatures, these organisms can quickly multiply.
o   Chemical changes affect quality or cause spoilage in frozen foods. One major chemical reaction is oxidation. If air is left in contact with the frozen food oxidation will occur even in the freezer. An example is the oxidation of fats, also called rancidity.
o   Enzymes are naturally present in foods and their activity can lead to the deterioration of food quality. Enzymes present in animal foods, vegetables and fruit promote chemical reactions, such as ripening. Freezing only slows the enzyme activity that takes place in foods. It does not halt these reactions which continue after harvesting. Enzyme activity does not harm frozen meats or fish, but browning can occur in fruits while they are being frozen or thawed.  
Blanching vegetables before freezing inactivates the enzymes. During blanching, the vegetable is exposed to boiling water or steam for a brief period. The vegetable is then rapidly cooled in ice water to prevent cooking. Following the recommended times for blanching each vegetable is important. Over-blanching results in a cooked product and loss of flavor, color, and nutrients. Under-blanching stimulates enzyme activity and is worse than no blanching at all.  
Chemical Treatment of Fruits
Fruits may also be steamed or cooked before freezing, but are more commonly treated with ascorbic acid to inactivate enzymes responsible for browning. See freezing recommendations for individual foods for specific recommended ascorbic acid usage: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze.html and http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_freeze_fruit.pdf for more information.
Packing and Packaging
Packing methods include dry packs, syrup packs, sugar packs, or possibly crushed or cooked packs. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Pectin or artificial sweeteners are offered as options for specific fruits. See freezing recommendations for individual foods for specific recommended packs: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze.html or http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/uga/uga_freeze_fruit.pdf or http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/uga/uga_freeze_veg.pdf for more information.
Good packaging will help prevent air from entering the container and moisture loss. Severe moisture loss, or ice crystals evaporating from the surface of a product, produces freezer burn -- a grainy, brownish or white surface where the tissues have become dry and tough. Freezer-burned food is likely to develop off flavors, but it will not cause illness. Packaging in air-tight rigid containers or heavyweight, moisture-resistant wrap will prevent freezer burn. See: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/freeze/containers.html for more specifics.
Safe Defrosting
Never defrost foods on the kitchen counter, in a garage, basement, car, dishwasher or outdoors. These methods can leave your foods unsafe to eat. There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, in the microwave immediately before cooking, or in running cold water for very short periods of time. Foods thawed in the microwave or by the running cold water method should be cooked thoroughly immediately after thawing occurs. 
Using and Cooking Frozen Foods
Frozen fruits are often eaten without cooking. Many are best if eaten while they still contain a few ice crystals. Vegetables may be cooked after thawing or while still frozen. Raw or cooked meat, poultry or casseroles can be cooked or reheated from the frozen state. However, it will take approximately one and a half times the usual cooking time for food that has been thawed. Always cook foods to the recommended internal temperature using a food thermometer.

The original version of this page written by Brian A. Nummer, Ph.D., National Center for Home Food Preservation, 2004. Revised November 2012 by Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D. and Kasey Christian, M.Ed.


Friday, September 25, 2015

CDC's 2014 State Maps Detailing the Prevalence of Adults with Obesity

CDC’S 2014 State Maps Detailing the Prevalence of Adults with Obesity
Today, the CDC Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity released its 2014 state- and territory-specific data on the percentage of adults with obesity using self-reported information from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). New adult obesity prevalence maps are available online at www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html. This new data shows that the proportion of adults in the United States with obesity remained high in 2014, with estimates across states/territories ranging from 21.3% in Colorado to 35.9% in Arkansas.
Obesity continues to be a common, serious, and costly public health problem. Findings from the 2014 BRFSS include the following: 
  • No state had less than 20% of adults with obesity.
  • Nineteen states had 30% to less than 35% of adults with obesity. 
  • Three states—Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia—had 35% or more of adults with obesity.
  • The Midwest had the highest percentage of adults with obesity (30.7%), followed by the South (30.6%), the Northeast (27.3%), and the West (25.7%).
In addition, for the second year, maps of adult obesity by race/ethnicity have been released by CDC in which 2012-2014 data is combined. These maps highlight disparities in the epidemic. Combining data from 2012 to 2014:
  • Non-Hispanic blacks had the highest prevalence of self-reported obesity (38.1 percent), followed by Hispanics (31.3 percent), and non-Hispanic whites (27.1 percent).
  • In 33 states, at least 35% of the Non-Hispanic black adult population has obesity in contrast to only one state with at least 35% of the Non-Hispanic white adult population with obesity.
BRFSS is the nation's state-based data tracking system that collects self-reported information (through telephone surveys) from U.S. residents about their health-related behaviors, chronic health conditions, and use of preventive services.  BRFSS collects data in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and select U.S. territories.  
BRFSS is only one of several data sets that allows obesity in the United States to be monitored. Data from the BRFSS, as well as from other data sets, including the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in which weight and height are measured, indicate that obesity continues to be a major public health problem.
There are several ways organizations can create a supportive environment to promote healthy living behaviors that prevent obesity: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/strategies/index.html
 More CDC Resources: 
September 21, 2015

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Resource of the Month

Resource of the Month    
September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.
Set a good example for children with these MyPlate tips
available in English and Spanish.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Whole Grains Month

Whole Grains Month
Help others eat more whole grains and purchase and store whole-grain foods
with MyPlate tips. Suggest using a whole-grain pasta instead of white pasta -
and share the recipe for Spaghetti with Quick Meat Sauce!

Friday, September 18, 2015

National Mushroom Month

National Mushroom Month
Mushroom and onion risotto
 Search What’s Cooking: USDA Mixing Bowl for recipe ideas, like Caramelized Mushroom and Vidalia Onion Risotto. Additional resources available here!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Freezing Peppers

Freezing Peppers
Peppers are ripening quickly in garden.  Below are steps for freezing peppers. 
Bell or Sweet Peppers (Green, Red, Yellow, Orange, Purple)
Select crisp, tender peppers.
1.       Wash.
2.       Cut out stems and cut peppers in half.
3.       Remove seeds and membrane — save time by using a melon baller or the tip of a spoon to scrape out seeds and membrane.
4.       Cut peppers into strips, dice or slice, depending on how you plan to use them.
5.       Freeze peppers in a single layer on a cookie sheet with sides, about an hour or longer until frozen. This method is often referred to as “tray freezing.”
6.       Transfer to a “freezer” bag when frozen, excluding as much air as possible from the bag. The peppers will remain separated for ease of use in measuring out for recipes.
7.       Pour out the amount of frozen peppers needed, reseal the bag and return to the freezer.
Hot Peppers (including Jalapeno Peppers)
Wash and stem hot peppers. Package, leaving no headspace.  Seal and freeze. It is not necessary to cut or chop hot peppers before freezing. Caution: The National Center for Home Food Preservation warns, “Wear plastic or rubber gloves and do not touch your face while handling or cutting hot peppers. If you do not wear gloves, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face or eyes.” HOT TIP: If your mouth is burning from eating hot peppers, help put out the fire with milk and other dairy products.
Storage Time
To extend the time frozen foods maintain good quality, package foods in material intended for freezing and keep the temperature of the freezer at 0 degrees F or below. It is generally recommended frozen vegetables be eaten within about 8 months for best quality.
 Cook It Quick, University of Nebraska Extension

Monday, September 14, 2015

Art in the Garden and Farm to School Month!

Art in the Garden and Farm to School Month!
Check out the September newsletter from the Wisconsin School Garden Initiative - resources and stories all about Art in the Garden and Farm to School Month!  Direct link: http://eepurl.com/bx1Y-9

Friday, September 11, 2015

Harvest Time Apple Relish

Harvest Time Apple Relish
With the availability of apples this fall, this is a great recipe to make.
·       8 pounds apples (crisp cooking variety such as Honey Crisp, Cameo, or Pink Lady)
·       3 cups distilled white vinegar (5%)
·       2½ cups sugar
·       2 cups water
·       2 teaspoons ground cloves
·       8 pieces stick cinnamon (3 inches each)
·       1 tablespoon ground allspice
·       4 teaspoons ground ginger
·       4 tablespoons (¼ cup) finely chopped red Serrano pepper (about 4-6 peppers as purchased)
Yield: About 7 to 8 pint jars

Caution: Wear plastic or rubber gloves and do not touch your face while handling or cutting hot peppers. If you do not wear gloves, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face or eyes.

1. Wash and rinse pint or half-pint canning jars; keep hot until ready to fill. Prepare lids and ring bands according to manufacturer’s directions.

2. Rinse apples well, peel if desired for best quality, and core. Immerse prepared apples in a solution of 1 teaspoon ascorbic acid and 4 quarts of water to prevent browning. Coarsely shred with food processor or dice by hand and return to ascorbic acid bath as you work.

3. Rinse peppers and remove stem ends; trim to remove seeds then finely chop.

4. Combine vinegar, sugar, water, cloves, cinnamon sticks, allspice, ginger and red pepper. Heat while stirring to dissolve sugar; bring to a boil.

5. Drain apples and add to hot syrup. Bring back to a boil. Boil gently 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until apples are mostly translucent. Turn off heat. Remove cinnamon sticks from relish mixture and place one piece in each jar.

6. Fill hot fruit with syrup into hot jars, leaving ½-inch headspace, making sure fruit is completely covered with syrup. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel. Apply and adjust prepared canning lids.

7. Process in a boiling water canner according to the recommendations in
Table 1. Let cool, undisturbed, 12 to 24 hours and check for seals.

Table 1. Recommended process time for Harvest Time Apple Relish in a boiling-water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack
Jar Size
0 - 1,000 ft
1,001 - 6,000 ft
Above 6,000 ft
Pints or Half-pints
10 min

Notes: Peeling apples is preferred for quality. Refrigerate any leftover relish from filling jars and enjoy freshly made! Refrigerate the canned relish once jars are opened for use.

Developed at The University of Georgia, Athens. Released by Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D., Department of Foods and Nutrition, College of Family and Consumer Sciences. April 2015.