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.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Using A Slow Cookery (Crock Pot) Safely

Using A Slow Cookery (Crock Pot) Safely
A slow cooker (crock pot) cooks food slowly at a low temperature, 170 degrees F to 280 degrees F, allowing meat and dry beans to soften and flavors to develop.

Safety is maintained by:
Direct heat source
Lengthy cooking time
STEAM! (moist heat) 

Other key steps to safety include:
Keep perishable food cold until placed in the cooker (don’t allow bacteria to get a ‘head start’ during the first few hours of cooking.)
Thaw ingredients before putting into the slow cooker.
Don’t overfill the cooker. Overfilling may not allow the lid to fit tightly, sealing in heat. 

Is it necessary to add liquid? Liquid is necessary to effectively (and safely) cook meat. Whole chicken needs very little added moisture, cuts of meat like beef benefit from enough added liquid to cover the bottom of the cooker. Combination dishes like soups and casserole don’t need extra added liquid. 

 What temperature is best? It’s best to cook meat dishes on high for 1 hour. However, if you are going out, then you can safely cook on low for the entire day. The most important practice: Don’t open the cooker, especially early in the process. If you will be gone all day, consider investing in a pot that keeps food warm. 

 What about leftovers? Leftovers should never be reheated in a slow cooker. Food may be fully cooked and then put into a preheated cooker or roaster to keep hot.  

More slow cooker information: www.foodsafety.wisc.edu A-Z S=Slow Cooker

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October 29 is Oatmeal Day

October 29 is Oatmeal Day

I gave a presentation recently on the importance of whole grain foods.  One of the items I demonstrated was how to make instant oatmeal packets. Oatmeal makes a great hot breakfast or a quick snack. Children love their own flavored packets of oatmeal.  
I like the concept as there is minimal amount of sugar in each packet and this is an easy way to prepare and enjoy oatmeal. So in honor of Oatmeal Day, make some instant oatmeal packets at home and enjoy.     
For each packet you will need:
• A plastic snack or sandwich bag • Dash of salt, optional
• ½ cup quick oats • Other optional ingredients, as desired
Put dry oatmeal into bag. Add dash of salt and other optional ingredients, as desired.
Close bag and store for future use.
To Use: Empty packet into a microwave safe bowl. Stir in 1-cup water or milk.
Microwave on HIGH 2½ to 3 minutes; stir before serving.
Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal — To each packet, add 1 teaspoon or more of sugar, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and 1 – 2 Tablespoons chopped, dried apples
Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal — To each packet, add a packed Tablespoon brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and 1 – 2 Tablespoons raisins
Cinnamon-Spice Oatmeal — To each packet, add 1 teaspoon or more sugar, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and a scant 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg.
Cocoa Oatmeal — Add 1 teaspoon baking cocoa and 1 teaspoon sugar to each packet or 2 teaspoons ‘quick-type’ chocolate drink powder
Sweetened Oatmeal — Add 1 teaspoon sugar or 1 Tablespoon packed brown sugar to each packet
Other optional ingredients: dried banana chips, small pieces of walnuts or almonds, dried cranberries, other dried fruits.
Adapted from January 2001 Food, Fun and Fitness Newsletter, by Jan Temple, ISU Extension

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fall Vegetables

Fall Vegetables
Fall vegetables taste great and offer significant nutritional value.  These vegetables are often good sources of vitamin A, vitamin C and folate.  Below is a great recipe that tastes good and is easy to make.  Enjoy those fall vegetables.
Rustic Fall Soup
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium winter squash, peeled and diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
1/2 cup orzo
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1.       In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the butter or oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until fragrant and translucent. Add the garlic and saute until golden brown.  
2.       Add the winter squash, zucchini, sweet potato, orzo, canned tomatoes, thyme, rosemary, and broth. Simmer until the vegetables are soft and cooked through, about 30 minutes.
3.       Season the soup with salt, and black pepper, to taste. Serve with sliced crusty bread.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cranberries Pack Nutrition Punch

Cranberries Pack Nutrition Punch
Cranberries are heading to supermarkets all across the country.  Wisconsin is the nation’s leading producer of cranberries, harvesting more than 60 percent of the country’s crop. The little red berry, Wisconsin’s official state fruit, is the state’s number one fruit crop, both in size and economic value.

The cranberry, once called “crane berry” by settlers because of its blossom’s resemblance to the sandhill crane, was first harvested in Wisconsin around 1860 by Edward Sacket in Berlin, Wisconsin. Today, more than 250 growers produce cranberries throughout central and northern Wisconsin.

Cranberries pack a powerful – and healthy – punch! Studies show that the tart, red berry is a unique, good-for-you fruit that offers a wide variety of health benefits. Not only are cranberries a healthy, low-calorie snack, but they can also play a significant role in preventing urinary tract infections, reducing the risk of gum disease and much more.
Positively Good For You
·         Cranberries and cranberry products contain significant amounts of antioxidants that may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases.
·         Cranberries may be beneficial in the prevention of ulcers, which are linked to stomach cancer and acid reflux disease.
·         Cranberries contain hippuric acid, which has antibacterial effects on the body, as well as natural antibiotic ingredients
The cranberry has moved beyond the Thanksgiving table to become a favorite food year-round. Sweetened-dried cranberries are finding their way into everything from summer salads to trail mix and cookies, and cranberry juices and sauces come in more varieties now than ever before!
Source: Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart

Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart
Done Versus Safe: What You Need to Know Webster's Dictionary defines "doneness" as the condition of being cooked to the desired degree. This includes subjective qualities, like a food's appearance, texture, and optimum flavor.

But whether a food is cooked to a "safe" degree is another story. The standard that ensures "safety" is not subjective at all. It's a simple matter of cooking food until the internal temperature reaches the level that ensures destruction of any potential pathogens, as measured with a food thermometer.

Visual signs of doneness should only be taken into consideration after the food has reached a safe temperature. And if you're thinking about leaving the food thermometer in the drawer, consider this: According to USDA research, 1 out of every 4 hamburgers turns brown before it reaches a safe internal temperature!

Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart

Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures
Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb
Turkey, Chicken
Fresh Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb
Steaks, roasts, chops
145 *
Fresh (raw)
145 *
Precooked (to reheat)
* as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
Chicken and Turkey, whole
Poultry pieces
Duck & Goose
Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird)
Eggs and Egg Dishes
Cook until yolk and white are firm
Egg dishes
Leftovers and Casseroles

 Source: USDA Kitchen Companion: Your Safe Food Handbook

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.