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.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter Egg Safety

Easter Egg Safety
  • Use eggs that have been refrigerated, and discard eggs that are cracked or dirty
  • Perfect hard boiled eggs.  Place cold eggs in a single layer in a saucepan, covered with 1-inch of cold water.  Cover the pan and bring water to a rapid boil.  Remove pan from heat (keep covered) and let stand for 15 minutes.  Immediately run cold water over the eggs.  When the eggs are cool enough to handle, place them in an uncovered container in the refrigerator where they can air-dry.
  • Use food-grade dyes for decorating:  commercial egg dyes, liquid food coloring, and fruit-drink powders.
  • Keep hard-cooked Easter eggs refrigerated.
  • Hide the eggs in places that are protected from dirt, pets and other potential sources of bacteria.
  • Remember the 2-hour rule, and make sure the "found" eggs are back in therefrigerator or consumed within two hours.
  • Enjoy hard boiled eggs for one week after cooking.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cooking Ham

Cooking Ham
With Easter quickly approaching, you may choose to serve ham.  Here is some information from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection website about cooking a ham.
Cooking or Reheating Hams
Both whole or half, cooked, vacuum-packaged hams packaged in federally inspected plants and canned hams can be eaten cold, right out of the package.

However, if you want to reheat these cooked hams, set the oven no lower than 325 °F and heat to an internal temperature of 140 °F as measured with a food thermometer.

Unpackaged, cooked ham is potentially contaminated with pathogens. For cooked hams that have been repackaged in any other location outside the processing plant or for leftover cooked ham, heat to 165 °F.
Spiral-cut cooked hams are also safe to eat cold. The unique slicing method, invented in 1957, reduces carving problems. These hams are best served cold because heating sliced whole or half hams can dry out the meat and cause the glaze to melt and run off the meat. If reheating is desired, hams that were packaged in processing plants under USDA inspection must be heated to 140 °F as measured with a food thermometer (165 °F for leftover spiral-cut hams or ham that has been repackaged in any other location outside the plant). To reheat a spiral-sliced ham in a conventional oven, cover the entire ham or portion with heavy aluminum foil and heat at 325 °F for about 10 minutes per pound. Individual slices may also be warmed in a skillet or microwave.

Cook-before-eating hams or fresh hams must reach 160 °F to be safely cooked before serving. Cook in an oven set no lower than 325 °F. Hams can also be safely cooked in a microwave oven, other countertop appliances, and on the stove. Consult a cookbook for
specific methods and timing.

Country hams can be soaked 4 to 12 hours or longer in the refrigerator to reduce the salt content before cooking. Then they can be cooked by boiling or baking. Follow the manufacturer's cooking instructions.
NOTE: Set oven temperature to 325 °F. Cook all raw fresh ham and ready-to-eat ham to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F 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. Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140 °F and all others to 165 °F.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Consumer Price Index for Food

Consumer Price Index for Food

The United Sates Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (ERS) revises the food price forecast on a regular basis. The ERS forecasts that food price inflation will return to a range closer to the historical norm. Retail food prices were flat in 2013.

Inflationary pressures are expected to be moderate, given the outlook for commodity prices, animal inventories, and ongoing export trends.

The food, food-at-home, and food-away-from-home Consumer Price Index are expected to increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent over 2013 levels. This forecast is based on the assumption of normal weather conditions; however, severe weather events could potentially drive up food prices beyond current forecasts. In particular, the ongoing drought in California could potentially have an effect on fruit, vegetables, dairy, and egg prices.

At the grocery store, consumers have probably noted an increase in the cost of milk, pork and beef. These costs are associated with supply and demand.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Proposed Nutrition Facts Label At-A-Glance

Proposed Nutrition Facts Label At-A-Glance

The FDA is proposing to update the Nutrition Facts label found on most food packages in the United States. The Nutrition Facts label, introduced 20 years ago, helps consumers make informed food choices and maintain healthy dietary practices. If adopted, the proposed changes would include the following.

1. Greater Understanding of Nutrition Science
• Require information about “added sugars.” Many experts recommend consuming fewer calories from added sugar because they can decrease the intake of nutrient-rich foods while increasing calorie intake.
FDA Nutrition Label
• Update daily values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber and Vitamin D. Daily values are used to calculate the Percent Daily Value listed on the label, which help consumers understand the nutrition information in the context of a total daily diet.
• Require manufacturers to declare the amount of potassium and Vitamin D on the label, because they are new “nutrients of public health significance.” Calcium and iron would continue to be required, and Vitamins A and C could be included on a voluntary basis.
• While continuing to require “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” on the label, “Calories from Fat” would be removed because research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount.

2. Updated Serving Size Requirements and New Labeling Requirements for Certain Package Sizes
• Change the serving size requirements to reflect how people eat and drink today, which has changed since serving sizes were first established 20 years ago. By law, the label information on serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what they “should” be eating.
• Require that packaged foods, including drinks, that are typically eaten in one sitting be labeled as a single serving and that calorie and nutrient information be declared for the entire package. For example, a 20-ounce bottle of soda, typically consumed in a single sitting, would be labeled as one serving rather than as more than one serving.
• For certain packages that are larger and could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings, manufacturers would have to provide “dual column” labels to indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calories and nutrient information. Examples would be a 24-ounce bottle of soda or a pint of ice cream. This way, people would be able to easily understand how many calories and nutrients they are getting if they eat or drink the entire package at one time.

3. Refreshed Design
• Make calories and serving sizes more prominent to emphasize parts of the label that are important in addressing current public health concerns such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
• Shift the Percent Daily Value to the left of the label, so it would come first. This is important because the Percent Daily Value tells you how much of certain nutrients you are getting from a particular food in the context of a total daily diet.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Chocolate vs. Carob

Chocolate vs. Carob

Dark chocolate
Chocolate has been given new life since studies reveal the benefits of eating dark chocolate. Regular moderate consumption of dark chocolate has been associated with lower risk for cardiovascular disease. Prior to the identification of health benefits, people who were concerned about the calories, fat and caffeine content of chocolate turned to carob.

Carob pods and powder

Carob, which is the edible pod of the carob tree, can be ground into a powder that resembles but does not taste like chocolate. With only one-third the calories and virtually no fat or caffeine, carob is a source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and soluble fiber.

Ounce for ounce, a candy bar made with chocolate versus carob has almost the same amount of calories, though a different nutrition profile.

In recipes, ground carob and cocoa power can be used interchangeably, although the flavor will be different.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sugar in the Diet

Sugar in the Diet

I do lots of nutrition presentations and one of the activities I often do with participants is teach them how to convert grams to teaspoons to determine amount of sugar in food. Then with teaspoons and sugar, they measure out number of teaspoons of sugar in one serving of the product and in some cases, number of teaspoons per product such as a 20 ounce bottle of soda.

The average American consumes more than 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. Some of the sugar we consumer occurs naturally in food, while in other cases, sugar is added to sweeten food. For example, an orange has naturally occurring sugar and these foods are an important part of the diet.
Other foods that contain sugar may have that sugar extracted from the food which is added to another food. Added sugars are not good for your health. Examples of added sugar include: Agave, brown sugar, cane juice, corn syrup, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, and white granulated sugar.

Too much sugar can contribute to overweight or obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance.

Reduce sugar consumption by choosing water, unsweetened tea, or coffee. Use less processed foods, choose fruits and vegetables for snacks and dessert and reduce the number of desserts consumed.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Eco-eating is on the rise as an increasing number of people are concerned about what is in their food and how it is processed.  Labeling food products to identify production practices and the pedigree of ingredients is a practice food producers are adopting as a way to help consumer know what they are purchasing.  With a number of certifications and seals appearing on food, it can difficult to determine what the labels mean. 

Fair Trade Certified is found on products like coffee, cocoa, and bananas.  This mark indicates that producers and traders have met Fair Trade standards established by Fair Trade USA.  Standards aim to ensure disadvantaged farmers and farmers are justly compensated for their labor. Producers are required to be paid a Fair Trade price for their goods.

USDA Organic label means the food was produced without the use of non-approved  synthetic fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, irradiation and sewage sludge.  A third party certification system is used which follows established organic regulations.

Animal Welfare Approved is used by farmers who certify their animals have continual access to pasture, as well as freedom to perform instinctive behaviors including interacting with other animals.  Slaughter standards include limiting animal stress and prohibiting the use of electrical prods.  Standards for Animal Welfare Approved have been developed by scientists, veterinarians, researchers and farmers.

2014 Food Preservation Classes


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Make March Madness Healthy

Make March Madness Healthy

It’s that exciting time of year when college basketball rules! With lots of games to watch in the next few weeks, friends and family will be gathered to support their favorite teams. Watching so many games to watch, there is plenty of time for munching. Rather than choose foods that could be called for an offensive foul that are high in salt, sugar, calories and saturated fat look for some healthier options.

Put out a big bowl of air-popped popcorn and a variety of seasonings as well as pita chips with hummus, or bowls of fresh or dried fruit and unsalted nuts. Since it is still cold with plenty of snow on the ground, a soup that can be made in advance and put in the crock pot is a great way to keep people warm as well as fill them up.

If you’re making or ordering pizza, choose whole grain crust and add some healthy veggies as a topping. Offer your guests a healthy twist on the fan favorite – burgers – this year by serving salmon or veggie burgers with all the fixings on a whole grain bun. Add a leafy green salad and some baked sweet potato fries as sides. Another fan favorite is pasta – tortellini primavera, or a simple pasta dish made with extra virgin olive oil or marinara sauce and fresh veggies will satisfy your guests’ appetite (if not their appetite for a win!).

Avoid empty calories and the high sugar loads associated with sodas. Instead, serve your guests flavored water and flavored seltzers. Smoothies are not just a taste treat but can serve as a delicious (and healthy) dessert item. Mix dark berries in a blender with a banana and soy milk, maybe even a small teaspoon of peanut butter, and you’ve got a taste treat that’s sure to please.

It never hurts to have chocolate around, and all the better if you choose dark chocolate (it provides health benefits that milk chocolate doesn’t). Choose products containing at least 70% cocoa, and leave small squares out for guests to nibble on.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pesticides in Foods

Pesticides in Foods

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic food sales grew by more than 7 percent last year, partly driven by consumer concern about the use of pesticides in food production and their impacts on health and the environment.

In order to reduce pesticide exposure, here are some steps to follow.

  • Eating certified organic produce decreases the number of pesticides a person is exposed to because the National Organic Program bans the use of synthetic pesticides in organic production.
  • Pay attention to the list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Foods. The Dirty Dozen includes the following foods: apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, nectarines that are imported, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, kale/collard greens and summer squash. Foods on the Clean Fifteen include asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangos, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapple, frozen sweet peas and sweet potatoes.
  • If shopping at a farmer’s market, ask the producer about pest control methods used.
  • Rinse, scrub and peel produce can help reduce pesticides.
  • Trim fat as pesticides can accumulate in fatty tissue.
  • Grow your own produce.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dinner's Ready-Cook Meat Safely

Dinner’s Ready – Cook Meat Safely

When making dinner, take time to make sure that the meat is accurately done. Here are some guidelines.

Whole Cuts of Pork – Cook pork to 145 degrees with a 3-minute rest time. Once you measure 145 degrees, remove pork from heat source, and let rest three minutes. This will result in a product that is both safe and at its best quality – juicy and tender.
Cooking Whole Cuts of Other Meats – Cook beef, veal, and lamb cuts to 145 degrees and let rest for 3 minutes.
Ground meats – Cook ground meats, including beef, veal, lamb and pork to 160 degrees with no rest time.
Poultry – The safe cooking temperature for all poultry products, including ground chicken and turkey is 165 degrees.

“Rest time” is the amount of time the product remains at the final temperature, after it has been removed from a grill, oven, or other heat source, ensuring destruction of harmful bacteria.

Use a food thermometer. Place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food not touching bone, fat, or gristle. Be sure to clean your food thermometer with hot soapy water before and after each use.

Source: Barbara Ingham, University of Wisconsin-Extension Food Safety Specialist

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Focus on Fermented Foods

Focus on Fermented Foods

The list of fermented food in our lives is staggering: bread, coffee, pickles, beer, cheese, yogurt and soy sauce. are all transformed at some point during their production process by microscopic organisms that extend their usefulness and enhance their flavors.

The process of fermenting our food isn't a new one. Fermentation is one of the oldest forms of food preservation technologies in the world. Indigenous fermented foods such as bread, cheese and wine, have been prepared and consumed for thousands of years and are strongly linked to culture and tradition, especially in rural households and village communities.

Fermented foods are those produced or preserved by microorganisms such as yeast or bacteria, which occur naturally in the environment or may be introduced to foods to hasten fermentation. Fermentation describes the conversion of natural sugars found in foods into acids, gases or alcohol, using yeast, but is also used to make foods such as pickles and yogurt through the use of bacteria. For example juice turns into wine and grain into beer.

There is a growing interest in fermented foods due to health benefits. Eating fermented foods introduces beneficial bacteria call probiotics into the gut, which helps maintain a healthy balance of bacteria. Probiotics may lead to improved digestive health, and immune function. A healthy gut is more receptive to the absorption of food nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Update on the American Diet

Update on the American Diet

The American diet is not changing quickly as reported in "The Changing American Diet," a series of reports by the Center for Science in the Public Interest which uses data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grade the healthfulness of U.S. eaters. This latest report card doesn't look so different from the recent ones issued by the CSPI.

The report shows that we eat slightly less caloric sweetener, whole milk and beef than we did in 2000 -- but also a fair bit more cheese and way more yogurt. We eat less shortening and a lot more oil. We eat more or less the same amount of calories, fruits, vegetables, fruit and seafood. All in all, then, we're eating about as much, and about as healthily, as we were a decade ago.

For example, bread, bagels, pasta, crackers, cookies, scones, and muffins are very popular. Americans eat 109 pounds of flour per year. The peak was 116 pounds in 2000. We need to eat more whole grains and cut back on all grains.

Americans started eating more vegetables in the 1980’s but the rise has stalled. Fruit consumption except for juice has not changed much for well over 30 years. Eating fewer starches or increasing fruit and vegetable consumption would be beneficial.

Sweeteners have dropped from a high of 89 pounds in 1999. That mirrors the drop in sugarly soft drinks over the last decade. The current 78 pounds is still too high.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Beans Are Good for You

Beans Are Good for You

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women consume 1 ½ cups of beans and other legumes weekly, or 1 cup for ages 51-plus, and that men eat 2 cups a week , 1 ½ cups after age 50.

Beans are an excellent source of dietary fiber. They provide some essential micronutrients such as folate, potassium, iron, magnesium and calcium. Beans are a great source of plant protein. They are also low in calories.

If buying dried, beans, look for whole, un-cracked beans. Store beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place for up to one year.

To speed up cooking and reduce digestive downsides, boil dried beans in water for two minutes then soak for two hours; alternatively, soak un-boiled beans overnight in the refrigerator. Rinse before cooking.

Canned beans are equally nutritious to dried beans. Look for the low-sodium varieties and rinse thoroughly.

Below is a great tasting, quick to make soup that UW-Extension staff used at a number of presentations this winter that features lentils. Lentils do not need to be soaked prior to using.

Lentil Soup

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped, approximately 1 cup
1 medium carrot, sliced 1/8 inch thick
2 teaspoons garlic, peeled and minced (3-4 cloves) or ½ teaspoon garlic powder
4 cups water
1 cup dry yellow or brown lentils
1 can (14.5 ounces) reduced sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon dried basil or Italian seasoning
1 can (14.5 ounces) no sodium added diced tomatoes or 2 chopped tomatoes
1 bunch kale or spinach
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1. Add oil to large pot over medium heat.
2. Add onions, carrots and garlic. Cook five minutes.
3. Add water to vegetables in pot. Heat mixture to boiling.
4. Rinse lentils in colander with water. Add lentils to pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Do not drain.
5. Add chicken broth, dried basil or Italian seasoning, and tomatoes. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes.
6. Rinse kale or spinach leaves. Cut out main stems of kale leaves and discard. Cut into 1-inch pieces.
7. Stir kale or spinach, salt and pepper into lentil mixture. Return to boiling. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for three minutes.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

When the Spanish explorers first came to the New World they were searching for an ocean route to India and its fabled treasures of gold, silver, spices and jewels. They found themselves on two new continents, North and South America. They found many other things far more valuable than the treasures they were seeking including three of the world’s most important food plants: corn, the white or Irish potato, and sweet potato.

Of the 200 or more varieties there are two main types. The "Jersey" and related varieties having dry mealy flesh are favored in the northern states. The other type, more watery but richer in sugar and more soft and gelatinous when cooked, is favored in our southern states where they are called "yams". The true yam, however, originated in China and is a different plant related to the lilies. The Irish potato, believe it or not, belongs to the Nightshade Family.

It's no surprise that sweet potatoes are at the top of nearly everyone's healthiest foods list. One baked, medium-sized sweet potato contains 438% of your daily value of vitamin A (a white potato contains 1%), 37% of your vitamin C, and some calcium, potassium, and iron too. All this at just 105 calories! What's more, they also deliver 4 grams of dietary fiber—16% of the daily value—and absolutely zip in terms of fat.

Look for the tastiest potatoes in their peak season: winter. Choose firm potatoes that are small to medium in size with smooth, unblemished skins. If you do not plan to use the potatoes right away, store them in a cool, dry, dark place. Do not refrigerate sweet potatoes, as they will dry out and will produce a hard center and unpleasant taste. Instead, store your sweet potatoes in a cool, dry, well ventilated container, like a basket.

I have been making sweet potato chips that past few weeks. They are quick and easy to make and a healthy option to regular potato chips.

Sweet Potato Chips
2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced 1/8 inch thick*
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with racks in center and lower positions.
2. Divide sweet potatoes between 2 rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle with oil, toss, and spread them in a single layer on sheets.
3. Bake, flipping once, until centers are soft and edges are crisp, 15- 20 minutes. (I watch them closely as they can quickly burn if left in too long.)

* A mandolin works great for slicing them 1/8th inch thick.