Back-to-School? Food Safety Tips for Packed Lunches

My kids are starting back to school next week, and this year they are packing their lunch for the first time. Any tips on what I need to do to make sure their packed lunch is safe and healthy?

School lunch boxes with sandwich and fresh vegetables, nuts and fruits. Photo: Getty Images.

Wow – is it that time of year already?

If your child wants to bring a packed lunch to school, there are several ways to make sure their lunch is both healthy and safe from pathogens that could cause a foodborne illness.

This is an important distinction to make, as children are among the most vulnerable to food poisoning. That’s partly due to the fact that their immune systems are not as effective at fighting off bacteria and viruses compared to those of adults, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

When packing a lunch for your child to take to school, it’s important to remember that cold foods need to stay cold and hot foods need to stay hot, to avoid the development of harmful bacteria that could cause a foodborne illness.

In order to make sure your child’s perishable foods stay cold until lunchtime, the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that you pack two cold sources that will keep the contents out of the Danger Zone, which is when a food’s temperature reaches between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, at which bacteria grows most rapidly.

Frozen water bottles or frozen juice boxes can count as a cold source, as well as a freezer pack that you stick in their lunch box. Lunches that contain perishable food items like luncheon meats, eggs, cheese, or yogurt should be kept cold in this manner.

If you plan to send soup, stew or chili for your child’s lunch, you will need to use an insulated container. Before adding in the hot item, you can fill the container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty it and then add the hot food, advises the USDA. Also, tell your child to keep the lid on the container closed until lunchtime to help prevent bacterial contamination and growth.

Other safe lunch-packing tips from USDA and FDA include:

  • If you pack your child’s lunch the night before, leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The meal will stay cold longer because everything will be refrigerator temperature when it is placed in the lunchbox.
  • Clean the insulated box or bag with hot soapy water after each use, and don’t re-use paper bags.
  • If possible, your child’s lunch should be stored in a refrigerator or cooler with ice upon arrival at school. Leave the lid of the lunchbox or bag open in the fridge so that cold air can better circulate and keep the food cold.
  • While it’s best if your children wash their hands before eating lunch, that doesn’t always happen at school right before lunchtime. So make sure you pack disposable wipes for your children to wipe their hands before and after eating lunch.
  • After lunch, make sure your children discard any leftover food, used food packaging, and paper bags. Don’t reuse the packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness.

Remember, healthy lunches include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products. If preparing sandwiches, opt for whole grain bread and add veggies for toppings. Additionally, you can make sandwiches fun for your children by cutting them into shapes using a cookie cutter.

As far as sides are concerned, prepare snack-sized bags of fruits and veggies in advance and let your children choose which ones they want in their lunch that day. Whole fruit such as apples, peaches, pears, bananas and tangerines are also good choices.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension

Simple Suppers Make Mealtimes Fun and Easy for Families, Kids

I’m a mom of twin preschoolers and want to make sure that I teach them healthy eating habits at an early age. How I can do that and stay within a modest food budget?

Photo: Getty Images

It’s wonderful that you want to establish healthy eating habits in your children starting when they are young. Research has shown that ensuring good nutritional habits, particularly early on, can help prevent childhood obesity and other chronic diseases.

In addition to having a healthy weight, establishing healthy eating habits in children can help them have more energy and happier moods, and also can help them have those habits for the rest of their lives, experts say.

One way to help instill better eating habits in your children is to take advantage of great programs out there like Simple Suppers. The new free nutrition program created by researchers at The Ohio State University teaches families how to establish healthy eating behaviors without having to spend a lot of money at the grocery store.

The 10 lessons in the Simple Suppers program provide options that address both the benefits and constraints of healthy family mealtime routines.

The program utilizes balanced meals with low-cost ingredients that are easily attainable by families and encourages children to be involved in food and meal preparation with their families, said Carolyn Gunther, an associate professor of human sciences and state specialist for Ohio State University Extension.

While some of the program’s curriculum is available online, OSU Extension educators will soon begin offering in-person classes for families across Ohio, she said. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State (CFAES).

The program focuses on establishing healthy family mealtime routines for improved diet and weight status, Gunther said.

“Family meals can be a good way to help kids have better eating habits,” she said. “The lessons covered in the program teach families how to manage their resources when planning and preparing meals using budget- and time-saving strategies, how to compare various food options and sizes for meals, and how to get everyone involved in establishing healthy family mealtime routines.”

The Simple Suppers lesson plans cover the following topics:

  • Making family mealtime fun
  • Planning family meals on a budget
  • Timesaving strategies for family meals
  • Connecting with children through meals
  • Planning well-balanced family meals
  • Rethinking your drink
  • Making healthy cooking tasty and easy
  • Serving and eating healthy portions
  • Eating healthy away from home
  • Planning fun and healthy snacks

The program is offered to the entire family, with each class directed to either children or adults.

For example, during lesson one, “Making family mealtime fun,” children get to decorate an apron and learn how to set a dinner table, while parents have discussions on the benefits of family meals and get tips on how to make the meals both nutritious and fun.

The Simple Suppers program also offers easy, low-cost, nutritious, family-friendly recipes, including:

  • Fruit and Yogurt-topped Whole Wheat Pancakes and Veggie Scrambled Eggs
  • Fiesta Skillet Dinner with Fresh Fruits and Veggies
  • Breakfast Burrito with Salsa and Baked Apple Wedges
  • Quick Skillet Lasagna with Fresh Veggies and Dip and Crunchy Frozen Bananas
  • Baked Potato Bar with Chicken Tortilla Soup and Fresh Vegetables and Orange Fluff Salad
  • Meatloaf Muffins with Twice-as-Nice Mashed Potatoes and Fruit Pudding
  • Garden Sloppy Joes with Cucumber Salad and Easy Fruit Salad
  • Scrambled Egg Muffins with Microwave-Roasted Potatoes and Crunchy Berry Parfaits
  • Cheesy Crunchy Chicken Tenders with Applesauce and Glazed Carrots
  • Pizza Party Pizza with Tossed Salad and Berry-Good Banana Splits

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, state specialist in Community Nutrition for Ohio State University Extension.

Summer a Good Time for Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, Other In-Season Produce

I know that summer is a great time to get fresh sweet corn and juicy watermelons, but what else is in season now?

Photo: Getty Images

Summer heat and long days make it a good time to indulge in a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables like berries, melons, sweet corn and tomatoes, among a wide range of plentiful produce. Not only are these items extremely fresh and flavorful because they’re in season, they’re also widely discounted because of the abundance of supply based on the time of year.

As mentioned in a previous “Chow Line,” improved technology and agricultural innovations mean that consumers can access fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.

But because fruits and vegetables naturally grow in cycles and ripen during a certain season, produce typically is fresher and tastes best when ripe. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are also typically cheaper to buy because they are easier to produce than fruits and vegetables that are grown out of season.

In fact, the top advertised items on sale in local grocery stores this week were fruits and vegetables, accounting for some 99 percent of sale ads, according to the July 20 edition of the National Retail Report, a weekly roundup of advertised retail pricing information compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Blueberries, cantaloupes, cherries, grapes, mangoes, nectarines, peaches, plums, strawberries and watermelons were the top 10 fruit items advertised in grocery store sale ads for the week, according to the report. The top 10 veggies on sale in grocery ads for the week included sweet corn, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, peppers, potatoes, salad, squash and tomatoes.

Summer is also a good time for agritourism, where farmers and producers open their farms to the public for consumers to hand-choose their own produce. Also known as U-Pick farms, these operations not only provide consumers with fresh, locally grown produce but also teach them about the farming industry.

Experts with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University offer a variety of educational programming for producers who want to incorporate agritourism on their farms. CFAES also offers tips for consumers when visiting agritourism operations.

There are several varieties of fruits and vegetables in season now in Ohio.

While this is not an all-inclusive list, generally speaking, the following produce (among others) is in season in Ohio during the summer, according to the Ohio Farm Bureau:

  • Apples
  • Asparagus
  • Lima beans
  • Snap beans
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Collards
  • Sweet Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Currants
  • Dill
  • Eggplant
  • Endive and escarole
  • Gooseberries
  • Grapes
  • Kale
  • Leaf lettuce
  • Leeks
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Green onions
  • Parsley
  • Peaches
  • Sweet peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Black raspberries
  • Red raspberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Summer squash
  • Winter squash
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnip greens

So, now’s the time to enjoy fresh summer produce and, if you are able, to get out there and enjoy learning more about agriculture as you pick some fresh produce yourself.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension

Yes, Nonperishable Foods can Become Contaminated With Pathogens That cause Foodborne Illnesses

I never knew that nonperishable foods like breakfast cereal can become contaminated with salmonella – how is that possible?

Photo: Getty Images.

While many people are aware that fresh produce and raw meat can become contaminated with pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses, fewer people think about nonperishable foods like breakfast cereal becoming contaminated with the same kind of pathogens.

Such is the case in the recent outbreak of Salmonella Mbandaka that has been traced back to a popular sweetened puffed wheat breakfast cereal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning last week advising consumers “do not eat any Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal because it has been linked to a multistate outbreak of Salmonella infections.”

As of July 12, the CDC said that some 100 consumers in 33 states, including Ohio, have been sickened from eating the cereal. Of those, 30 people have required hospitalization.

Although the CDC warning first advised consumers to throw out Honey Smacks cereal with a specific “use-by” date, the warning was later updated to include any and all packages of the cereal, regardless of the date label.

According to the CDC, there are some 2,000 different strains of salmonella, some of which are “relatively resistant to (the dehydration process) and can survive for long periods of time in dry environments such as cereal.”

The origin of the Honey Smacks salmonella outbreak has been traced back to the contract manufacturing facility that produces the cereal, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Pathogens such as salmonella often initially contaminate foods through contact with fecal matter, said Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

So, for example, if a food is made from grain or produce that has come into contact with animal feces in the field or in the soil in which it is grown, or if the grain comes into contact with water that contains the pathogen, salmonella can be transferred from the feces onto the grain, she said.

Salmonella can also spread at the food manufacturing plant if a contaminated ingredient comes into contact with equipment that then touches other foods.

“Preventing cross-contamination in production environments for low-moisture foods is a real challenge,” Snyder said. “The application of effective cleaning and sanitation strategies is an area the food industry continues to address.”

Other types of nonperishable foods that have been implicated in salmonella outbreaks include dried milk, infant cereal and other dry cereals, according to the CDC.

So if you still have Honey Smacks in your pantry, the CDC says you should throw it out, even if you’ve already eaten some and haven’t gotten sick. The agency also advises that consumers who’ve stored the affected cereal in a container outside the original packaging should wash the container with warm, soapy water before using it again.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES.

Chow Line: BBQ Safely: Be Careful when Using Steel Grill Brushes

I clean my grill each time after I cook on it, using a steel wire grill brush to keep the grease and grime from building up on the grill racks. I’ve used the same brush for a couple of years now because I love how it cleans, but I’m wondering if I should get a new one this year.

Photo: Thinkstock

That depends on just how old your grill brush is and what condition it’s in. If your grill brush is worn down, warped or has some missing bristles, you may want to consider throwing it out.

This is because you’ll want to be careful that you don’t inadvertently leave behind any wire bristles from the grill-cleaning brush that could end up in the meat or vegetables that you are grilling.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been several reported cases of internal injuries following unintentional ingestions of wire grill-cleaning brush bristles by both children and adults. The severities of the injuries have ranged from puncture of the soft tissues of the neck, causing severe pain on swallowing, to perforation of the gastrointestinal tract requiring emergency surgery, CDC said.

In fact, an estimated 1,698 consumers have gone to emergency rooms between 2002 and 2014 after having ingested wire bristles in grilled foods, according to a 2016 study in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

The study authors said that while wire-bristle grill brush injuries aren’t common, they do tend to increase during the grilling season, which makes sense, of course. The months with the highest number of reported injuries are June, July and August, they said.

More detailed information on wire grill brush injuries can be found at saferproducts.gov, which allows consumers to list information on what their injuries were and how they occurred.

Consumer Reports last week offered these tips to help consumers avoid accidental ingestion of wire bristles when barbecuing:

  • Use a moist cloth or paper towel to clean the grill surface before cooking.
  • If you use a wire-bristle brush, thoroughly inspect the grill’s surface before cooking for the presence of bristles that might have dislodged from the grill brush and could embed in cooked food.
  • Depending on the type of grill you have, you may be able to clean it using a pumice stone or a coil-shaped bristle-free bush.
  • You may try using crumpled-up aluminum foil to brush loose food particles off a warm — but not hot! — grill rack or grate.

Another important grilling safety tip to remember is to always use a food thermometer to ensure that your meat is cooked to the correct internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella that may be present, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For meats such as steak and pork, that temperature is 145 degrees Fahrenheit. For ground meats, including beef, pork, veal, and lamb, the correct temperature is 160 degrees, USDA says. And poultry such as chicken and turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Candace J. Heer, a Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension.

 

USDA Warns: Wash Your Hands Properly to Prevent Foodborne Illness

My husband gets frustrated with me because I’m always reminding him to wash his hands multiple times when cooking. He says washing before he cooks is enough. Which one of us is right?

Photo: Thinkstock

In this case, you are right.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture just sent out a warning last week urging people to wash their hands throughout the food preparation process, not just at the beginning of cooking.

And when you wash your hands, the USDA is urging people to take their time and wash their hands properly.

This warning comes as a new USDA study in collaboration with North Carolina State University and RTI International, a North Carolina-based nonprofit research institute, found that people are failing to properly wash their hands 97 percent of the time when they are cooking, and instead are rushing through the process.

The study was conducted in six test kitchen facilities. It found that most people failed to wash their hands for the recommended 20 seconds, and most did not dry their hands with a clean towel. Many, instead, wiped their hands on their clothes or other objects.

Rushed handwashing can lead to cross-contamination of food and other surfaces, resulting in foodborne illness. For example, the study found that 48 percent of participants spread bacteria from raw meat on their hands onto spice containers; 11 percent spread bacteria to refrigerator handles; and 5 percent of the time, bacteria was spread to salads.

One way to avoid cross-contamination is to always follow handwashing recommendations as advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water.
  • Apply soap and lather to your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds — the amount of time it takes to hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel, or air dry them.

If soap and water are not available, you might alternatively use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol, CDC says. However, it is important to note that while these sanitizers can reduce the number of pathogens on your hands in many situations, they don’t remove all types of pathogens.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES.

Certain Tick Bites Can Cause Food Allergies

Can you really develop an allergy to red meat from a tick bite?

Close up of lone star. Photo: Thinkstock.

That depends.

In certain cases, with a certain tick, in some people and in some states, including Ohio, yes.

According to a recent article about a study on lone star ticks and allergies that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, some people who have been bitten by a lone star tick have gone on to develop an allergy to eating red meat, and in some cases, dairy.

The study, done by researchers with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, found that, in rare cases, some people have developed life-threatening allergic reactions to red meat after being bitten by a lone star tick. The study attributes the allergic reaction to galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal), which is a type of sugar that animals make in their bodies. As a result, it’s found in red meats, including beef, pork and lamb, the exception being primates.

According to published reports, humans don’t have alpha-gal, but have an immune response to it. Symptoms of the allergy can include itching, swelling, abdominal cramps, and in some people, anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction.

While the association between lone star tick bites and the allergy are clear, more research is needed to understand why these alpha-gal allergies develop in some people and not in others, according to the JAMA report.

The timing of the study is significant, however, considering that the tick season — April through September — is expected to be tough this year, according to Glen Needham, a retired entomologist and tick expert formerly with Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

Ohio has several tick pest species, including American dog ticks, blacklegged ticks, and lone star ticks, all of which can pose a threat to humans because of the diseases they can transmit. While Jackson, Scioto and Vinton counties have especially high populations of Lone Star ticks, the species can be found in any Ohio county, he said.

To prevent tick bites when in areas where they may be active, Needham recommends that you should:

  • Wear light-colored clothes including long-sleeve shirts tucked into your pants and long pants tucked into your socks or boots.
  • Apply a tick repellent according to label instructions.
  • Do frequent tick checks of your body while outside and a thorough inspection at shower time.
  • Protect your pets with an anti-tick product recommended by a veterinarian.
  • Keep dogs on a leash and avoid weedy areas.

And if you find a tick attached, do not crush or puncture it. Instead, use your pointy tweezers, tick removal tool or protected thumb and finger to carefully remove the tick by pulling it straight up with steady even pressure.

“Folk methods, such as using oil to smother the tick or using a flame to burn the tick, do not work, may be dangerous and delay removal,” he said. “You should wash your hands and the tick bite site with warm soapy water and keep the specimen in a container of rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer to take it with you to a healthcare professional if you develop any health-related symptoms or rashes.”

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Glen Needham, a retired entomologist and tick expert formerly with Ohio State University Extension.

Pre-cut Melons Tied to Multistate Salmonella Outbreak

I just heard a report that a brand of pre-cut melons was tied to a salmonellaoutbreak recently. How is that possible? 

Photo: Thinkstock.

You are right: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week warned about a multistage outbreak of salmonella associated with some pre-cut melons produced by a food distributor based in Indianapolis.

The warning was about fresh, pre-cut melons including watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, and fresh-cut fruit medley products containing one of these melons. The food items were produced at Caito Foods facility in Indiana and were distributed to Ohio, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri and North Carolina, CDC said.

The “recalled products were sold in clear, plastic clamshell containers at Costco, Jay C, Kroger, Payless, Owen’s, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Walmart, and Whole Foods/Amazon,” CDC said in a statement.

As of June 8, some 60 people were infected by the outbreak, with 31 people having to be hospitalized, CDC said.

Most people who become infected with salmonella typically develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment. However, for some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that they need to be hospitalized, CDC said.

So how can fresh, pre-cut fruit become contaminated with salmonella? There are several ways that fresh produce can become contaminated.

For example, if animal feces are in the field or soil in which the produce is grown, or if the produce comes into contact with water that contains the pathogen, salmonella can be transferred from the feces onto the produce. The pathogen can also be spread if a person who carries the bacteria doesn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom, and then processes or prepares the produce.

It’s important to note that there are numerous pathogens that can contaminate produce at any point in the food supply chain.

In fact, salmonella and other bacteria including shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and viruses such as norovirus are commonly associated with consumption of fresh produce, according to Barbara Kowalcyk, a food safety expert and an assistant professor in Food Science and Technology for the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

Fruits and vegetables can also become contaminated during preparation when their skin (which serves as a barrier) is broken, she said.

“If the bacteria are present on the skin of the melon, the bacteria can then be transported to the flesh of the fruit when it is cut,”Kowalcyk said.

For example, cantaloupe skin has nooks and crannies that can house microbial pathogens, even if it looks “clean.” Therefore, melons and other fruits and vegetables should be given a good scrub and rinse before you cut through them with a knife.

Also, cut fruits and vegetables should be refrigerated within two hours and consumed within a few days to prevent bacteria from growing.

According to CDC, here are other methods in the food production chain that can lead to contamination:

  • If contaminated water or ice is used to wash, pack, or chill produce, the contamination can spread to the produce.
  • Fresh produce can be contaminated if it is loaded into a truck that was not cleaned after transporting animals or animal products.
  • If refrigerated food is left on a loading dock for a long time in warm weather, it could reach temperatures that allow bacteria to grow.
  • If a food worker remains at work while sick and does not wash his or her hands carefully after using the bathroom, he or she can spread germs by touching food.
  • If a cook uses a cutting board or knife to cut raw meat and then uses the same knife or cutting board without washing it to slice tomatoes for a salad, for example, germs from the meat can contaminate the tomatoes.

Here are steps you can take to lessen your chances of getting a foodborne illness from produce, CDC says:

  • Don’t eat recalled products. Check your fridge and freezer for those items and throw them away or return them to the place of purchase for a refund.
  • If you don’t remember where you bought pre-cut melon, don’t eat it; throw it away.
  • Wash fresh produce before preparing or eating it.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after fresh produce preparation.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and CFAES’ outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Barbara Kowalcyk, an assistant professor in Food Science and Technology at CFAES.

Precautions Can Lessen Your Chance of Developing Tapeworms

I just heard about an athlete who developed a tapeworm infection from eating raw fish. How is that possible?

Image of a tapeworm in a person’s intestine. Tapeworms are a species of parasitic flatworms. Photo: Thinkstock

It actually is possible to develop a fish tapeworm infection after eating raw or undercooked fish that is contaminated with the parasite Diphyllobothrium latum. In the case you mention, it was reportedthat a 20-year-old Ohio hockey player, who was suffering from mysterious fatigue and weight loss, went to the bathroom and saw that he had passed a 25-inch tapeworm.

So, what are tapeworms and how can one get such an infection?

Tapeworms are flat, segmented parasitic worms that can live in the intestines of some animals that have become infected from eating or drinking a food or water source contaminated with tapeworm eggs or larvae, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People can develop tapeworms from eating raw or undercooked meat from a contaminated animal or from drinking contaminated water. Once in your intestines, the larvae develop into adult tapeworms. Some species can grow up to 80 feet long and can survive in the intestines for years.

While it is possible to develop tapeworms from eating raw or undercooked fish, it is not very likely. Parasite infections can be prevented and, according to the CDC, are easily treatable with safe medicines. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that those who prefer to eat raw fish should eat previously frozen fish.

It is recommended to freeze and store seafood at an ambient temperature of -31 degrees Fahrenheit or below until solid, and to store it at that same temperature or below for 15 hours, said Sanja Ilic, the state food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University (CFAES).

“You can also freeze seafood at an ambient temperature of -31 degrees Fahrenheit or below until solid, and store it at an ambient temperature of -4 degrees Fahrenheit or below for 24 hours, as a sufficient way to kill parasites,” she said.

However, for consumers who catch their fish fresh, most home freezers have temperatures at 0 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, which may not be cold enough to kill parasites because it can take up to 7 days at -4 degrees Fahrenheit or below to kill parasites. Note that these conditions may not be suitable for freezing fish thicker than 6 inches, Ilic said.

So, if you opt to eat raw fish, it’s best to choose fish that has been commercially frozen. However, it’s important to note that while freezing will kill the parasites that may be present in some fish, freezing doesn’t kill all harmful microorganisms.

It is best to thoroughly cook fish and seafood, especially if you have a weakened immune system or care for someone who does.

Fish and seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. For fish, the flesh should be opaque and flake easily with a fork. In the case of shrimp, lobsters and crabs, the flesh should be pearly and opaque. For clams, oysters and mussels, cook until their shells open. And for scallops, cook until the flesh is milky white or opaque and firm.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, specialist in Food Safety for Ohio State University Extension.

Eggs Over Easy Not Recommended

I love eggs over easy for breakfast, but lately, I’m hesitant to order my eggs that way because of mixed messages I’ve heard about eggs and a recall. Can you tell me what’s going on and about the risk of eating my eggs with a runny yoke?

Crispy fried bacon, Sunny Side Up Eggs, arugula and tomatoes. Photo: Thinkstock. 

While many people enjoy their eggs over easy, an egg that’s fried just until the whites are set on the bottom and then flipped over and lightly cooked on the other side, leaving the yoke runny, is not the best choice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Instead, the government agency recommends that eggs be cooked until both the yoke and the white are firm, to help consumers avoid foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella. In fact, the CDC recommends against eating undercooked or raw eggs, due to the increased risk of foodborne illness associated with unpasteurized eggs. In eggs, both the yolk and whites can be contaminated with Salmonella.

Salmonella outbreak linked to eggs is spreading across multiple states and has infected 35 consumers as of May 10, the CDC said. As a result, an Indiana-based egg farm has recalled some 207 million eggs for fear they may be contaminated with Salmonella, a microorganism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

The recalled eggs were sold in grocery stores and to restaurants under multiple brand names, including Coburn Farms, Country Daybreak, Crystal Farms, Food Lion, Glenview, Great Value, Nelms, Publix, Sunshine Farms and Sunups, with plant number P-1065 and the Julian date range of 011 through date of 102 printed on the carton, according the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Consumers who find they’ve purchased these eggs should throw them out immediately or return them to the place of purchase for refund, even if they’ve already eaten some and haven’t gotten sick, the CDC says. The CDC also advises that you should disinfect the shelves or drawers in your fridge where the eggs were stored.

Additionally, you should always wash your hands and any items that come into contact with raw eggs with soap and water. That includes countertops, utensils, dishes and cutting boards.

While some people with Salmonellosis don’t experience severe symptoms, others can have gastrointestinal distress, including diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, within eight to 72 hours. And while most healthy people recover within a few days without specific treatment, some people may require hospitalization.

So, while it’s best to avoid eating raw and undercooked eggs, eggs are still a delicious, nutritious food. For instance, one large egg contains vitamins A, B5, B12, D, E, K and B6, folate, phosphorus, selenium, calcium and zinc, with only 70 calories, according to the American Egg Board.

It’s just best to eat them fully cooked.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES.