Save Time and Money at the Grocery Store

Lately I’ve found that I am spending more time and money at the grocery store, sometimes even buying things that I don’t need. What are some strategies to help me spend less and save time?

Have a shopping list prepared before you get to the grocery store. And when you get to the store, stick to your list.

One of the first things to remember when grocery shopping: never shop on an empty stomach. Shopping while hungry could lead you to buy less nutritious impulse items and cause you to spend more money than you’d intended.

It’s also important that you have a shopping list prepared before you get to the grocery store. Make a list by looking in your kitchen cabinets, pantry and refrigerator to see what food items you need at home. And when you get to the store, stick to your list. This will help you avoid buying unnecessary items.

Other smart shopping tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics include:

  • Save time by organizing your shopping list into sections according to the layout of the grocery store.
  • Check the grocery sales ads for deals. Depending on the store, the sales ads are typically released midweek and can be found at the store’s entrance, in the newspaper, on the store’s website or on the store’s mobile app.
  • Clip and use coupons for the items that you know you’ll use. If you don’t need the item right away, check the expiration date on the coupon and save it to use later, particularly if the item goes on sale.
  • Shop for items on the upper and lower shelves as most stores stock the most expensive items at the consumer’s eye level.
  • Buy store brands. Most stores offer their own brand of products that often cost less than name brands.
  • Find and compare unit prices listed on shelves to get the best price. You can also buy some items in bulk sizes or as family packs that usually cost less.
  • Check the expiration dates on food products. Grocery stores typically stock their shelves with the newest items behind the older ones. Choose items from the back of the shelf so that you are getting the freshest items, especially in the produce, dairy and meat aisles.
  • Avoid buying precut fruits and vegetables – choose whole fruits and vegetables instead, which are typically less expensive.
  • If you have the freezer space, buy frozen vegetables without added sauces or butter. They are as good for you as fresh vegetables and may cost less.
  • Ask for a rain check. If a sale item has run out, ask the store for a rain check. This allows you to pay the sale price after the item is restocked.

Lastly, you can join the grocery store’s loyalty program. Most stores offer a free loyalty program that offers shoppers access to discounted prices, special offers, coupons and, in some cases, rewards programs that aren’t offered to nonmembers.

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

To Eat or Not to Eat – An Egg-cellent Question about Easter Eggs

My mom is hosting Easter dinner this year and plans to have an Easter egg hunt for the grandkids. Growing up, we always ate the eggs used in the egg hunt, and my mom insists this is fine. But I’ve heard that you shouldn’t eat those eggs. You should have a separate batch — one to eat and one to hide and use for decorations. Which one of us is right?

Well, that depends. You both are right – in certain circumstances.

Eggs are an important source of protein and are delicious to eat. However, they must be handled safely to prevent the chance of contracting a foodborne illness. One such outbreak occurred nationwide in 2010 when nearly 2,000 consumers reported becoming ill and some 550 million eggs were recalled due to salmonella contamination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the chances of foodborne illness are small, you still need to practice safe food handling when dealing with raw eggs in preparation for dyeing Easter eggs. That includes washing your hands thoroughly before handling the eggs at every step – cooking well, cooling, dyeing and hiding – says the American Egg Board.

If you are making Easter eggs that will be eaten, it is important that you make sure the eggs are thoroughly cooked. This can be done by placing fresh eggs with intact shells — never use eggs with cracked shells — in a saucepan and cover them with at least 1 inch of water. Cook the eggs until the yolk and white are firm. Then run cold water over the eggs and store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to decorate them.

However, if you are among those who prefer to decorate hollowed egg shells (by blowing the raw egg through a hole in the shell), be sure to use pasteurized shell eggs to lessen the potential of salmonella exposure. You can also wash the egg in hot water and rinse it in a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach per one-half cup of water to sanitize it, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Other safe handling tips from the USDA include:

  • Use warm water and food coloring or food-grade dyes to color eggs if they will be eaten.
  • Refrigerate the eggs in their cartons after coloring, and refrigerate them again after they’ve been hidden and found.
  • Don’t eat or hide cracked eggs because bacteria can get inside them.
  • When hiding eggs, consider the places you choose to hide them carefully. You should avoid places where pets, animals, insects or lawn chemicals could come in contact with the eggs and possibly contaminate them. Eggs should also be hidden in places that are protected from dirt, moisture and other sources of bacteria.
  • Boiled eggs can be safely kept out of the refrigerator for a maximum of two hours before they become hazardous to eat. But remember – that two-hour window includes the time it takes to both hide and find the eggs.
  • Boiled eggs can be stored in the refrigerator for one week. After that, they are unsafe to eat.

So in answer to your question, you can eat the eggs that you use for your Easter egg hunt – if you follow safe handling and storage practices. But, to be on the safe side, you may want to consider dyeing two batches of eggs – one for eating and the other for hunting.

If you plan to use Easter eggs for decorations and they will be out of the refrigerator for more than two hours, it’s best not to eat those eggs at all.

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.

New Rules Require Calorie Postings in Restaurant Menus

My family likes to eat out several times a month, but I’ve heard recently that many restaurant menu items contain plenty of calories. So how can we avoid eating too many calories when dining out?

One way of avoiding consuming a lot of calories when eating out is to first be aware of exactly how many calories are in the foods before you eat them.

Beginning May 5, that will be much easier for consumers to figure out. That’s when the Food and Drug Administration will officially require restaurants with 20 or more locations to post nutritional information facts for their regular menu items, including beverages.

While some food establishments already provide calorie counts on their menus or menu boards, the new regulations will require all impacted restaurants nationwide to provide this information, as of that date.

The new rules, which are a part of the federal Affordable Care Act, will also require impacted restaurants to post a statement alerting consumers that other nutritional information is available on request, including information on total calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein for their regular menu items.

This is significant considering that 92 percent of 364 measured restaurant meals from both large-chain and non-chain restaurants exceed the recommended calorie requirements for a single meal, according to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In fact, the study found that both chain and local restaurants routinely serve meals that contain more calories than should be consumed in a single meal. And that’s often more than a person should eat in an entire day – even before the beverage or desert is included in the meal.

This is of concern because about half of consumers’ annual food dollars are spent on foods prepared outside the home, including foods from restaurants and similar retail food establishments, according to the FDA. Many people simply don’t know, or they underestimate, the calorie and nutrient content of these foods, FDA says.

However, there is some research suggesting that simply knowing how many calories are in foods isn’t enough to stop people from overeating. A study published in the November 2015 issue of the journal, Health Affairs, found that calorie labels in New York City chain restaurants, on their own, have not reduced the overall number of calories that consumers of fast food order and presumably eat.

But, the study did find that 51 percent of survey respondents reported noticing the calorie counts, and 12 percent claimed that it influenced them to choose a lower-calorie item, even if it did not reduce overall caloric intake.

There are, however, steps that you can take to avoid overeating when dining out. These tips are offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate.gov website:

  • Choose water, fat-free or low-fat milk, unsweetened tea, and other drinks without added sugars to drink.
  • Start your meal with a salad packed with vegetables to help you feel satisfied sooner. Ask for dressing on the side and use a small amount of it.
  • Share a main entree. Ask for small plates for everyone at the table.
  • Order a side dish or an appetizer-sized portion instead of a regular entree. They’re usually served on smaller plates and in smaller amounts.
  • Pack fruit, sliced vegetables, low-fat string cheese or unsalted nuts to eat during road trips or long commutes. No need to stop for other food when these snacks are ready-to-eat.
  • Fill your plate with vegetables and fruit. Stir-fries, kabobs or vegetarian menu items usually have more vegetables. Select fruits as a side dish or dessert.
  • Compare the calories, fat, and sodium. Many menus now include nutrition information. Look for items that are lower in calories, saturated fat and sodium.
  • Have an item from the menu and avoid the “all-you-can-eat” buffet. Steamed, grilled or broiled dishes have fewer calories than foods that are fried in oil or cooked in butter.
  • Request 100 percent whole-wheat breads, rolls, and pasta when choosing sandwiches, burgers or main dishes.

And lastly, you don’t have to eat the entire meal in one sitting. You may want to consider taking leftovers home in a container and chilling them in the refrigerator right away to eat at a later time.

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.

The Devil’s in the Details When It Comes to Added Sugar in Foods and Drinks

I’ve decided that I want to eat healthier and lessen the amount of sugar that I consume. But how can I tell what foods and drinks have added sugar?

Various kinds of sugar in spoon

Whether a food product is labeled honey-baked, maple-flavored or has dried raisins or fruit juice concentrates, what those words are really telling you is that you’re are about to eat or drink has added sugar.

People often don’t realize that many of the foods and beverages they consume have added sugar. According to a study by the University of North Carolina, of the most common packaged foods and drinks purchased in grocery stores across the country, 60 percent of them included some form of added sugar.

But what exactly is added sugar and why is it an issue?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, added sugars are the sugars and syrups included with foods during processing. In addition to making processed foods more appetizing, sugars are added to food for other reasons, including preservation such as in jams and jellies, as a bulking agent in baked goods and ice cream, and to balance the acidity of foods containing vinegar and tomatoes.

While added sugars may taste good, according to the research, they provide little nutritional value and add calories to your diet. This could contribute to weight gain, tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, poor nutrition and increase triglyceride levels, which may increase your risk of heart disease.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half your daily discretionary calories allowance. For most women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons.

However, in order to limit the amount of added sugars you consume, you need to know how much are in your foods and drinks. That’s where the nutrition labels and ingredients lists come in.

But, you have to look for more than just the word “sugar.” Added sugars go by more than 60 different names, including:

  • Cane juice and cane syrup
  • Corn sweeteners and high-fructose corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrate and nectars
  • Honey
  • Brown sugar
  • Malt syrup
  • Molasses
  • Words that end in “-ose” such as Dextrose, Fructose, Lactose
  • Confectioners
  • Rice syrup
  • Sorghum
  • Sweetener

In addition to reading the nutrition labels and ingredients lists, you can reduce the added sugar in your diet by following these tips from the Mayo Clinic and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • Drink water or other calorie-free drinks instead of sugary sodas or sports drinks.
  • Choose fresh fruit for dessert instead of cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream and other sweets.
  • When buying canned fruit, chose the ones packed in water or juice, not syrup. Also, drain and rinse with water to remove excess syrup.
  • Watch the condiments — ketchup, BBQ sauce and salad dressings can sneak in extra sugar.
  • Start your day with more fiber.

And remember, even those products marked as healthy or organic can still have added sugar.

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 Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for Ohio State University Extension.

Don’t Count on Luck to Make Corned Beef Safely for St. Patrick’s Day

I’m hosting dinner this year to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and I plan to serve corned beef. Are there any measures that I need to take to prevent the potential for any foodborne illnesses?

Homemade Corned Beef and Cabbage with Carrots and Potatoes

Corned beef, just like any other raw meat or poultry item, should be handled with care to lessen the potential for foodborne illnesses. That starts the moment you purchase the meat in the grocery store or butcher shop and bring it home.

Uncooked whole corned beef is typically sold wrapped in packaging that still contains the salt brine with spices used to cure or pickle the beef. Be sure to check the sell-by date on the package of the meat and store it unopened in the refrigerator for no more than 5 to 7 days from that date. If you purchase corned beef with a use-by date, make sure to cook it by that date, advises the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

If you want to store uncooked corned beef longer than 5 to 7 days, it is best to take the meat out of its packaging, drain the brine and rewrap the meat in a freezer-safe container or plastic wrap. Freezing corned beef in its original packaging with the brine could result in rancidity and texture changes due to the salt content of the brine, according to FoodSafety.gov.

Corned beef is a brisket cut of meat, meaning that it is cut from the breast or lower chest of the cow. As such, it is a tougher cut of meat that requires a longer time to cook in moisture to tenderize the meat.

When cooking — regardless of the method you use — make sure the meat has reached an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees, while some prefer the meat to reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Although some people will test corned beef for its doneness with a fork to measure its tenderness, the best way to ensure it is fully cooked is to use a meat thermometer to check for the minimum internal temperature, USDA says.

When checking the temperature of meat or poultry, the thermometer should be placed in the thickest part of the meat, and the temperature should hold for at least 15 seconds.

Don’t worry if the meat is still pink when it’s done — because of the nitrite used in the curing process of corned beef, the pigment in the meat remains pink. Corned beef can be cooked safely in several ways, according to USDA:

  • In the oven — covered, with the fat side up with about 1 inch of water in the pan. The meat should cook at 350 degrees for 1 hour per pound.
  • On the stovetop — in a large covered pot with water, fat side up. The water should be brought to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour per pound.
  • In a slow cooker — with enough water to cover the meat, cooked on the high setting for 5 to 6 hours. The meat can also be cooked using the high setting for the first hour, followed by 10 to 12 hours using the low setting.
  • In the microwave — in a large casserole dish covered with a lid or vented plastic wrap with enough water to cover the meat. The meat should be cooked for 20 to 30 minutes per pound on medium-low, turning the meat over and rotating the dish at the halfway point. The meat should cook to 160 degrees. Be sure to check the temperature in at least two places to account for potential cold spots.

Lastly, remember to store leftover corned beef within 2 hours of cooking, recommends FoodSafety.gov. To store the meat, cut it into several pieces, place it in a shallow container and store it in the refrigerator for no more than 3 to 4 days. Carefully wrapped corned beef can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months, the federal agency says.

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 Dan Remley, Field Specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension.

Eat More Fruits and Veggies! National Nutrition Month a Good Time to Start

I do most of the cooking in my house and try to make sure that the meals I prepare are both good tasting and healthy. However, I am in a rut when it comes to healthy food ideas. Do you have any suggestions on any clever, tasty ways to add more fruits and veggies to my family’s diet?

Corn grilled with vegetables.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends that people make half their plate fruits and vegetables. That includes eating whole fruits – fresh, frozen, dried or canned in 100 percent juice and eating fresh, frozen or canned vegetables either raw, steamed, sautéed or roasted. Make sure to include dark green, red and orange vegetables as well as legumes such as beans and peas and starchy and other vegetables.

Why is this important?

People should eat more fruits and vegetables because they are major contributors of several nutrients under-consumed in the U.S. — vitamins A, C and K, potassium, fiber, and magnesium, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation. Fruits and vegetables are also associated with reduced risk of many chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.

But, only one out of 10 Americans meets the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables, according to a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Less than 9 percent of Americans eat two to three cups of vegetables daily while 13 percent were reported to eat one and a half to two cups of fruit daily, the study found.

One way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake is to get creative in how you prepare them. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers the following suggestions:

  • Use vegetables like broccoli, spinach, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini as pizza toppings.
  • Make a breakfast smoothie with low-fat milk, frozen strawberries and a banana.
  • Make a veggie wrap with roasted vegetables and low-fat cheese rolled in a whole-wheat tortilla.
  • Grill colorful vegetable kabobs packed with tomatoes, green and red peppers, mushrooms, and onions.
  • Add color to salads with baby carrots, grape tomatoes, spinach leaves, apples or mandarin oranges.
  • Keep cut vegetables handy for midafternoon snacks, side dishes, lunch box additions or a quick nibble while waiting for dinner. Include red, green or yellow peppers, broccoli or cauliflower florets, carrots, celery sticks, cucumbers, snap peas, or whole radishes.
  • Keep a bowl of fresh whole fruit in the center of your kitchen or dining table.
  • Get saucy with fruit. Puree apples, berries, peaches or pears in a blender for a thick, sweet sauce on grilled or broiled seafood or poultry, or on pancakes, French toast or waffles.
  • Turn any omelet into a hearty meal with broccoli, squash, carrots, peppers, tomatoes or onions with low-fat sharp cheddar cheese.
  • Add pizzazz to sandwiches with sliced pineapple, apple, peppers, cucumber and tomato as fillings.
  • Make a habit of adding fruit to your morning oatmeal, ready-to-eat cereal, yogurt or toaster waffle.
  • Top a baked potato with beans and salsa or broccoli and low-fat cheese.
  • Add grated, shredded or chopped vegetables such as zucchini, spinach and carrots to lasagna, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, pasta sauce and rice dishes.
  • Make fruit your dessert: Slice a banana lengthwise and top with a scoop of low-fat frozen yogurt. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of chopped nuts.
  • Stock your freezer with frozen vegetables to steam or stir-fry for a quick side dish.
  • Cook fruit on the grill: Make kabobs with pineapple, peaches and banana. Grill on low heat until the fruit is hot and slightly golden.

While making healthier food choices is always a good idea, with March being National Nutrition Month, now is a good time to think about making healthy food choices an everyday event. One way to do that is to remember to “put your best fork forward” — which is the theme of National Nutrition Month this year. Even small changes in your eating habits and food choices can help you make strides in improving your health overall.

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.

Water, Other Nonsugary Drinks Best Option for Kids

My children used to drink a lot of high-sugar soft drinks. A few years ago we cut back, limiting them to one a day. But I saw something recently that makes me think even that might be too much. What is the recommendation?

glass of water

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends that people consume less than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugars. The guidelines also recommend that people either avoid sugar-sweetened drinks from their diet overall, or at the very least, limit the amount of sugary drinks they consume.

Other organizations, such as the American Heart Association, say kids shouldn’t consume more than 100 calories a day of added sugar. The group further recommends that children limit their consumption of sugary drinks to 8 ounces a week.

But the reality is, many kids are drinking too many sugary drinks in a given day. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics reports that about two-thirds of kids drink at least one sugary drink on a given day. Nearly 30 percent drink two or more sugary drinks a day, according to the most recent findings released in January.

This is a concern because sugary drinks have been linked to a host of health problems in both kids and adults. Issues such as cavities, obesity, heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, high cholesterol and type II diabetes have all been linked to the consumption of sugary drinks. In fact, over 90 studies have linked sweetened beverages and children’s weight problems.

So what should a parent or caregiver to do?

The best option for thirsty kids is to offer them water first. You can try these tips offered by Children’s Hospital Colorado to get kids to swig away:

  • Use frozen fruit in place of ice cubes.
  • Infuse the water with flavor by adding fruits like berries, cucumbers, lemons and limes.
  • Freeze ice cube trays with berries to add to water to keep it cold.
  • Provide your child with his or her own special drinking cup.
  • Buy 4- to 8-ounce water bottles that are easy for kids to hold and drink.
  • Teach and encourage kids to use the faucet to fill their cup or to use the water dispenser on the fridge.
  • Set up a reward system for drinking more water. Give your child a reward sticker for drinking his or her water or do a special dance when they consume their water.
  • Drink more water yourself.
  • Carry a water bottle.
  • Freeze some freezer-safe water bottles for ice-cold water all day long.
  • Choose water instead of other beverages when eating out. This not only will save you money but you will also lower your caloric intake.

Also, get to know what’s in the drinks kids consume. Read the labels. These are just some of the words that indicate your beverage is a sugar-sweetened drink, says the CDC:

  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Honey
  • Sugar
  • Syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Dextrose

These guidelines from an expert panel convened by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2013 are also helpful recommendations for children ages 2-4:

  • Milk: Offer 8-ounce servings of unflavored, low-fat or nonfat milk and calcium- and vitamin D-fortified soy beverages. Keep in mind that dairy consumption continues to be important at ages 4-18 years, when bone growth accelerates.
  • Juice: When offering juice, limit it to 4-ounce portions of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice or fruit juice combined with water, with no added sweeteners. The juice should also have no more than 70 mg of sodium per portion.
  • Offer beverages that are free of synthetic food dyes, stimulants such as caffeine, and other additives such as electrolytes or artificial flavors.

While it may be a challenge to lessen kids’ desire for sugary drinks, doing so now will benefit your children for years to come.

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 Carol Smathers, field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension.

Chow Line: Tapeworms in Salmon a Potential Risk

I heard a recent report that some salmon in the U. S. has been found to have tapeworms. That has me worried — is salmon still safe to eat?

Fresh raw salmon fillet

In most circumstances, yes.

The report you are speaking of comes from a new study published this month in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. The study said that the parasitic Japanese broad tapeworm, also known as Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense, was found in wild pink salmon from Alaska.

The study authors said that salmon from the American and Asian Pacific coasts and elsewhere pose potential dangers for persons who eat these fish raw. When the wild-caught salmon are transported on ice instead of frozen, the parasitic tapeworm may survive transport.

However, the risk of consumers becoming infected with a tapeworm is fairly low. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that all fish except catfish, tuna and salmon in certain instances, if it is to be eaten raw, first must be frozen to kill parasites.

But, while the risks are low, consumers can take precautions to reduce the risk of foodborne illness when handling, preparing or eating seafood, according to the FDA. The federal agency says that while it is best to cook seafood thoroughly to minimize the risk of foodborne illness, those who prefer to eat raw fish should eat fish that has been previously frozen.

Commercially frozen seafood is frozen solid at a temperature of -35 degrees and stored at this temperature or below for a minimum of 15 hours to kill parasites.

However, for consumers who catch fish fresh, most home freezers have temperatures at 0 to 10 degrees, which may not be cold enough to kill parasites because it can take up to 7 days at -4 degrees or below to kill parasites, especially in large fish, according to the FDA.

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

The CDC and FDA offer these other tips to prevent foodborne illness from seafood:

  • Only buy fish that is refrigerated or displayed on a thick bed of fresh ice that is not melting (preferably in a case or under some type of cover).
  • Fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour or ammonia-like.
  • Whole fish and fillets should have firm, shiny flesh and bright red gills free from milky slime.
  • The flesh should spring back when pressed.
  • Fish fillets should display no discoloration, darkening or drying around the edges.
  • Don’t buy frozen seafood if its package is open, torn or crushed on the edges.
  • Avoid packages with signs of frost or ice crystals, which may mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after handling any raw food.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with soap and hot water between the preparation of raw foods, such as seafood, and the preparation of cooked or ready-to-eat foods.

If a parasite is present in a fish, FDA offers these tips:

  • Notify the store where you bought the fish so that the store can carefully inspect remaining fish.
  • Depending on the return policy of the particular store, you may wish to return or exchange the unused portion.

Remember, while freezing will kill the parasites that may be present in some fish, freezing doesn’t kill all harmful microorganisms. That’s why the safest route is to thoroughly cook your seafood.

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.

Chow Line: Dark Chocolate a Healthier Option for Valentine’s Day

I want to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a sweet treat for my wife this year, but I don’t want to derail her healthy eating regime. What kind of sweets can I present her?

Dark chocolate with cocoa on wooden table

If you want to celebrate Valentine’s Day with sweet treats while keeping your wife’s health in mind, you can still consider presenting her with some chocolate. However, make sure you choose a dark chocolate, with which she can both enjoy and gain some heart-healthy advantages.

In moderation, dark chocolate is believed to provide multiple health benefits. This is because of its high levels of flavonoids, which are antioxidants that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can alter and weaken cells, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Research has found that flavanols, which are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and chocolate, have potential influences on vascular health, including lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot, the Cleveland Clinic says.

Milk chocolate, on the other hand, doesn’t provide the same health benefits. Generally speaking, dark chocolate has more cocoa than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate also has fewer unhealthy sugars and saturated fats than milk chocolate. Researchers at Harvard University Medical School suggest choosing chocolate that has at least 70 percent cocoa or more.

If you’d prefer to present your loved one with something other than sweets for Valentine’s Day, opt for red wine, which is also rich in flavonoids.

If you choose the red wine option, remember, it needs to be consumed in moderation, which generally, for men, means no more than two drinks per day and no more than one drink per day for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC offers these other tips for heart-healthy Valentine’s Day treats:

  • Limit your sodium intake. Spice up your romantic dinner with seasonings such as fresh or dried herbs and spices, and avoid prepackaged mixes that may contain a lot of salt.
  • Opt for healthy substitutions for saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol in your baked treats. For example, swap the butter for olive or canola oil instead.
  • When preparing your romantic dinner, choose to bake, broil or grill your food rather than fry it.
  • When able, use fresh ingredients instead of prepared ones. For example, choose fresh lemons over lemon juice concentrate or fresh garlic cloves instead of garlic powder.

Remember, in addition to Valentine’s Day, February is also host to American Heart Month. Show your sweetie that you care by getting active and eating healthier, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure. And if you smoke, try quitting.

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 Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for Ohio State University Extension.

Chow Line: Slow Cooker Is a Good Option for Healthy, Hearty Meals on Cold Winter Days

One of my resolutions this year is for my family to eat healthier while I save time and money. Preparing hearty meals in a slow cooker could be one answer, but is it really safe to use?

In a word, yes.

For many people, coming home after long hours of work, school or other activities to the delicious and inviting smells of a warm, hearty meal ready to eat is a perfect ending to a hectic day, especially during a cold winter spell. Not only are slow cookers convenient, they can also help families save money by making less expensive, tougher cuts of meat — like shoulder, round and chuck steak — more tender and shrink less. 

However, there are some precautions you should take to ensure that the meals you cook in your slow cooker are both safe and nutritious to eat. For example, two of the more popular food items to prepare using a slow cooker are meats and poultry, which need to be time and temperature controlled for safety.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, it’s important to avoid cooking frozen meats and poultry in a slow cooker. Always thaw them first. This is because frozen beef or poultry won’t reach 140 degrees quick enough and could cause a foodborne illness.

Slow cookers work by cooking foods at lower temperatures – typically between 170 to 280 degrees – for several hours. This could be a concern for some foods because the bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest in the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees, according to Foodsafety.gov.

Use a food thermometer to accurately determine if your food has reached the proper internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria.

Other tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the USDA include:

  • Keep perishable foods, especially presliced vegetables, refrigerated and out of the danger zone. Bacteria multiply rapidly when at room temperature. To avoid this, keep your food refrigerated until it’s time to add it to the pot.
  • Make sure your foods fit. The slow cooker should be half to two-thirds full to ensure your food cooks thoroughly.
  • Position foods that take longer to cook on the bottom of the slow cooker, then arrange other solid ingredients on top, making sure to spread evenly.
  •  Keep the lid on. It’s important to retain the heat when making a slow cooker meal. Only remove the lid to stir or check for doneness.
  • If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it’s safe to cook foods on low the entire time.
  • Foods take different times to cook depending on the setting used. While foods will cook faster on high than on low, for all-day cooking or for less tender cuts, you may want to use the low setting.

If you have any leftovers, it’s important to store them in a shallow covered container in the refrigerator within two hours after cooking. And, when reheating leftovers, don’t use your slow cooker – use your stove top, microwave or conventional oven to heat the food to at least 165 degrees before eating.

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 Dan Remley, Field Specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension.