Take steps against foodborne illness

145836540I got hit with a nasty bug last week, and I wonder if it might have been food poisoning. I’m OK now, but what kinds of food poisoning are most common, and what are the symptoms?

Generally, foodborne illness symptoms can be mild or severe, and include everything from upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever and dehydration.

Many times, it’s difficult even for doctors to differentiate between foodborne illness and other types of gastrointestinal distress. But experts estimate that 48 million Americans each year become ill from contaminated food. So, it’s a good idea to know where it’s likely to come from and to take steps to prevent it.

To keep track of foodborne illness, the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (or FoodNet, online at cdc.gov/foodnet) collects information from 10 states accounting for about 15 percent of the U.S. population. The system is designed to determine trends in foodborne illness: which bugs are declining and which are on the rise. The program is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ten state health departments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, and the Food and Drug Administration.

In the report card for 2013, released in April 2014, FoodNet revealed:

• Cases from Salmonella were down compared with 2010-2012, but this bug still caused the highest number of foodborne illness in the U.S.: 7,277 confirmed cases in the states covered by FoodNet in 2013. There are many different types of Salmonella. The most common type identified — 19 percent of the Salmonella cases in 2013 — was Salmonella enteritidis, associated with raw or undercooked eggs. Salmonella is also commonly associated with raw poultry and other meat, and also unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese, contaminated raw fruits and vegetables (such as alfalfa sprouts, melons), and even spices and nuts.

• Next on the FoodNet list was Campylobacter, which caused 6,621 confirmed illnesses. Campylobacter is also associated with raw and undercooked poultry and unpasteurized milk, as well as contaminated water.

To help prevent foodborne illness, the most important things to do are wash your hands and surfaces thoroughly after handling raw food, and cook meat and eggs thoroughly. For more guidance, seefoodsafety.gov.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Linnette Goard, field specialist in Food Safety, Selection and Management for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Eat fruit, veggies for health, not weight

467006435I was hoping that eating more fruits and vegetables this summer would help me lose a few pounds, but so far, no luck. Am I missing something?

A lot of people think that eating more healthfully will automatically help them slim down. And no wonder: Most weight-loss plans emphasize the importance of incorporating more fruit and vegetables into the diet.

That’s advice worth following for most Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults in the U.S. consume fruit only 1.1 times per day on average, and vegetables only 1.6 times per day. At the same time, U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend adults eat 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit daily, along with 2 to 3 cups of vegetables. Boosting fruit and vegetable consumption is a good idea for just about everyone.

But for most people, unfortunately, that’s not the only change in diet required for weight loss.

A meta-analysis published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on weight. Researchers reviewed seven studies conducted between 1998 and 2013 involving more than 1,200 people. All of the studies were randomized and lasted for at least eight weeks, and all focused on fruit and vegetable intake and weight loss or gain.

The authors found that, across the board, increased fruit and vegetable consumption had no effect on weight loss in those studies.

From one perspective, it might sound like there’s no reason to focus on fruits and vegetables if you want to lose weight. But as the authors noted, in these studies, eating more produce didn’t cause weight gain, either. And there are plenty of reasons to eat more fruits and vegetables. According to the CDC:

  • A healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
  • Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals that contribute to good health.
  • Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and can help you feel full without resorting to less-healthful choices.

The CDC offers links to additional resources to help you get the fruits and vegetables you need each day on its “Nutrition for Everyone” website. Included is a link with ideas on how to incorporate more produce in your weight-loss effort. For more information, see cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/fruitsvegetables.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Safety first at u-pick farms

492022639I’m taking my children to pick-your-own farms for the first time this summer. Any tips?

First — have fun! Of course, that’s the whole point, with the added benefit of getting the freshest produce possible.

But you also need to keep in mind some food safety considerations. Although consuming fruits and vegetables is associated with all sorts of health benefits, it’s also possible to be exposed to bacteria and other microorganisms that could cause foodborne illness.

The most important thing to remember is for you and your children to wash your hands, and do it often and properly. Here are some guidelines:

  • Wash hands before picking fruit, after going to the bathroom, after eating, and after any hand-to-face contact, such as after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • When washing your hands, first wet your hands, then lather up with soap and wash for 20 seconds. That’s a lot longer than you might think. A common piece of advice is to sing “Happy Birthday” twice while rubbing your hands together, especially around your fingernails and knuckles. Scrub well.
  • Rinse thoroughly, and dry your hands and wrists with a fresh paper towel.

If there’s no water available, use hand wipes to remove any surface dirt, and follow up with a hand sanitizer.

Some other considerations include:

  • Don’t pick fruit that has fallen on the ground.
  • Use clean containers. Some operations provide containers; others ask that you bring your own.
  • Leave Fido at home. Dogs and other pets can’t be expected to be sanitary in the great outdoors.
  • Bring a cooler with ice or cold packs with you so you can start chilling the fruit quickly. After being picked, berries and other perishable foods shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than two hours — one hour if it’s hotter than 90 degrees (like it can get in a hot car).
  • At home, rinse the fruit thoroughly under running water — use the spray for fragile produce, like berries — before storing in the refrigerator. Use a colander for smaller pieces.

For more information, Ohio State University Extension offers two fact sheets free online: Food Safety in Berry Patch, at go.osu.edu/fdsfberry, and Safe Handling of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, atgo.osu.edu/fdsffrtveg.

Other tips for visiting pick-your-own operations are available at pickyourown.org/pickingtips.htm.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Find what terms on meat labels mean

452468129I’m seeing more local meat at the farmers market. Do words like  “no hormones,” “grass-fed” and “organic” all mean pretty much the same thing?

Not really. Each term has a specific meaning, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates their use.

One piece of background: Rules about the labeling of different foods are complex. For one thing, the USDA is in charge of only meat, poultry and processed egg products. Other foods are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That might seem straightforward, but it can quickly get complicated.

For example, FDA regulates eggs in the shell, but USDA regulates processed egg products. FDA regulates fruits and vegetables, but USDA runs the National Organic Program that regulates organic crops, including organic fruits and vegetables.

All this is important because if you look on the FDA’s website for organic information, for example, you’ll find that the agency has no regulations regarding the use of the term “organic” on food labels. But if you turn to the USDA, you’ll learn exactly what that term means.

Searching the USDA website (usda.gov), you’ll find the following definitions for claims used on meat and poultry:

  • “No hormones administered” may be used on a beef label if the producer can supply documentation showing that no hormones were used in raising the animals. Since hormones cannot be used in raising any swine or poultry, a label on pork and poultry saying “no hormones” must also say “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones,” just to make it clear that no pork or poultry at all is raised with hormones.
  • “Grass-fed” means that grass and forage are the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the animal, with the exception of milk consumed before the animal is weaned. Grass-fed cattle aren’t necessarily organically raised, and organic beef isn’t necessarily grass-fed.
  • “Organic” livestock must meet animal health and welfare standards, must not be raised with antibiotics or growth hormones, must be given 100 percent organic feed, and must have received access to the outdoors.

To learn more about terms used on meat and poultry products, a good first step would be to “Ask FSIS,” a service that provides answers to questions about inspection, labeling, importing and more. Just go toaskfsis.custhelp.com. If the answer to your question is not already in the system, you can submit it as a new question and a staff officer will answer.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

 

Diabetes can cause serious issues

185831476My father has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I’m surprised to learn about all of the complications that can result. What’s the best way we can help him reduce his risk?

You’re right. Diabetes — really, the high blood sugar that results — can cause all sorts of complications.

When glucose stays in your bloodstream instead of entering cells, that means it can’t be used by cells for energy, causing you to feel tired or lethargic. All that sugar running through your bloodstream also damages blood vessels. That includes small blood vessels such as those in the eyes, which can cause blindness, and in the kidneys, which can lead to kidney failure. It also includes large blood vessels, leading to heart attack and stroke. High blood sugar can also cause nerve damage, particularly in the feet, which can lead to amputation.

Given all that, keeping blood sugar under control should be the top priority for anyone with diabetes.

Recently, researchers offered one bit of good news. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the incidence of five major diabetes complications declined between 1990 and 2010. Heart attacks and other cardiac problems declined by 60 percent; stroke and amputations declined by about half; and end-stage kidney failure dropped by about 30 percent.

Still, the researchers warned that the incidence of all of these complications remains high. And with so many more Americans contracting diabetes — nearly 26 million today compared with 6.5 million in 1990 — many more people are experiencing serious diabetes-related issues despite the impressive declines in percentages reported in the study.

To help your father stay on top of his diabetes, be sure he has an A1C blood test at least twice a year. The A1C test measures overall blood glucose levels from the past two to three months, and it should be below 7.0. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels should also be monitored and kept at healthy levels. Encourage him to keep his appointments and follow medical advice.

What else? Help him focus on eating a healthful diet, centered on fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meat, dry peas or beans, whole grains and low- or nonfat dairy, combined with 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity nearly every day.

See more practical guidance from the American Diabetes Association at www.diabetes.org. Also, Ohio State University Extension offers diabetes-related healthy cooking schools in many communities. Seefcs.osu.edu/nutrition/dining-diabetes/ for details.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

New labels to help ID added sugars

176774860Next month, I want to try to cut added sugars from my diet, but I’m confused when I look at the Nutrition Facts labels. For example, sliced fruit packed in juice seems to have a lot of sugar. How can I tell if it’s added sugar or just the natural sugars from the fruit and juice?

First, good for you for paying attention to added sugars in your diet. On average, Americans consume about 16 percent of their daily calories from sugars added during food production and processing, during cooking, or from the sugar bowl at the table. The nation’s Dietary Guidelines have recommended decreasing the amount of added sugars in the diet for years.

To answer your question, though, if the label says “100 percent juice,” there are no added sugars in the beverage.

This can get confusing because many food items that are labeled “100 percent juice” also list “fruit juice concentrate” on the ingredients label. Fruit juice concentrate is natural fruit juice with most of the water removed. If it’s not reconstituted — that is, if the same amount of water isn’t restored — then the concentrate is so sweet that it is considered an added sugar. But in order to claim “100 percent juice” on a label, the Food and Drug Administration says a food manufacturer must add as much water to a concentrated juice as appears in the original juice.

On the current Nutrition Facts labels, to find added sugars in foods, you need to examine the food ingredient listing and know to look for words like high fructose corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, dextrose or even honey. See a complete list of added sugars here: bit.ly/addedsugarslist.

But in March, the FDA proposed changing the Nutrition Facts label to clearly separate added sugars from other sugars. This way, consumers can tell at a glance if a product has added sugars, and how much. You can see the proposed new Nutrition Facts label at bit.ly/newlabel.

The World Health Organization recently drafted a recommendation for people to limit consumption of added sugars to as low as 5 percent of calories. That recommendation includes even 100 percent fruit juice. Although many other nutrition authorities don’t consider 100 percent fruit juice to be an added sugar, most recommend eating whole fruit rather than drinking just the juice. Juice lacks dietary fiber, and it’s easy to consume in excess, contributing extra calories.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus

Be sure produce is washed properly

459932801My wife always rinses packaged lettuce that’s marked as prewashed. She said it sometimes smells funny so she likes to rinse it off. If it smells funny, should we eat it? And is washing it necessary?

Prewashed lettuce in a sealed bag sometimes accumulates carbon dioxide, and you might notice a slight odor when you first open the bag. It should dissipate quickly and doesn’t indicate any health risk.

Be sure to read the label. Don’t assume that prepackaged produce is prewashed. If it is, you’re right — there’s no reason to wash it again. But if you can’t resist, just be sure you do so properly. It would be ironic if, in trying to be doubly safe by washing prewashed produce, you ended up contaminating it by doing so sloppily.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers guidelines for selecting and serving raw produce at http://bit.ly/rawproduce, and food safety experts with Colorado State University Extension offer additional tips at http://bit.ly/ColoStateFreshProduce. Here’s what experts say about washing raw fruits and vegetables:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw produce, and also clean counter tops, cutting boards and utensils with hot soapy water.
  • Generally, it’s best to wait to wash fresh produce until just before you plan to eat it, because the additional moisture may encourage the growth of bacteria and speed spoilage. If you see dirt on produce and want to wash it before storage, use clean paper towels to dry it thoroughly afterward.
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing or eating. Does the produce look rotten? Use common sense and throw it away.
  • Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking. The running water helps to dislodge dirt and bacteria and wash it away. Experts do not recommend washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent, as produce is porous and could absorb the chemicals in them, or using commercial produce washes.
  • Even bananas should be rinsed off under cool running water just before eating, say experts from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
  • For other produce with a firm skin or rind, use a vegetable brush under running water before cutting into it, even if you plan on peeling it. This will reduce the chance that any dirt or microorganisms on the surface would be transferred to the portion you’ll be eating.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

More fruit, veggies in school lunches

178470554My daughter says students at her school throw away a lot more cafeteria food these days because they get too many vegetables. Why serve a food if kids just throw it away?

A lot of people had this fear when new U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for school meals went into effect in 2012. Those new standards are required for the 100,000-plus schools taking part in the National School Lunch Program. The rules mandate schools offer more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and require students to select either a fruit or a vegetable as part of their lunch.

Even though many people complain the result is more food waste, some new research indicates that’s not the case. A study in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine compared the amount of food thrown away in the cafeterias of four low-income schools in Massachusetts before the new rules went into effect and afterwards.

They found that the amount of food wasted in these school cafeterias remained about the same, and serving more fruits and vegetables led to higher consumption of produce. For example, the number of children choosing fruit at lunch increased from 53 percent to 76 percent after the rules went into effect, but there was no increase in the amount of food thrown away, meaning the children were eating more fruit.

In addition, among children choosing vegetables at lunch, the percent of vegetables consumed increased from 25 percent to 41 percent, and the amount increased from about one-eighth of a cup to one-third of a cup a day. These children also tended to eat more of their main entree.

Interestingly, another recent study looked at the effects of local bans on chocolate milk in schools. The goal of such bans is to reduce the calories and added sugar in children’s diets: a cup of chocolate milk has about 25 grams (over 6 teaspoons) of sugar, compared with about 12 grams in white milk. But a study conducted by Cornell University and published in the journal PLOS ONE on April 16 found that such bans in 11 Oregon elementary schools led to students drinking 10 percent less milk and wasting 29 percent more milk. Although the students consumed less sugar and calories, they also consumed less protein and calcium.

Researchers suggested ways schools could encourage plain milk over chocolate milk instead of outright bans, and ways to serve other healthy offerings that might have better results. See more at foodpsychology.cornell.edu/op/chocomilk and smarterlunchrooms.org/.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Many Americans improving their diet

151921148I met some friends for lunch, and we all realized we’re eating better than we used to. Some of us think it’s because we’re “older and wiser,” but some think everyone is eating better these days. Any idea who’s right?

It’s probably a combination of both.

As we age, our bodies generally need fewer calories, partly because of age-related loss of lean muscle mass. (Most adults lose 2 to 3 percent of muscle for each decade that passes.) So, older adults may end up eating less. If that’s one of your markers for “eating more healthfully,” aging could have something to do with it.

But there does appear to be a cultural shift in the U.S. as well. A January 2014 study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reports that the average diet quality of American adults improved between 2005 and 2010. Over those years, working-age adults tended to eat fewer calories overall, fewer calories from fat and satuated fat, and less cholesterol and more fiber. Older adults (those who were 60 and older in 2005-2006), didn’t report much change in calorie intake, but did report improvements in other areas.

The analysts concluded Americans were eating better during those years for a number of reasons. First, they pointed to the Great Recession, which began in late 2007. The economic downturn caused a 12.9 percent drop in spending on food away from home: at restaurants, bars, sports arenas, vending machines, food trucks and other venues where people eat out.

That makes a difference because foods prepared away from home tend to be higher in calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, and also lower in fiber and calcium.

But the study’s authors said the recession didn’t explain everything. They also found that Americans are increasingly reading Nutrition Facts labels and looking at health claims on food labels (such as “May reduce the risk of heart disease”). Plus, they noted that other studies have also found that there was more consumer demand — and more availability — of whole grain foods over the years of this analysis. All of this points to an increased focus on nutrition when shopping for food to eat at home, as well. Also, consumers in this study overwhelmingly said they at least sometimes would use nutrition information in making choices at restaurants if the information was readily available.

Whatever the reason, the finding that many Americans are eating better puts you and your friends in good company.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

 

Labeling genetically modified foods

474161813I’m surprised that genetically modified foods aren’t required to be labeled. Why aren’t they?

This remains a controversial topic, and there are points to be made on both sides. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which does not require genetically modified foods to be labeled, encourages food manufacturers to do so voluntarily because people are increasingly interested in knowing more about the food they’re eating.

Opponents of labeling foods say it would present a logistical challenge and would create an added expense. But even more, they argue that foods made from genetically modified crops aren’t materially different than foods made from non-genetically modified crops.

When a plant is genetically modified, it has a gene spliced into its genetic structure to produce a specific type of protein. The human body digests those proteins just like any other protein — it can’t detect if a gene or protein is from a genetically modified food or not. Requiring a label, some say, would potentially cause unneeded alarm among consumers: Some consumers will take the label as a warning, and they’ll avoid the product even though authorities, including the FDA, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization, aren’t questioning the safety of such products.

Still, some (perhaps many) consumers simply would like to know if their food is made from genetically modified crops. Some have concerns about potential environmental impacts. Others wonder about long-term effects of consuming food from crops produced in this way — something that has happened just in the past two decades and is now prolific. It’s estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the processed food on grocery store shelves have an ingredient, primarily corn, soy or canola, that’s from a genetically modified crop.

To meet those consumers’ demands, some manufacturers and retailers are discussing ways to voluntarily label products. And, some manufacturers are reformulating some products to be free of genetically modified ingredients. In addition, consumers can choose to purchase “USDA Certified Organic” products, which are required to be free of genetically modified ingredients.

For more information, see a recently updated fact sheet, “The Impact on Human Health of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Foods,” from Ohio State University Extension available to download at http://go.osu.edu/GMO.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, orfilipic.3@osu.edu.