When shopping, be smart about food safety

chow_052915_147010343I recently moved to a rural area, and it takes about 25 minutes to drive to the nearest grocery store. A friend suggested we keep a cooler in the trunk to put perishables in as we leave the store. That seems like overkill. Is it necessary?

It’s not a bad idea, especially during hot weather. Although the normal guideline for perishable foods is to make sure they remain in the “danger zone” of 40 to 140 degrees F for no longer than two hours, that time frame shortens to just one hour when it’s 90 degrees or hotter. So, when it’s hot outside, it’s important to do what you can to keep food as cool as possible.

It’s important to note that the time limit for the danger zone is cumulative: That is, if food remains in the zone for 45 minutes between the time you put it in your cart at the grocery store and the time you get it in the refrigerator or freezer at home, the time it can be in danger zone later — when you’re preparing it, for example — decreases to an hour and 15 minutes, or just 15 minutes at temperatures above 90 degrees. And that’s assuming that the food hasn’t been in the danger zone before you get your hands on it.

What’s so magical about this time limit? Well, given the right conditions, most bacteria that cause foodborne illness will double in number every 20 minutes. As ambient temperatures rise to 90 degrees F and above, bacteria multiply even more quickly. The more bacteria, the more likely it will make you ill. And even if these bacteria are in raw meat or other foods that you will cook before eating, they can still make you sick if you don’t cook them to the right temperature for long enough or if they produce toxins that aren’t destroyed by the cooking process.

Here are a few guidelines from Foodsafety.gov, the online gateway for federal food safety information, about grocery shopping and food safety:

  • Be smart about the path you take in the grocery store. Go through the canned food section first, so the food that’s in your cart the longest is non-perishable. Fresh meats should be the last items to go into your shopping cart.
  • In the cart, be sure to separate raw meat from fresh produce and other ready-to-eat items to prevent cross-contamination. Many stores have lightweight plastic bags, like those in the produce department, also available in the meat department to help protect other grocery items from any stray raw meat juices.
  • Ask the cashier to bag raw meat separately from other items.
  • Drive directly home from the grocery store. If you have other stops to make while in town, do so before you do your grocery shopping.
  • If you use reusable grocery bags, be sure to wash them often. Cloth bags can be washed in a washing machine and dried either in the dryer or air-dried. Plastic-lined bags should be scrubbed using hot water and soap and air-dried. Be sure the bags are completely dry before storing or using them. If you have insulated bags, ask the cashier to use them for perishable items to help keep them as cool as possible.

Chow Line is a service of the 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 Sanja Ilic, Ohio State University Extension’s food safety specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Learn more about your food with Food-A-Pedia

chow_052215_93639906I’ve started to plan meals for a week at a time to help streamline my grocery shopping. Since I’m trying to drop a few pounds, I’d like to do some quick legwork to compare calories in some foods I eat regularly. If I wait to look at Nutrition Facts labels while shopping, I feel like I’m in the store forever. Any ideas that could help?

There is plenty of information online that could help you track down the calories and nutrients in foods, but one that might be particularly easy to use — and is free — is Food-A-Pedia, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s SuperTracker website.

With SuperTracker, you can plug in information to get a personalized nutrition and physical activity plan. To get a personalized plan, you need to sign up and provide profile information. But anyone can use many of SuperTracker’s features, including Food-A-Pedia.

Food-A-Pedia includes information on 8,000 foods and beverages, and you can easily compare two items side by side.

Just go to supertracker.usda.gov/foodapedia.aspx. You’ll find a search box where you can enter a food item. Include the category (“Fruits,” “Vegetables,” or “Pasta and Rice,” for example) to narrow down the number of results that come up.

After you find the first food, you can conduct another search to find the second food item to make your comparison.

For example, let’s say you want to compare the calories and nutrients in poultry and fish. First, in the search box, enter the type of poultry you normally eat — let’s say chicken — and choose the result that most closely matches your typical meal, perhaps “Chicken, breast, boneless, skinless, baked.” The results will appear immediately to the right on your screen. Then, go back to the search box and type in the type of fish you normally consume — let’s say cod. Choose the result that most closely matches how you prepare cod, perhaps “Cod, baked or broiled, without fat.” The results appear in the box next to the chicken breast entry.

Now you can easily compare the calories, saturated fat, added sugars and sodium of those two items. You’ll see that a medium-sized chicken breast provides 141 calories, whereas a typical cod fillet provides just 93 calories. You can also adjust the amounts of each food to compare, changing the measures — to “ounces,” for example — to allow you to compare the same amount of each food: 4 ounces of chicken breast provides 184 calories, whereas 4 ounces of cod provides 113 calories.

Of course, not all food items are listed in Food-A-Pedia. If you find yourself running into glitches, there are many other free apps and websites that can also give you such information. Compare notes with friends and family members to find out what they might be using. Becoming more informed about the food you eat is worth the legwork.

Chow Line is a service of the 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 Dan Remley, Ohio State University Extension’s field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

With flavored water, look at label closely

chow_051515_101531757I switched my beverage of choice from pop to bottled flavored water. I’m enjoying trying a lot of different brands and flavors. Is there anything I should be on the lookout for when choosing which one to try next?

Water is a great alternative to sugary soft drinks. But as you reach for your next flavored bottled water, be sure to take a close look at the label to make sure you’re consuming what you think you are. Some bottled flavored water is actually just that — water with flavorings. In fact, a range of flavors of unsweetened carbonated water is now widely available. But some products labeled “water” contain a lot of sugar and calories, caffeine, artificial sweeteners or other additives that you may prefer to avoid.

First, read the Nutrition Facts label. Look at the calories per serving and the number of servings per container. That will quickly let you know how many calories you’ll be consuming after you twist off the bottle top.

Second, read the ingredients listings carefully. Are you satisfied with what you see? Watch out for sugar, which can be labeled as many different things, including corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, malt syrup, nectars (such as peach nectar or pear nectar) and sucrose.

Note that caffeine doesn’t have to be listed as an ingredient if it is naturally present in one of the other ingredients — tea, for example. But if it’s added on its own, it has to be in the ingredients listing.

Many flavored waters boast they contain vitamins and antioxidants. That’s all well and good, but it can be an expensive way to consume them. Eat a wide variety of produce — five servings a day or more — and you’ll be fine on that score. It’s a similar situation to that of sports drinks — athletes who vigorously exercise for an hour or more may benefit from the carbohydrates and electrolytes that sports drinks contain, but many people who reach for those beverages simply don’t need them, or the calories they contain. If water with vitamins also contains sweeteners, then it probably isn’t a healthy option.

Overall, water is the best choice to quench your thirst. Since you are interested in flavored water, why not make your own? Just fill a glass or pitcher with cold water and make some additions. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Fresh mint leaves
  • Sliced cucumber
  • Cubed watermelon or cantaloupe
  • Sliced oranges, lemons or limes
  • A splash of orange, pineapple or grapefruit juice

Just be sure to thoroughly rinse any such ingredients under running water before adding them to your water. Anything with a tough outside skin or rind should be scrubbed with a vegetable brush under running water before being cut into, to make sure any contaminants on the exterior aren’t transferred to your fresh glass of cool water.

Chow Line is a service of the 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 Carol Smathers, Ohio State University Extension’s field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

A deadly reminder on home canning safety

chow_050815_466233529I was surprised when I heard that the botulism that recently killed someone likely came from home-canned potatoes. I just started canning last year. What can I do to make sure I’m doing so as safely as possible?

A lot of people were surprised. Foodborne botulism is rare: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are only about 20 cases per year in the U.S. But when it does strike, the culprit is usually home-canned foods.

Botulism is caused by a nerve toxin produced by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. These bacteria are found in the soil but grow best in conditions with very low oxygen. The bacteria form spores which keep the bacteria dormant until they find themselves in an environment that allows them to grow. If untreated, someone with botulism could experience paralysis of the respiratory muscles, arms, legs and other parts of the body. Botulism is fatal in 3 to 5 percent of cases, the CDC says.

According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, C. botulinum spores can produce deadly toxin within three to four days in the right conditions, which include:

  • A moist, low-acid food.
  • Temperature between 40 and 120 degrees F.
  • Less than 2 percent oxygen.

All fresh vegetables, including green beans, asparagus, carrots, corn, potatoes and peppers, are low-acid foods, meaning they have a pH above 4.6. The lower the pH, the higher a food’s acidity. Tomatoes used to be considered a high-acid food, but in recent years some types have been found to have pH values higher than 4.6, making them a low-acid food. Because tomatoes are right on the border between high acid and low acid, anyone using the boiling-water method to can tomatoes or homemade salsa needs to add lemon juice or citric acid during the canning process to be safe.

For low-acid foods, a pressure canner must be used (and used properly) to destroy any botulinum spores that may be lurking in the food. Temperatures need to reach 240 to 250 degrees F  for a long enough time, which depends on the food being canned, the size of the jars and the way the food is packed in the jars.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Complete Guide to Home Canning is the bible for do-it-yourself canning. It is available to download for free, chapter by chapter, at the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website, nchfp.uga.edu.

Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, also offers how-to videos and classes on home food preservation. For details, go to fcs.osu.edu/food-safety/home-food-preservation. OSU Extension also offers a fact sheet on botulism, available at go.osu.edu/botulism.

Don’t be cavalier about home canning. Home-canned foods can look, smell and taste normal and still be contaminated. Follow canning guidelines precisely to be sure your canned vegetables are safe.

Chow Line is a service of the 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, Ohio State University Extension’s field specialist in Food Safety, Selection and Management.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

A tried-and-true DIY ‘detox’ diet

chow_050115_496683961I’ve seen a lot of different versions of “detox” diets. Which type might work best to help me shed a few pounds this spring?

“Detox” and similar diets have been around for ages. As early as the 1930s, the grapefruit diet promised quick weight loss because of some sort of fat-burning enzymes, which simply don’t exist.

Today, many detox diets focus on juicing or eliminating entire food groups and promise to help you burn fat, boost metabolism, improve digestion and (almost always) lose weight. However, there seems to be no consensus about what a detox diet really consists of, or what it is that you need to detoxify out of your body that your liver, kidney and colon don’t already eliminate.

That said, spring is always a good time to recharge your diet. And if you want to drop a few pounds, why not do so in a way that’s sustainable over time and avoid a yo-yo pattern of weight loss and gain? Start with these guidelines:

  • Eat two fruits a day — the equivalent of 1 to 2 cups total. Be sure to eat a wide variety, not only to keep your diet interesting but so you reap the benefits of a range of different types of produce. Try strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, honeydew, pineapple, mango, oranges, grapes or any other fruit. Frozen and canned fruit also count. To lose weight, limit how much juice and dried fruit you eat, such as raisins or prunes, because they pack a lot of calories in a small amount and won’t fill you up. In fact, if you choose to eat dried fruit, count it double (a quarter-cup equals a half-cup of fruit for the day).
  • Eat 2.5 cups of vegetables or more each day. Again, choose a wide variety. Over the course of a week, be sure to include dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, kale, collard or other greens; red and orange vegetables including red peppers, carrots, tomatoes, pumpkin and winter squash; beans, such as black beans, pinto beans and kidney beans; and other vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower, green beans and zucchini. Limit starchy vegetables such as potatoes, green peas and corn. When eating raw leafy greens, double the amount: Eat 2 cups and count them as 1 cup.
  • Limit refined grains, such as bread, rice and pasta, to 2 to 3 ounces a day, and enjoy an additional 2 to 3 ounces of whole grains. An “ounce” in this case is equal to one slice of bread, half an English muffin, a half-cup of oatmeal, 1 cup of breakfast cereal, a half-cup of rice or pasta, or one 6-inch tortilla.
  • Enjoy 3 to 5.5 ounces of protein per day, including poultry, seafood, lean beef, nuts and eggs (1 egg is equal to one ounce of protein).
  • Eat 2.5 to 3 cups of lowfat or nonfat dairy a day, including milk, yogurt and cheese.
  • Choose healthy oils, such as olive oil, and limit to 1 to 2 tablespoons a day.

This plan might look familiar: It’s the plan recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Get more details at www.choosemyplate.gov.

Chow Line is a service of the 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 Carolyn Gunther, Ohio State University Extension’s state specialist in Community Nutrition Education.

For a PDF file of this column, please click here.