7 ways to make food donations count

chow_112415-495735448During this time of year, I often make donations to food drives. I normally just take older items from my pantry that I haven’t found a use for, but I wonder if instead I should be buying new. Are there guidelines I should be following?  

As long as the food is safe for human consumption, your local food pantry will likely be grateful for the donation, especially these days.

According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released in September, an estimated 14 percent of American households were food insecure at some point during 2014. That includes 5.6 percent experiencing “very low food security,” which means that one or more household members went without food at times because they didn’t have enough money or other resources for food. In Ohio, 7.5 percent of households experienced very low food security — worse than every state except for Arkansas, Maine and Missouri. As a result, food pantries report increased demand and, of course, the need for increased donations.

Here are some ideas found on several organizations’ websites to increase the chances that your donations are worthwhile:

  • Consider focusing on shelf-stable sources of protein. Examples include peanut butter; beans, either canned or dried; trail mix or nuts; canned chili, soups or stews; and canned tuna, salmon or chicken.
  • Pantry staples, such as rice, pasta, flour, cereal, canned vegetables, tomato sauce and cooking oils are always welcome. If you can spring for healthier options, such as whole-grain pasta, brown rice, high-fiber low-sugar cereal and low-sodium vegetables, all the better.
  • At this time of year, think about items for holiday meals: canned yams, cranberry sauce, boxed stuffing, instant mashed potatoes — even green beans, mushroom soup and dried onion rings.
  • Refrain from donating anything in glass jars, torn packages or in cans that are rusted, dented, or (heaven forbid) bulging. Food pantries generally can’t accept foods that are past their expiration date, but they take foods less than a year past a “best by” date. If you’re not certain, ask.
  • Most pantries prefer not to distribute junk food such as candy, chips and soft drinks. Limit the donation of such foods.
  • Some pantries also distribute personal care items, such as deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, bar soap, body wash, toilet paper, and toothpaste and toothbrushes.
  • Finally, consider donating money instead of products. Food pantries can use monetary donations to purchase items from regional food banks, which in turn use donations for their own purchases. For example, the Mid-Ohio Foodbank reports that it can turn $1 in donated cash into $10 worth of food and groceries to feed the hungry. It may not feel as satisfying as clearing out your pantry, but monetary donations can go a long way to help alleviate the plight of those who need a helping hand.

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 Irene Hatsu, Ohio State University Extension state specialist in Food Security. This week’s column is being sent out a few days early, ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Do not (I repeat) do not rinse the turkey

chow_112015-508424345I see conflicting guidance about whether or not to rinse the turkey before roasting it. So, should I or shouldn’t I?

Despite what you might read in your favorite cookbook or go-to online recipe site, food safety authorities are steadfast in their warning not to rinse off raw turkey.

This has been the recommendation for years, in fact. Unfortunately, if you search the Internet, you may find many faulty recommendations that involve rinsing and pat drying the turkey before setting it in the roasting pan. This just doesn’t make sense, and causes more problems than it solves.

The reason is twofold: First, rinsing doesn’t work. It’s true that raw poultry sold in the U.S. is often contaminated with Campylobacter, Salmonella or some other bacteria. It’s also true that poultry is the fourth most common food associated with foodborne illness, and the most common culprit behind deaths from foodborne illness in the U.S. But research by the British Food Standards Agency between 2000 and 2003 showed that rinsing off whole poultry, or beef for that matter, does not actually remove all of the bacteria from the surface of the meat.

Second, and even more important, the act of rinsing off the turkey can actually splatter some bacteria from the surface of the meat all over your sink, onto your kitchen counter and over to anything that happens to be around it — the just-washed breakfast dishes in the drainer, for example, or the cutting board where you’re about to prepare a relish tray. Some estimates say the splatter can spread up to 3 feet away. The researchers examined what happens when people rinse off raw meat, and they concluded that the only effect is that it actually increases the likelihood of contaminating your hands and nearby surfaces. And it’s likely to strike places where you’ll be preparing foods that will not be cooked or roasted in an oven for a few hours where all that bacteria will be destroyed.

What’s more, most people don’t clean up properly. According to the research, people tend to wipe down a counter or sink with a damp cloth and figure they’ve taken care of any microbiological hazard. Sure, you may be more careful than that. After the turkey is in the oven you might wash everything down with hot, soapy water, rinse it off, let it dry and then follow up with a santizing cloth or bleach solution. But it’s Thanksgiving Day — do you really have time for that? Wouldn’t you agree that it’s much easier not to rinse off the turkey in the first place?

So, if your step-by-step guide to preparing Thanksgiving dinner includes the recommendation to rinse off the turkey, please skip that step, and you can feel quite smug about the decision. But be sure to wash your hands, and do so properly — with soap, for at least 20 seconds, rinsing under warm running water, and drying with a clean cloth or paper towel. Washing your hands properly and often is the best thing you can do to prevent foodborne illness.

For more food safety guidance for the holidays and all year round, see foodsafety.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 Sanja Ilic, Ohio State University Extension state specialist in Food Safety.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Keep it simple to plan for healthful holidays

chow_111315-99146758Last year, I promised myself that after the holidays, I would eat healthier and exercise more. It never happened. This year, I don’t want to wait, but I also don’t want to set myself up for failure or be the Grinch during holiday gatherings. Any ideas?

First, recognize that it’s difficult to change our behaviors. Face it: If it were easy, you would have done it a long time ago. For a habit to stick, experts in behavior change say it’s important to keep a few strategies in mind:

  • Keep it simple. Focus on one realistic change at a time, and make it as easy and automatic as possible. Once you get into the habit — that is, once you find yourself doing the behavior without even thinking about it — you can try tackling something else. But not before.
  • Be specific. For example, instead of setting a goal to eat more fruits and vegetables, set a goal to eat at least one fruit and three vegetables each day. That way you can track your progress.
  • Celebrate your success. Give yourself an “attaboy” every time you practice your new habit. It might sound silly, but offering yourself a small pat on the back can make a big difference in whether your new behavior will actually become a habit.
  • Go public. Tell your friends and family about your goal and ask for their support. Be sure to tell them why you are trying something new — at the very least, that will help you make sure you yourself understand the reasons you want to make a change. It also helps you make sure it’s something you really want to do, not just something you feel obligated to do.

What sorts of new habits might be most helpful during the holidays? Here are some ideas:

  • Drink a pint of water before every meal. If you’re trying to lose weight, this simple strategy could be effective. According to a recent study in the journal Obesity, adults who drank 16 ounces of regular tap water before each meal, three times a day, lost almost 10 pounds in 12 weeks, compared with an average loss of less than 2 pounds for those who drank water before meals only once a day or not at all.
  • Take a 15-minute brisk walk every day after dinner. While this small amount of extra activity would be beneficial for almost anyone, British researchers who reviewed studies involving older adults found that the biggest boost for longevity might be for people who are sedentary to start doing just a little moderate to vigorous exercise. They found that people over 60 who averaged 75 minutes of such exercise a week, or 15 minutes five days a week, were 22 percent less likely to die over 10 years than those who remained sedentary.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to recommended levels (or less). It’s easy to get carried away during holiday gatherings, but alcohol provides a lot of empty calories and consuming too much carries other health risks, as well. The recommended limit is one drink a day for women or two for men. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

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 field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Preschool ideal time to focus on healthy eating

chow_110615-179322257We recently moved, and my children are attending a new child care center. I’m surprised at how much it focuses on healthy eating and exercise, and I wonder if it’s a bit too much for preschoolers. Could it lead to a backlash later?

Actually, early childhood is the ideal time to establish healthy eating and physical activity habits. In fact, researchers of a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology recommend promoting healthy diet and exercise with children as young as 3 to 5 years old to help prevent cardiovascular disease later in life. In their study, young children who were introduced to a heart-healthy lifestyle program showed better attitudes, habits and knowledge about heart health up to three years afterwards than children who weren’t exposed to the program. They were also less prone to be overweight or obese.

One way preschools and early child care centers can improve child nutrition is by providing healthy, locally grown foods. According to data gathered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farm-to-school programs in schools improve acceptance of healthier foods in cafeterias by 28 percent and reduce the amount of food that students throw in the trash by 17 percent. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports such programs in early care and education settings, saying that such activities help to shape early taste preferences and support the formation of healthy habits to last a lifetime. “Farm to Preschool” activities include:

  • Purchasing locally grown foods for snacks and meals.
  • Garden-based educational programs.
  • Cooking demonstrations with local foods.
  • Classroom visits from farmers.

If your children’s child care center doesn’t already have a local foods program up and running, there are plenty of resources available to help. Both the National Farm to School Network (farmtoschool.org) and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Farm to School program (www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/farm-school) have information specifically for preschools and other early child care centers. Among their tips:

  • Start small, perhaps with a special local foods event or by providing one local food item each month.
  • Start simple. Fruits and vegetables are often the easiest locally sourced foods. Local milk is usually easy to find, too.
  • The child care center’s current food service company may be able to supply locally grown foods — the center just needs to ask. The center can also seek out local farmers willing to sell foods directly. State leaders with the National Farm to School Network can help link up your children’s center with local farmers. To find your state’s leader, see the listing at farmtoschool.org/our-network.

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 field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness, and the state lead for Farm to School.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.