Canning and Home Food Preservation

With canning season in swing now, I have some home canning recipes that have been passed down through my family over decades that I want to try. With all the new techniques and information that have been developed regarding home food preservation, can I still use those old recipes?

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While it’s a wonderful, cherished tradition in many families to preserve food based on recipes that were developed and honed over the years in grandma’s, great-grandma’s and great-great-grandma’s kitchens, you should review those recipes, and if they don’t match recipes that have been tested and researched by food safety experts, you shouldn’t use them.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a valuable source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation, says Kate Shumaker, an Ohio State University Extension educator and registered dietitian. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University (CFAES).

The center was established with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (now called the National Institute of Food and Agriculture) to address food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods, she said.

Precisely following the proper steps and recipes when home canning is important to help prevent botulism, a rare but potentially deadly illness produced by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, she said.

These bacteria are found in soil and can survive, grow and produce a toxin in certain conditions, such as when food is improperly canned, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The toxin can affect your nerves, paralyze you and even cause death.

That’s what happened in April 2015 when one central Ohio woman was killed and 24 others were hospitalized with botulism after eating potato salad that was made with improperly home-canned potatoes.

“Canning season can be from late May, when your spring vegetables and fruits come in, through fall and into the colder months, when people want to can meat and soups,” Shumaker said.

While canning is not really a complicated process, you do have to follow researched and tested recipes, she said.

“Home canning is a science, but it’s not the time to experiment — you can’t make up your own recipes,” Shumaker said. “A lot of things can affect the safety of your final product.

“It’s important not to alter the acid (pH) level of the food in the jar, the size of the pieces of food, the canning method or the processing time. Each of these items plays a role in the amount of time and heat it will take for the core (center) of the jar to reach a safe temperature to keep the food safe to eat and not make someone sick.”

Additionally, CFAES experts offer hands-on classes on food preservation and canning in several locations around Ohio and have produced several YouTube videos on the subject. They also offer recipes and other resources for food preservation and canning at go.osu.edu/food-preservation and on Ohioline.

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 Kate Shumaker, an Ohio State University Extension educator and registered dietitian.

Tips for Dining out Safely

With the recent reports of people developing foodborne illness after eating at certain restaurants, it’s made me a little worried about eating out. How can I be safe when dining out?

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Foodborne illnesses have been in the news a lot lately, most recently with the cases of some 650 people who reported becoming ill with gastrointestinal problems after eating at a Chipotle restaurant in Powell, Ohio, last month.

It turns out that what made them sick was a toxin produced by bacteria called Clostridium perfringens, according to the Delaware General Health District. While food samples taken from the restaurant tested negative for the bacteria, stool samples collected from sickened customers contained the toxin, the agency said.

Clostridium perfringens is a foodborne pathogen that grows and produces a toxin when cooked foods, such as rice, meats and others, are held at unsafe temperatures, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even when the foods are reheated and the bacteria killed, the toxin is still active and can cause the disease.

Although a specific food source has not been identified in this case, ongoing food and stool tests are being conducted by the CDC to identify the culprit, the Delaware General Health District said.

Foodborne diseases are preventable, and no one should get ill from eating foods at home or in a restaurant, said Sanja Ilic, the state food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University

“Consumers should have food safety in mind when they are choosing eating options,” Ilic said. “Things like food safety practices, cleanliness and similar should play a role in consumers’ choice of restaurants.”

So how can you safely decide which restaurant to dine in to lessen your risk for developing a foodborne illness?

First things first, you can check a restaurant’s inspection scores at your city, county or state health department, advises the CDC. Most health departments should list restaurant inspection reports on their websites. You may also be able to call your local health department and request a copy of the inspection report of restaurants that are located in your area.

You can also check for certificates that show that kitchen managers have completed mandated food safety training, the CDC says. Following proper food safety training by food service workers can lessen the chance of spreading foodborne illnesses. You can also ask if workers are using gloves or utensils to handle foods such as deli meats and produce.

The CDC offers these other food safety tips when dining out:

  • Order food that’s properly cooked. Certain foods, including meat, poultry and fish, need to be cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful germs that may be present. If you’re served undercooked meat, poultry, seafood or eggs, send them back to be cooked until they are safe to eat.
  • Watch out for food served lukewarm. Cold food should be served cold, and hot food should be served hot. If you’re selecting food from a buffet or salad bar, make sure that the hot food is steaming, and the cold food is chilled. Germs that cause food poisoning grow quickly when food is in the danger zone, between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Ask your server if raw or lightly cooked eggs are used in foods such as Caesar salad dressing, custards or hollandaise sauce. Raw or undercooked eggs can make you sick unless they’re pasteurized to kill germs.

It’s also important to remember that if you bring home leftovers, they need to be refrigerated within two hours after serving. And if it’s a hot day, you’ll need to get them refrigerated within one hour instead. This is to ensure that the leftovers don’t reach temperatures in the danger zone.

And lastly, while it may be tempting to eat that leftover pasta from a week ago that you forgot was in the fridge, don’t do it! Leftovers should be eaten within three to four days. Otherwise, they should be thrown out after that time to prevent developing a foodborne illness.

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.

Two Cutting Boards are Better Than One

I’m getting my own apartment soon and I’m shopping for a cutting board – should I get a wooden or plastic one?

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Congrats on your new home!

When shopping for a new cutting board, there are many options to choose from, including wood, plastic, marble, glass or pyroceramic. While each one has its advantages and disadvantages, the easiest one to clean and keep clean, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is a cutting board that has a nonporous surface.

That’s the most important thing to consider when buying and using a cutting board – how to keep it clean to decrease the risk of contamination of pathogens that can cause a foodborne illness. So when choosing a cutting board, you should look for one that is easy to clean, rinse and sanitize.

To clean your cutting board, wash it with hot, soapy water after each use, then rinse with clear water and air it dry or pat it dry with a clean paper towel, USDA advises. Also, nonporous cutting boards, including acrylic, plastic, glass and solid wood boards, can be washed in a dishwasher.  However, laminated cutting boards shouldn’t be placed in a dishwasher as this may cause it to crack and split.

If you’d rather sanitize your cutting board by hand, you can use a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Allow the bleach solution to sit on the cutting board for several minutes before rinsing well with clear water and letting it air dry or patting it dry with a clean paper towel.

Wood cutting boards are porous, although bamboo wood cutting boards are harder and less porous than hardwoods.  Bamboo absorbs very little moisture and resists scarring from knives, so they are more resistant to bacteria than other woods. You can clean bamboo cutting boards with hot soapy water and sanitize if you’d like. You can also rub bamboo cutting boards with mineral oil to help them retain moisture.

Another important thing to consider when buying or using a cutting board: make sure you use one cutting board for meat, poultry and seafood and a separate cutting board for fresh produce and bread. Even if you wash your cutting board after each use, it’s best to have separate cutting boards for veggies and for meat. This will lessen your risk for cross contamination of bacteria and pathogens from raw meat onto other foods.

Whatever cutting board you choose, it’s very important that you routinely inspect it to see if the cutting board has become excessively worn or has developed hard-to-clean groves, signs the board should no longer be used. Deep grooves make it difficult to thoroughly clean your cutting board and increase the risk of contamination.

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 Kate Shumaker, an Ohio State University Extension Educator and registered dietitian.

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

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

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

Wow – is it that time of year already?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple Suppers Make Mealtimes Fun and Easy for Families, Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Simple Suppers lesson plans cover the following topics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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