How to Carve Pumpkins Safely

Since I’m not crafty in the least bit, I don’t know the best way to carve a pumpkin. Can you help?

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Carving a pumpkin can be a fun, festive, fall family event — as long as you know what you’re doing. Even though pumpkins are a beautiful, tasty vegetable (or fruit, depending on who you ask), carving them can result in injuries if you aren’t careful.

One thing to keep in mind is choosing the right pumpkin to carve.

There are several kinds of pumpkins — some that you eat, and some that are typically used for carving, said Jenny Lobb, a Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University (CFAES).

Varieties include jack-o’-lanterns, colored pumpkins, pie pumpkins and specialty pumpkins, such as the Rouge Vif d’Etampes, or Cinderella, pumpkin.

“Pie pumpkins, which are smaller and sweeter in flavor, are typically used for baking and cooking, while jack-o’-lanterns are typically used for carving,” Lobb said.

Once you’ve chosen the pumpkin, it’s important to know how to hold them in order to avoid injury when carving. Because pumpkins are round, tough and slippery, carving them can sometimes result in slice, puncture, cut or stab wounds to hands and fingers that could result in a quick trip to the hospital, according to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH).

To reduce the risk of injury, safety experts with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and ASSH offer these tips:

  • Dry your hands and the pumpkin before carving.
  • Use the right tools. If you can, use a pumpkin carving kit that has specialty tools designed to carve through rinds, poke holes, and scoop out the pumpkin seeds and innards.
  • Stabilize the pumpkin by placing one hand on top of the pumpkin and carve working your way down. You can also cut a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin to scoop out the insides.
  • Use a spoon to remove the seeds.
  • Work in a clean, dry, well-lit area when you carve the pumpkin.
  • Don’t let young kids carve the pumpkin. You can have them draw the pattern that you plan to cut and scoop out the insides, but kids 14 and under shouldn’t use the cutting tools to carve.
  • Stand at least two arms’ lengths away if you are watching someone else carve the pumpkin.
  • To prevent fires, consider using a flashlight instead of a candle in your pumpkin.

If you do cut yourself, apply direct pressure to the wound with a clean, dry cloth. Clean the wound with an antibiotic and a bandage. If the bleeding doesn’t stop in 15 minutes, seek medical attention.

You can also opt out of carving altogether and instead used paint or permanent markers to decorate your pumpkins, said Kate Shumaker, an OSU Extension educator and registered dietitian.

“These options can both be weather-resistant and child-friendly,” she said. “And since you haven’t damaged the integrity of the pumpkin, it will last longer and not rot on your porch.”

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 OSU Extension, and Kate Shumaker, an OSU Extension educator and registered dietitian.

Newly Updated Foodkeeper App Helps Reduce Food Waste

How do I know when an item of food is spoiled?

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That really depends on the food item in question.

Food spoilage refers to a decrease in quality beyond what is acceptable to consumers, said Abby Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University (CFAES).

Signs of food spoilage can include a change in color or texture. The food may also emit a foul odor or develop an unpleasant taste, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

“The quality of food products often decreases over time,” Snyder said, “and the point at which a food is considered ‘spoiled’ varies by product, how it has been processed and packaged, and storage conditions.”

Food spoilage can occur more quickly in perishable foods depending on the impact of temperature, heat, humidity, light exposure, oxygen and the growth of microorganisms, all of which could cause a food item to be unpleasant to eat.

Microbial spoilage can occur more quickly when foods are exposed to unsuitable conditions, which can result in the growth of bacteria, molds and yeast.

“While these microorganisms may or may not be harmful, the waste products they produce when growing on or in food may be unpleasant to taste,” according to the USDA.

One way to prevent or lessen the chance of your food spoiling before you get a chance to eat it is to follow proper food storage methods. Storing foods properly can greatly impact their quality and safety over time.

For easy access to specific storage information, you can use the USDA Foodkeeper app. The app, which was just updated this month to include 85 more food items, helps consumers know how to avoid food waste through its information on how to store foods for maximum quality and information on how long certain foods last.

The app includes tips on how to store more than 650 food and beverage items that are available in an online data feed. Each time a user opens the Foodkeeper app, it will check the data feed for updates on food safety issues. The app also provides guidance on how to store condiments and sauces.

The app offers storage timelines for each product if it is stored in the refrigerator, freezer or pantry and cooking information for several types of food. The storage of unopened and opened food packages is also addressed.

The app can also send reminder alerts to your smartphone when a food item you’ve listed may soon spoil and can alert you to food safety recalls. Users can access cooking tips, safe food handling information, and cooking temperatures for various types of meat, poultry and seafood products.

The app offers mobile accessibility and is available for Android and IOS devices. It can also be accessed online at FoodSafety.gov/FoodKeeper. The app provides information in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

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 edited by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES.

Some Synthetic Food Flavoring Additives Banned

What are synthetic food flavoring additives and why have some of them banned from use?

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The Food and Drug Administration announced last week that it was banning the use of seven commonly used synthetic food-flavoring additives that have been linked to the development of cancer in laboratory studies of animals.

The flavorings, many of which are used in many brands of chewing gum, candy, breakfast cereals, beer, packaged ice cream and some baked goods, were removed from the FDA’s approved usage list based on the findings of several studies. Those findings were used as the basis of petitions asking the government to stop allowing the synthetic food flavoring additives to be used in food, the government agency said.

The petitions were generated from several groups including the Consumers Union, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Center for Environmental Health, the Breast Cancer Fund and the Center for Food Safety, FDA said.

While the flavoring were previously approved as safe to use in food during the 1960s based on research done during that time, new data now suggests otherwise.

The banned flavorings include: synthetically-derived benzophenone, ethyl acrylate, eugenyl methyl ether (methyl eugenol), myrcene, pulegone, and pyridine and are often used to imitate the flavor of cinnamon, citrus and natural mint.

However, the FDA said that, although those synthetic flavorings have been banned, the agency “has concluded that these substances are otherwise safe.”

“The synthetic flavoring substances that are the subject of this petition are typically used in foods available in the U.S. marketplace in very small amounts and their use results in very low levels of exposures and low risk,” FDA said in a statement. “While the FDA’s recent exposure assessment of these substances does not indicate that they pose a risk to public health under the conditions of their intended use, the petitioners provided evidence that these substances caused cancer in animals which were exposed to much higher doses.”

So why would the FDA revoke the usage of these flavorings by food manufactures if they don’t pose a high health risk when used in low amounts to flavor food?

The FDA is required by law to remove any food additive that has been shown to cause cancer in animals or humans, due to the Delaney Clause of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. That 1958 clause requires that FDA cannot approve the use of any food additive that has been found to induce cancer in humans or animals at any dose.

As a result of the directive from FDA, food manufactures will have 24 months to, “identify suitable replacement ingredients and reformulate their food products,” FDA said.

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.

Food Safety Techniques Important for Dogs, too

Is raw pet food ok to serve to my dog?

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While many pet owners may prefer to feed their furry family members raw pet food, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that’s not such a good idea.

This is because pathogens like salmonella and listeria have been found in some raw pet foods, even in some of those brands that are sold pre-packaged in stores, CDC says. Since these germs can make your pet sick, it’s best not to feed them to your dog.

Studies from the U.S. Department of Food and Drug Administration have found that there are more harmful germs in raw pet food than any other type of pet food. And, if you handle these raw pet foods and don’t wash your hands afterwards, they can make you and your family sick as well.

Such was the case in February 2018 when two children in Minnesota suffered salmonella infections and illnesses after coming into contact with bacteria from contaminated raw pet food that included raw ground turkey, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The exposure to the salmonella caused septicemia, which is a blood infection, in one child and osteomyelitis, a painful and serious bone infection, in the other child, according to a report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Dry dog food can also pose a risk in some instances, CDC says. In fact, CDC says that it is possible for dry and canned pet foods to become contaminated with salmonella pathogens in certain circumstances, noting that there have been outbreaks of salmonella infections have been reported that were linked to dry dog food.

However, CDC says there are ways to lessen your chance of illness when handling dog food, including:

  • You wash your hands right after handling pet food or treats
  • Store pet food and treats away from where human food is stored or prepared and away from reach of young children.
  • Store dry pet food in its original bag inside a clean, dedicated plastic container with a lid, or keep the top of the bag folded or closed.
  • Do not use your pet’s feeding bowl to scoop food — use a dedicated scoop, spoon, or cup.
  • Keep dry pet food and treats stored in a cool dry place.
  • Promptly discard, refrigerate, or store any leftover food.

If you choose to feed your doggie raw pet food, (which CDC doesn’t recommend) CDC says you should:

  • Clean and disinfect all surfaces that the raw food touched, like countertops, microwaves, refrigerators and objects like knives, forks, and bowls.
  • Keep raw pet food away from other food in your refrigerator or freezer.
  • Freeze raw pet food until you are ready to use it.
  • Do not thaw frozen raw pet foods on a countertop or in a sink.
  • Throw away any food your pet does not eat.

And lastly, when you play with your doggie after he or she eats:

  • Don’t let your pet lick around your mouth and face
  • Wash your hands, and any other parts of your body they licked, with soap and water.
  • Don’t let your pet lick any of your open wounds or areas with broken skin.

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 edited by Valerie J. Parker, DVM, DACVIM, DACVN, and Associate Professor – Clinical, at The Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.