Chow Line: BBQ Safely: Be Careful when Using Steel Grill Brushes

I clean my grill each time after I cook on it, using a steel wire grill brush to keep the grease and grime from building up on the grill racks. I’ve used the same brush for a couple of years now because I love how it cleans, but I’m wondering if I should get a new one this year.

Photo: Thinkstock

That depends on just how old your grill brush is and what condition it’s in. If your grill brush is worn down, warped or has some missing bristles, you may want to consider throwing it out.

This is because you’ll want to be careful that you don’t inadvertently leave behind any wire bristles from the grill-cleaning brush that could end up in the meat or vegetables that you are grilling.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been several reported cases of internal injuries following unintentional ingestions of wire grill-cleaning brush bristles by both children and adults. The severities of the injuries have ranged from puncture of the soft tissues of the neck, causing severe pain on swallowing, to perforation of the gastrointestinal tract requiring emergency surgery, CDC said.

In fact, an estimated 1,698 consumers have gone to emergency rooms between 2002 and 2014 after having ingested wire bristles in grilled foods, according to a 2016 study in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

The study authors said that while wire-bristle grill brush injuries aren’t common, they do tend to increase during the grilling season, which makes sense, of course. The months with the highest number of reported injuries are June, July and August, they said.

More detailed information on wire grill brush injuries can be found at saferproducts.gov, which allows consumers to list information on what their injuries were and how they occurred.

Consumer Reports last week offered these tips to help consumers avoid accidental ingestion of wire bristles when barbecuing:

  • Use a moist cloth or paper towel to clean the grill surface before cooking.
  • If you use a wire-bristle brush, thoroughly inspect the grill’s surface before cooking for the presence of bristles that might have dislodged from the grill brush and could embed in cooked food.
  • Depending on the type of grill you have, you may be able to clean it using a pumice stone or a coil-shaped bristle-free bush.
  • You may try using crumpled-up aluminum foil to brush loose food particles off a warm — but not hot! — grill rack or grate.

Another important grilling safety tip to remember is to always use a food thermometer to ensure that your meat is cooked to the correct internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella that may be present, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For meats such as steak and pork, that temperature is 145 degrees Fahrenheit. For ground meats, including beef, pork, veal, and lamb, the correct temperature is 160 degrees, USDA says. And poultry such as chicken and turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) 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 Candace J. Heer, a Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension.

 

USDA Warns: Wash Your Hands Properly to Prevent Foodborne Illness

My husband gets frustrated with me because I’m always reminding him to wash his hands multiple times when cooking. He says washing before he cooks is enough. Which one of us is right?

Photo: Thinkstock

In this case, you are right.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture just sent out a warning last week urging people to wash their hands throughout the food preparation process, not just at the beginning of cooking.

And when you wash your hands, the USDA is urging people to take their time and wash their hands properly.

This warning comes as a new USDA study in collaboration with North Carolina State University and RTI International, a North Carolina-based nonprofit research institute, found that people are failing to properly wash their hands 97 percent of the time when they are cooking, and instead are rushing through the process.

The study was conducted in six test kitchen facilities. It found that most people failed to wash their hands for the recommended 20 seconds, and most did not dry their hands with a clean towel. Many, instead, wiped their hands on their clothes or other objects.

Rushed handwashing can lead to cross-contamination of food and other surfaces, resulting in foodborne illness. For example, the study found that 48 percent of participants spread bacteria from raw meat on their hands onto spice containers; 11 percent spread bacteria to refrigerator handles; and 5 percent of the time, bacteria was spread to salads.

One way to avoid cross-contamination is to always follow handwashing recommendations as advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water.
  • Apply soap and lather to your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds — the amount of time it takes to hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel, or air dry them.

If soap and water are not available, you might alternatively use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol, CDC says. However, it is important to note that while these sanitizers can reduce the number of pathogens on your hands in many situations, they don’t remove all types of pathogens.

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.

Certain Tick Bites Can Cause Food Allergies

Can you really develop an allergy to red meat from a tick bite?

Close up of lone star. Photo: Thinkstock.

That depends.

In certain cases, with a certain tick, in some people and in some states, including Ohio, yes.

According to a recent article about a study on lone star ticks and allergies that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, some people who have been bitten by a lone star tick have gone on to develop an allergy to eating red meat, and in some cases, dairy.

The study, done by researchers with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, found that, in rare cases, some people have developed life-threatening allergic reactions to red meat after being bitten by a lone star tick. The study attributes the allergic reaction to galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal), which is a type of sugar that animals make in their bodies. As a result, it’s found in red meats, including beef, pork and lamb, the exception being primates.

According to published reports, humans don’t have alpha-gal, but have an immune response to it. Symptoms of the allergy can include itching, swelling, abdominal cramps, and in some people, anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction.

While the association between lone star tick bites and the allergy are clear, more research is needed to understand why these alpha-gal allergies develop in some people and not in others, according to the JAMA report.

The timing of the study is significant, however, considering that the tick season — April through September — is expected to be tough this year, according to Glen Needham, a retired entomologist and tick expert formerly with Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

Ohio has several tick pest species, including American dog ticks, blacklegged ticks, and lone star ticks, all of which can pose a threat to humans because of the diseases they can transmit. While Jackson, Scioto and Vinton counties have especially high populations of Lone Star ticks, the species can be found in any Ohio county, he said.

To prevent tick bites when in areas where they may be active, Needham recommends that you should:

  • Wear light-colored clothes including long-sleeve shirts tucked into your pants and long pants tucked into your socks or boots.
  • Apply a tick repellent according to label instructions.
  • Do frequent tick checks of your body while outside and a thorough inspection at shower time.
  • Protect your pets with an anti-tick product recommended by a veterinarian.
  • Keep dogs on a leash and avoid weedy areas.

And if you find a tick attached, do not crush or puncture it. Instead, use your pointy tweezers, tick removal tool or protected thumb and finger to carefully remove the tick by pulling it straight up with steady even pressure.

“Folk methods, such as using oil to smother the tick or using a flame to burn the tick, do not work, may be dangerous and delay removal,” he said. “You should wash your hands and the tick bite site with warm soapy water and keep the specimen in a container of rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer to take it with you to a healthcare professional if you develop any health-related symptoms or rashes.”

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 Glen Needham, a retired entomologist and tick expert formerly with Ohio State University Extension.

Pre-cut Melons Tied to Multistate Salmonella Outbreak

I just heard a report that a brand of pre-cut melons was tied to a salmonellaoutbreak recently. How is that possible? 

Photo: Thinkstock.

You are right: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week warned about a multistage outbreak of salmonella associated with some pre-cut melons produced by a food distributor based in Indianapolis.

The warning was about fresh, pre-cut melons including watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, and fresh-cut fruit medley products containing one of these melons. The food items were produced at Caito Foods facility in Indiana and were distributed to Ohio, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri and North Carolina, CDC said.

The “recalled products were sold in clear, plastic clamshell containers at Costco, Jay C, Kroger, Payless, Owen’s, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Walmart, and Whole Foods/Amazon,” CDC said in a statement.

As of June 8, some 60 people were infected by the outbreak, with 31 people having to be hospitalized, CDC said.

Most people who become infected with salmonella typically develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment. However, for some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that they need to be hospitalized, CDC said.

So how can fresh, pre-cut fruit become contaminated with salmonella? There are several ways that fresh produce can become contaminated.

For example, if animal feces are in the field or soil in which the produce is grown, or if the produce comes into contact with water that contains the pathogen, salmonella can be transferred from the feces onto the produce. The pathogen can also be spread if a person who carries the bacteria doesn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom, and then processes or prepares the produce.

It’s important to note that there are numerous pathogens that can contaminate produce at any point in the food supply chain.

In fact, salmonella and other bacteria including shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and viruses such as norovirus are commonly associated with consumption of fresh produce, according to Barbara Kowalcyk, a food safety expert and an assistant professor in Food Science and Technology for the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

Fruits and vegetables can also become contaminated during preparation when their skin (which serves as a barrier) is broken, she said.

“If the bacteria are present on the skin of the melon, the bacteria can then be transported to the flesh of the fruit when it is cut,”Kowalcyk said.

For example, cantaloupe skin has nooks and crannies that can house microbial pathogens, even if it looks “clean.” Therefore, melons and other fruits and vegetables should be given a good scrub and rinse before you cut through them with a knife.

Also, cut fruits and vegetables should be refrigerated within two hours and consumed within a few days to prevent bacteria from growing.

According to CDC, here are other methods in the food production chain that can lead to contamination:

  • If contaminated water or ice is used to wash, pack, or chill produce, the contamination can spread to the produce.
  • Fresh produce can be contaminated if it is loaded into a truck that was not cleaned after transporting animals or animal products.
  • If refrigerated food is left on a loading dock for a long time in warm weather, it could reach temperatures that allow bacteria to grow.
  • If a food worker remains at work while sick and does not wash his or her hands carefully after using the bathroom, he or she can spread germs by touching food.
  • If a cook uses a cutting board or knife to cut raw meat and then uses the same knife or cutting board without washing it to slice tomatoes for a salad, for example, germs from the meat can contaminate the tomatoes.

Here are steps you can take to lessen your chances of getting a foodborne illness from produce, CDC says:

  • Don’t eat recalled products. Check your fridge and freezer for those items and throw them away or return them to the place of purchase for a refund.
  • If you don’t remember where you bought pre-cut melon, don’t eat it; throw it away.
  • Wash fresh produce before preparing or eating it.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after fresh produce preparation.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and CFAES’ outreach and research arms, Ohio State University 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 Barbara Kowalcyk, an assistant professor in Food Science and Technology at CFAES.

Precautions Can Lessen Your Chance of Developing Tapeworms

I just heard about an athlete who developed a tapeworm infection from eating raw fish. How is that possible?

Image of a tapeworm in a person’s intestine. Tapeworms are a species of parasitic flatworms. Photo: Thinkstock

It actually is possible to develop a fish tapeworm infection after eating raw or undercooked fish that is contaminated with the parasite Diphyllobothrium latum. In the case you mention, it was reportedthat a 20-year-old Ohio hockey player, who was suffering from mysterious fatigue and weight loss, went to the bathroom and saw that he had passed a 25-inch tapeworm.

So, what are tapeworms and how can one get such an infection?

Tapeworms are flat, segmented parasitic worms that can live in the intestines of some animals that have become infected from eating or drinking a food or water source contaminated with tapeworm eggs or larvae, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People can develop tapeworms from eating raw or undercooked meat from a contaminated animal or from drinking contaminated water. Once in your intestines, the larvae develop into adult tapeworms. Some species can grow up to 80 feet long and can survive in the intestines for years.

While it is possible to develop tapeworms from eating raw or undercooked fish, it is not very likely. Parasite infections can be prevented and, according to the CDC, are easily treatable with safe medicines. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that those who prefer to eat raw fish should eat previously frozen fish.

It is recommended to freeze and store seafood at an ambient temperature of -31 degrees Fahrenheit or below until solid, and to store it at that same temperature or below for 15 hours, 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 at The Ohio State University (CFAES).

“You can also freeze seafood at an ambient temperature of -31 degrees Fahrenheit or below until solid, and store it at an ambient temperature of -4 degrees Fahrenheit or below for 24 hours, as a sufficient way to kill parasites,” she said.

However, for consumers who catch their fish fresh, most home freezers have temperatures at 0 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, which may not be cold enough to kill parasites because it can take up to 7 days at -4 degrees Fahrenheit or below to kill parasites. Note that these conditions may not be suitable for freezing fish thicker than 6 inches, Ilic said.

So, if you opt to eat raw fish, it’s best to choose fish that has been commercially frozen. However, it’s important to note that while freezing will kill the parasites that may be present in some fish, freezing doesn’t kill all harmful microorganisms.

It is best to thoroughly cook fish and seafood, especially if you have a weakened immune system or care for someone who does.

Fish and seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. For fish, the flesh should be opaque and flake easily with a fork. In the case of shrimp, lobsters and crabs, the flesh should be pearly and opaque. For clams, oysters and mussels, cook until their shells open. And for scallops, cook until the flesh is milky white or opaque and firm.

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.

Eggs Over Easy Not Recommended

I love eggs over easy for breakfast, but lately, I’m hesitant to order my eggs that way because of mixed messages I’ve heard about eggs and a recall. Can you tell me what’s going on and about the risk of eating my eggs with a runny yoke?

Crispy fried bacon, Sunny Side Up Eggs, arugula and tomatoes. Photo: Thinkstock. 

While many people enjoy their eggs over easy, an egg that’s fried just until the whites are set on the bottom and then flipped over and lightly cooked on the other side, leaving the yoke runny, is not the best choice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Instead, the government agency recommends that eggs be cooked until both the yoke and the white are firm, to help consumers avoid foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella. In fact, the CDC recommends against eating undercooked or raw eggs, due to the increased risk of foodborne illness associated with unpasteurized eggs. In eggs, both the yolk and whites can be contaminated with Salmonella.

Salmonella outbreak linked to eggs is spreading across multiple states and has infected 35 consumers as of May 10, the CDC said. As a result, an Indiana-based egg farm has recalled some 207 million eggs for fear they may be contaminated with Salmonella, a microorganism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

The recalled eggs were sold in grocery stores and to restaurants under multiple brand names, including Coburn Farms, Country Daybreak, Crystal Farms, Food Lion, Glenview, Great Value, Nelms, Publix, Sunshine Farms and Sunups, with plant number P-1065 and the Julian date range of 011 through date of 102 printed on the carton, according the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Consumers who find they’ve purchased these eggs should throw them out immediately or return them to the place of purchase for refund, even if they’ve already eaten some and haven’t gotten sick, the CDC says. The CDC also advises that you should disinfect the shelves or drawers in your fridge where the eggs were stored.

Additionally, you should always wash your hands and any items that come into contact with raw eggs with soap and water. That includes countertops, utensils, dishes and cutting boards.

While some people with Salmonellosis don’t experience severe symptoms, others can have gastrointestinal distress, including diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, within eight to 72 hours. And while most healthy people recover within a few days without specific treatment, some people may require hospitalization.

So, while it’s best to avoid eating raw and undercooked eggs, eggs are still a delicious, nutritious food. For instance, one large egg contains vitamins A, B5, B12, D, E, K and B6, folate, phosphorus, selenium, calcium and zinc, with only 70 calories, according to the American Egg Board.

It’s just best to eat them fully cooked.

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

Dark Chocolate Can Be a Healthy Option for Mother’s Day Celebrations

I want to give my mom a gift for Mother’s Day that she will really like and will be healthy. My sister said we should give her some chocolate, but is that healthy?

Dark chocolate has multiple health benefits, studies show. Photo: Thinkstock.

It can be, depending on the kind of chocolate you choose to get your mom.

While it’s known that dark chocolate offers some heart-healthy benefits, a new study out this month says the benefits of dark chocolate in moderation may also include improving your eyesight.

Dark chocolate has benefits because of because of its high levels of flavonoids, which are antioxidants that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can alter and weaken cells, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Research has found that flavanols, which are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and chocolate, have potential influences on vascular health, including lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot, the Cleveland Clinic says.

In a study published in the April 26 JAMA Ophthalmology, a journal produced by the American Medical Association, researchers found that some people had a slight improvement in vision after eating dark chocolate. The study involved providing participants both dark and milk chocolate bars. Two hours after eating the dark chocolate bars, the participants were given vision tests and were found to have improved visual acuity and the ability to read letters of different sizes and contrast in terms of lighter versus darker letters.

“Consumption of a commercially available dark chocolate bar improves the ability to see low- and high-contrast targets, possibly owing to the increased blood flow,” the study authors said, however noting that it is unknown how long the effect on vision will last.

So if you want to gift your mom chocolate for Mother’s Day, you may want to consider dark chocolate. Milk chocolate doesn’t provide the same health benefits, as dark chocolate has more cocoa than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate often has less sugar and saturated fat than milk chocolate. Researchers at Harvard University Medical School suggest choosing chocolate that has at least 70 percent cocoa or more.

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 Dan Remley, Field Specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension.

FDA Warns Adults to Keep Kids Away from Liquid Nicotine

My son found an e-cigarette strawberry flavored nicotine pack and almost drank it thinking that it was some kind of candy. Luckily I stopped him in time, but are these products safe for kids?

Various flavors of liquid nicotine for use in electronic cigarettes. Photo: Thinkstock.

No.

As e-cigarettes have become more popular, the number of children who have been exposed to liquid nicotine has also increased.

So says the U. S. Food and Drug Administration, which this week warned parents, caregivers and other adults to be vigilant to keep kids from getting their hands on these packs of liquid nicotine and drinking them.

The new warning comes as data from the National Poison Data System shows that from January 2012 to April 2017, the agency received 8,269 calls related to liquid nicotine exposure in children younger than 6, mostly in regard to children drinking these products, FDA said.

So what are e-cigarettes and how are kids confusing the nicotine packs for something to drink?

E-cigarettes, also called vapes, are a form of electronic nicotine delivery systems that are battery-operated smoking devices that can resemble regular cigarettes. The e-cigarette is equipped with a heating device that converts cartridges filled with liquid nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals into a vapor, which a person then inhales, similar to smoking a regular cigarette. Some of the flavors of liquid nicotine packs include cherry, strawberry, chocolate, vanilla and mint.

These products have grown in popularity with teens and young adults. In fact, nearly one in four high school students use electronic nicotine delivery products such as e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  A recent study from the American Academy of Pediatrics puts the number at 3 million U.S. adolescents who use e-cigarettes.

One of the issues of growing concern for FDA is that some of the liquid nicotine is packaged in containers that look like kid-friendly food products, such as juice boxes, candy or cookies, with some having cartoon images that “can seem tempting to children of all ages,” FDA said in a statement.

“For example, some e-liquids may have labeling or advertising that misleads kids into thinking the products are things they’d eat or drink—like a juice box, piece of candy or cookie,” FDA said.

The danger from such accidental exposure is significant for kids. Kids who ingest or drink liquid nicotine can experience a seizure, coma, respiratory arrest and death from cardiac arrest, FDA said.

As a result, the federal agency advises consumers who choose to use e-cigarettes to:

  • Always store e-liquids in their original containers, so others know exactly what they are. This will help children know to avoid these products.
  • Always make sure product caps are locked when you’re not using them, and relock caps when you’re finished.
  • Avoid contact with your skin and eyes when you use these products. E-liquid exposure can cause burning and irritation, among other problems. In case of accidental contact with skin or eyes, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Clean up any spills or splashes immediately using soap and water.
  • Never drink e-liquid, or allow anyone to drink it, because the liquid nicotine can be poisonous.
  • Call Poison Control immediately if a child accidentally drinks e-liquid, at 1-800-222-1222. Also call this number if you think your child has been exposed to these products—even if you’re not completely sure.

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.

FDA Says Avoid Highly Concentrated and Pure Caffeine Products

My roommate wants to take this caffeine powder he found online so that he can stay up late to study for his midterm exams. I’ve told him that’s not a good idea. Am I right?

Yes, you’re right. In fact, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration announced last Friday that highly concentrated and pure caffeine products are illegal when sold in bulk quantities directly to consumers. The federal agency is now working to get them off of the market and is warning consumers to not use the products, which are often sold as dietary supplements.

Many of the highly concentrated and pure caffeine products are currently sold online, FDA said.

“Products consisting of or containing only pure or highly concentrated caffeine have been linked to at least two deaths in the United States in the last few years, and continue to present a significant public health threat,” FDA said. “These products present a significant public health threat because of the high risk that they will be erroneously used at excessive, potentially dangerous doses.”

So how much is too much caffeine?

A half cup of a highly concentrated liquid caffeine can contain approximately 2,000 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, and just a single teaspoon of a powdered pure caffeine product can contain approximately 3,200 mg of caffeine, FDA says. This is equivalent to about 20 to 28 cups of coffee, which is a potentially toxic dose of caffeine.

The warnings come as FDA said it’s found that the products are sometimes being used in potentially dangerous ways.

“For example, teenagers sometimes mix dangerously high amounts of superconcentrated caffeine into workout cocktails for an energy kick,” FDA said. “The amounts used can too easily become deceptively high because of the superconcentrated forms and bulk packaging in which the caffeine is being sold.”

The issue gained greater awareness in Ohio after a teenager in LaGrange died from an irregular heartbeat and seizures after ingesting caffeine powder in 2014.

Caffeine is a stimulant that some people use to increase wakefulness, alleviate fatigue, and improve concentration and focus, according to the Mayo Clinic. But, it’s recommended that healthy adults limit their intake of caffeine to no more than 400 mg a day, the clinic says. That’s equivalent to about four cups of brewed coffee, 10 cans of cola or two energy shot drinks.

The FDA warning is aimed at highly concentrated and pure caffeine products. The warning doesn’t include other types of products that might also contain caffeine, such as prescription or over-the-counter drugs or conventional foods like traditionally caffeinated beverages, it 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 Carolyn Gunther, state specialist in Community Nutrition for Ohio State University Extension.

Chow Line: Spring Cleaning Checklist Should Include Your Fridge and Pantry, Too

I’ve noticed that sometimes, my refrigerator has a stale odor. How can I determine what’s causing the smell, and most importantly, how can I stop the problem from occurring?

One option is to clean your refrigerator with spray bottle of warm, soapy water and sponge. 

It’s likely that what you are smelling is either bacteria or mold that can thrive in moist conditions and are oftentimes found in refrigerators. Moist conditions in a fridge can be caused by condensation from the fridge, humidity from the outside and, yes, spilled foods, experts say. This issue is that once moisture gets into your refrigerator, microbes can multiply and eventually emit a foul smell.

There are several ways to deal with the issue, and with spring weather finally starting to occur, now is a good time to do so. When you plan your spring-cleaning regimen this season, including your fridge and pantry on your to-do list is a really good idea.

First things first, make sure your fridge is set to the right temperature in order to control the moisture content and to make sure your food is being preserved correctly.

Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature between 34 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit to safely preserve your food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises. Setting the temperature too low will cause your refrigerator to work overtime and could also freeze some of your foods.

Next, follow this simple rule: Clean any spills inside the fridge immediately with warm, soapy water and then rinse them with clear water. It’s not recommended that you use any cleaning solvents, as this could allow chemical fumes or tastes into your food and ice, making them unsafe to eat, the USDA says.

You also want to make sure you store your leftovers safely, and throw out any foods that have spoiled. Generally, leftovers shouldn’t be left in the refrigerator more than four days. If you plan to store raw poultry and ground meats for more than one or two days, it’s best to store them in your freezer rather than your fridge.

If need be, you can do a deep cleaning of your fridge. To do so, fill a cooler with ice to store the food from the fridge while you are cleaning it. Clean each shelf and compartment with warm, soapy water.

The exterior of your fridge also needs to be kept clean, which includes keeping it free of dust and lint. You can clean the condenser coil several times a year with a brush or vacuum cleaner to remove dirt, lint or other accumulations to ensure efficiency and maintain proper temperature, the USDA says.

Now that you’ve got your fridge all sparkly clean and fresh, you can move on to your pantry. It too should be included in your spring-cleaning regimen.

The USDA advises that you:

  • Check the canned goods in your pantry or kitchen cabinets. Throw out cans that are leaking, rusted, bulging or badly dented. You shouldn’t eat food from cracked jars, jars with loose or bulging lids, or any container that spurts liquid when you open it.
  • Throw out any food that you suspect is spoiled. Never taste the food to determine its safety.
  • Wipe off sticky containers, along with crumbs and spills on your pantry shelves, with all-purpose cleaner, vinegar, or warm soap and water.

USDA also advises that you check the dates on your foods, keeping in mind that:

  • “Best if used by/before” dates indicate when a product will be of best flavor or quality. They are not purchase or safety dates.
  • “Sell-by” dates tell the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. They also are not safety dates.
  • “Use-by” dates indicate the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. They are not safety dates except when used on infant formula.
  • High-acid canned food such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple have a shelf life of 12 to 18 months beyond their listed dates.
  • Low-acid canned food such as meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables can be kept for two to five years beyond their listed dates if the cans remain in good condition and have been stored in a cool, clean and dry place.

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.