FDA supports standard language to help avoid food label confusion

I recently went shopping and bought a bag of salad that says “best if used by June 14” on the packaging, a carton of milk that says “sell by June 17,” and a package of eggs that says “use by June 20.” I’m confused by what all these different dates mean.

Photo: Getty Images.

Those food label dates are confusing to many people—more than a third of consumers throw away food once the date on the label has passed because they mistakenly think the date is an indicator of food safety, according to a 2017 study by the Harvard University Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

But for most foods, the date label is a manufacturer’s best guess as to how long the product will be at its peak quality. With only a few exceptions, the majority of food products remain wholesome and safe to eat long past their expiration dates, the study authors said. Infant formula is the only food product that must carry product dating under current federal law.

Confusion regarding food label dates also leads to significant food waste, research has shown.

In fact, some $161 billion worth of food is wasted each year by the food industry and consumers, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA said consumer food waste may often result from fears about food safety caused by misunderstanding what the product date labels mean, estimating that that confusion over date labeling accounts for some 20% of consumer food waste.

To help alleviate consumer confusion on food date labels, the FDA said in a letter last week that the federal agency supports the use of “best if used by” as the standard term on food date labels to help reduce food waste and to help consumers better understand what the dates on food packaging means.

The FDA says that this standard language should be used on “packaged-food labeling if the date is simply related to optimal quality—not safety. Studies have shown that this best conveys to consumers that these products do not have to be discarded after the date if they are stored properly.”

As it stands now, the food label dates that are most often used by the food manufacturing industry have the following meanings, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

  • “Best if used by/before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • “Sell by” date tells a store how long to display a product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
  • “Use by” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except when used on infant formula.

However, the USDA says most food products—excluding infant formula, for example—should still be safe and wholesome after the date passes if they have been handled properly and there is no evidence of spoilage. Spoilage is indicated if the food has an odor or has mold, for example.

Most of the dates on food labels are commonly used to inform consumers and retailers of the date up to which they can expect the food to retain its desired quality and flavor, the FDA said. The agency also said that date labels are generally not required on packaged foods.

“While manufacturers are prohibited from placing false or misleading information on a label, they are not required to obtain agency approval of the voluntary quality-based date labels they use or specify how they arrived at the date they’ve applied,” the FDA said.

The FDA supports efforts by two major food industry groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, to get their members to use “best if used by/before” on their packaging.

The “best if used by/before” date would be used on nonperishable foods when the product might not taste or perform as expected but is safe to use or consume after the date listed.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University 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 Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor:This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for OSU Extension.

Chow Line: Improperly cooked hamburgers on the grill could make your Memorial Day memorable

We plan to grill this weekend for Memorial Day but my husband and I can’t seem to agree on how to cook the hamburgers. I like them medium rare like a steak, but my husband says the burgers should be cooked until they are well done. Which one of us is right?

Photo: Getty Images

Unlike steaks, hamburgers, and any ground beef meals, should be cooked until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to help lessen your chance of developing a foodborne illness, said Sanja Ilic, the state food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Even though beef steak and ground beef are both beef, steak can be safe to eat at a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, while ground beef has to reach the higher cooking temperature, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

In this case, “safe” means the food is heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

So why the temperature difference between when a steak is considered safe and when ground beef is considered safe?

It’s because harmful bacteria that may be present on the surface of a whole, intact, cut of meat like steak will be killed off when you cook the steak. However, when that beef is ground into hamburger meat, the bacteria that was on the surface is now mixed throughout, necessitating the need for the meat to be cooked to an internal temperature high enough to kill bacteria on both the outside and inside of the burger.

Cube steak should also be cooked to 160 degrees, Ilic said.

“Cube steak is a cut of beef that has been mechanically tenderized by piercing the muscle fibers and connective tissues with small blades or needles to improve meat tenderness,” she said. “So when cooking hamburgers and cube steak, turning the patties twice during the cooking process will even the temperature and eliminate more bacteria than a single flip.”

Ilic also advises that consumers always use a food thermometer to make sure the meat has reached a safe internal temperature, inserting the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.

“Do not rely on color to tell whether a burger is done,” she said. “A burger can be undercooked even if it is brown in the middle. The only way to know if the meat is safe to eat is to use a food thermometer.”

Other safety tips USDA offers regarding ground beef include:

  • Store ground beef at a temperature of 40 degrees or lower within two hours after purchase. You should use the meat or freeze it within two days of purchase.
  • Thaw meat in the refrigerator instead of on the counter or in the sink.
  • Raw foods need to be kept chilled before grilling and uneaten cooked foods need to be stored at the appropriate temperature to avoid spoiling.
  • After cooking ground beef, refrigerate it within two hours and use it within three to four days.

It’s also important to note that the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a recall this week for more than 62,000 pounds of raw beef due to E. coli concerns. The recalled products were packaged on April 19 and have the establishment number “EST. 788” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The recallincludes more than 40 beef products including ribeyes, ribs, and brisket cuts.

Additionally, as of May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were investigating a multistate outbreakof Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O103 infections linked to some ground beef. At least two companies have recalled thousands of pounds of ground beef as a precaution, although the CDC said that no common supplier, distributor, or brand of ground beef has been identified as causing the breakout.

To date, there have been 196 reported cases of people sickened with E. coli as part of this outbreak, with at least 12 of those cases in Ohio, the CDC said. At least 28 people have required hospitalization.  Recalled products are labeled with establishment number “EST. 21781” or “EST. 51308” inside the USDA mark of inspection on the boxes, according to the CDC.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). 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, state food safety specialist for OSU Extension.

Learning to dine with diabetes

My dad was recently diagnosed with diabetes and was advised to change his diet. Do you know of any local resource to help us understand which diet changes he’ll need to make? 

Photo: Getty Images

One of the best resources your dad can turn to is his doctor, who might be able to connect him with a dietitian who can possibly help him tailor an eating plan specific to his dietary needs.

Additionally, your dad and the rest of your family can learn more about diabetes and how to manage nutritional needs through a free online course created by Ohio State University Extension family and consumer sciences educators. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

The course, Dining with Diabetes:Beyond the Kitchen, offers participants information about how to make healthy food choices when eating at restaurants, going grocery shopping, or planning weekly meals.

The course, available at go.osu.edu/DWDBtKis self-paced and includes interactive presentations, fact sheets and resources, informational videos, and links to websites and apps that provide more information about managing diabetes. During the course, participants can share ideas, questions, and tips with one another, and they can speak directly with OSU Extension professionals.

Your dad also has the option to take part in an in-person Dining with Diabetes class. This four-class program is taught by OSU Extension family and consumer sciences educators and a certified diabetes educator.

The class offers the following:

  • Live cooking demonstrations
  • Menu-planning
  • Diabetes management
  • Carbohydrate-counting
  • Portion-control insights
  • Label-reading
  • Healthy recipe taste-testing

Nutrition is a key component to managing diabetes. Both the online and in-person Dining with Diabetes courses are informative options to help those with diabetes and their families understand the role that healthy, well-balanced meals can play in managing this disease, said Shari Gallup, an OSU Extension educator and one of the instructors for the in-person class.

Studies show that serious complications can arise with diabetes, including cardiovascular disease, blindness, kidney failure, and nontraumatic lower extremity amputations, so it’s very important for those managing this disease to understand the role that nutrition plays in their health.

“Some of the people who have taken the class say that they now read the nutrition labels on the foods they buy and that they’ve increased their daily exercise,” Gallup said. “Others have reported that they are cooking with olive oil more and that they’ve seen their blood sugar levels decrease after using some of the tips and techniques they’ve learned in class.”

OSU Extension periodically offers the Dining with Diabetes class in 31 Ohio counties. To find the class closest to you, go to go.osu.edu/CxXV.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University 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 Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor:This column was reviewed by Shari Gallup, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

Never a good idea to wash raw poultry

I saw a discussion on social media this week that said not to wash raw chicken before cooking it. But I always rinse mine with a mixture of lime or lemon juice and vinegar, which my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother did as well. Why should I stop doing that now?

Photo: Getty Images

The fact is that you shouldn’t wash or rinse raw chicken or any other raw poultry before cooking it.

Period.

This is because rinsing or washing raw chicken doesn’t kill any bacterial pathogens such as campylobacter, salmonella, or other bacteria that might be on the inside and outside of raw chicken. But when you wash or rinse raw chicken, you are likely splashing chicken juices that can spread those pathogens in the kitchen and contaminate other foods, utensils, and countertops, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In fact, some estimates say the splatter can spread out and land on surfaces up to 3 feet away.

That’s a problem because pathogens such as campylobacter and salmonella can survive on surfaces such as countertops for up to 32 hours, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The only way to kill these potentially dangerous bacteria is to cook the chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

You likely saw the social media discussion the CDC had on Twitter this week, after the government agency sent a tweet advising consumers not to wash raw chicken before cooking it. That tweet was met with more than 1,000 responding comments debating the merits of whether or not to follow the CDC’s advice.

Although many consumers responded that they’ve always rinsed raw chicken before eating it—with many saying it’s a cultural custom for them to do so—it’s never a good idea to rinse raw poultry if you want to lessen your chance of developing a foodborne illness.

Practicing sound, safe food handling is important, considering that 48 million Americans get sick with a foodborne illness every year, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die, according to the CDC.

Additionally, after handling raw poultry or any other raw meat, it’s important to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, rinse them under warm running water, and dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel.

You should also wash any surfaces that might have come into contact with the raw chicken or its juices. Use hot, soapy water to rinse off the surfaces, let them dry, and then use a kitchen sanitizer on them.

Lastly, be sure to cook your chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, using a food thermometer to measure the temperature, the CDC advises.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). 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, state food safety specialist for OSU Extension.

More foodborne illness outbreaks detected last year

It seems like there have been more foodborne illnesses in recent years. Is that true?

Photo: Getty Images.

Sort of. More outbreaks have been detected in recent years, although the overall number of foodborne illnesses is thought to have remained largely the same.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there was an uptick in the number of detected foodborne illness outbreaks last year.

In fact, in a new report released last week, the CDC said that 120 Americans died as a result of foodborne illnesses last year and 25,606 Americans reported foodborne illnesses. Of those, 5,893 people required hospitalizations.

The CDC said it investigated 23 multistate foodborne illness outbreaks last year, several of which included reported cases of foodborne illnesses in Ohio. Some of the larger multistate outbreaks included E. coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce, ground beef, raw flour, and alfalfa sprouts; and salmonella outbreaks linked to raw turkey products, Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal, precut melons, and kratom.

The report also found that there was an increase in the detected number of infections caused by eight specific pathogens: campylobacter, cyclospora, listeria, salmonella, Shiga toxin–producing E. coli, shigella, vibrio, and yersinia.

However, it’s important to note that although detection of foodborne illnesses has increased, the overall incidence of cases has not, according to the CDC.

In other words, although more outbreaks have been reported, the food supply is not necessarily less safe. Rather, we are just getting better at detecting problems when they do occur, said Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and a food safety field specialist with The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Additionally, foodborne diseases are preventable through the application of various proactive food safety programs, she said.

To help restaurants and the food service industry lessen their odds of causing an outbreak foodborne illness, food safety experts with CFAES offer food safety training to Ohio food service employees.

The ServSafe training is offered by Ohio State University Extension, CFAES’ outreach arm. It focuses on key areas to reduce the transmission of foodborne illnesses: employee health and hygiene; clean, sanitized equipment and utensils; process management; and ingredient sourcing, preparation, and storage, among others, Snyder said.

Last year, OSU Extension offered more than 125 food safety trainings for the restaurant industry and trained more than 1,700 food service employees, including restaurant managers, school food service personnel, nursing home staff, and other food service personnel.

The classes are taught by OSU Extension family and consumer sciences educators, who are certified instructors through the National Restaurant Association. The classes are offered at several sites statewide and are open to small, medium, and large food service establishments, she said.

“By having strong food safety programs in place, companies reduce the possibility of increased costs due to having to discard product to control food safety, facing potential closures and regulatory action, and of course, the variety of costs that can arise if an outbreak of foodborne illness is linked to their product,” Snyder said.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). 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 a food safety field specialist with CFAES.

Drinking more water can mean less calories for some kids

I’m trying to incorporate more water into my kids’ daily meals. What are some ways to encourage them to drink more water?

According to a new study released this week in JAMA Pediatrics, drinking more water and fewer sugary drinks is associated with lower caloric intake in kids, teens, and young adults.

The study, which was released Monday, was based on data collected from 8,400 youths ages 2–19 nationwide. The data was reported in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveysfrom 2011–2012 and from 2015–2016. The youths reported whether they drank water daily, and they reported the number of sugar-sweetened beverages they routinely drank.

The study found that about one in five of those youths said they didn’t drink any water on any given day. Skipping water was associated with drinking an extra 100 calories per day from sugary drinks including sports drinks, juices, and sodas, the researchers found.

While the study’s researchers say that the data doesn’t prove causality, they do recommend that children and young adults drink water daily to help avoid consuming extra calories from sugary drinks.

Another reason why water and other nonsugary drinks are the best options for kids and young adults is that sugary drinks have been linked to a host of health problems in both children and adults. Cavities, obesity, heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes have all been associated with the consumption of sugary drinks.

As such, the American Heart Association says that children and young adults shouldn’t consume more than 100 calories of added sugar per day. The group further recommends that children limit their consumption of sugary drinks to 8 ounces—less than one soda can—per week.

Also, according to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, people should consume less than 10% of their daily calories from added sugars. That same source recommends that people either avoid sugar-sweetened drinks overall, or at the very least, limit the amount of sugary drinks they consume.

This is important considering that many youths are drinking too many sugary drinks on any given day. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics reports that about two-thirds of kids drink at least one sugary drink on any given day. Nearly 30% drink two or more sugary drinks per day, according to a January 2017 study.

So, how can you incorporate more nonsugary drinks such as water and milk into your children’s diets? Cincinnati Children’s Hospital offers these tips:

  • Limit their choices to water and milk.
  • Have water or milk readily available to drink.
  • Drink water or milk yourself. That way, your children will be more likely to do so as well.
  • Add fresh fruits such as lemons, oranges, strawberries, kiwi, blackberries, or blueberries to your children’s water. You can add the fruits to the water for taste or freeze them in ice cubes to put into the water.

Chow Line is a service of the The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). 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 Carol Smathers, field specialist in youth nutrition and wellness for Ohio State University Extension.

Hard-boiled eggs safer choice than soft-boiled eggs for Easter

I prefer the texture of soft-boiled eggs versus hard-boiled eggs. Is it OK to use soft-boiled eggs for dyeing Easter eggs?

Cooking time and degree of readiness of boiled eggs. Photo: Getty Images.

Well, that really depends on whether you plan to eat the Easter eggs or just use them for decoration.

Eggs are an important source of protein and are delicious to eat. However, they must be handled safely to prevent the chance of contracting a foodborne illness.

While it’s understandable that some people prefer the taste of soft-boiled eggs versus hard-boiled eggs, from a food safety standpoint, it is safer to use hard-boiled eggs for dyeing Easter eggs that you plan to eat. In fact, you should cook the eggs until both the yolk and the white are firm, not runny.

This is because eggs can contain salmonella, which is an organism that causes foodborne illness, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Salmonella can be found on both the outside and inside of eggs, and it can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and fever, which can last for a couple of days to a week, the USDA says.

The symptoms can be worse for people with weakened immune systems, young children, and older adults, and they can result in severe illness, including death, said Kate Shumaker, an Ohio State University Extension educator and registered dietitian. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

To help lessen your chances of developing a foodborne illness, it’s best to cook eggs before eating them, as cooking reduces the number of bacteria present in an egg. However, a lightly or softly cooked egg with a runny egg white or yolk poses a greater risk than a thoroughly or hard-cooked egg, the USDA says.

Lightly cooked egg whites and yolks have both caused outbreaks of salmonella infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s because partially cooking an egg can result in some harmful bacteria surviving the cooking process, which can cause illness.

Likewise, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that 79,000 cases of foodborne illnesses and 30 deaths each year are caused by eating eggs contaminated with salmonella.

While the chances of foodborne illnesses are small, you still need to practice safe food handling when dealing with raw eggs in preparation for dyeing and eating Easter eggs,Shumaker said.

If you are making Easter eggs that will be eaten, it is important that you make sure the eggs are thoroughly cooked. This can be done by placing fresh eggs with intact shells—never use eggs with cracked shells—in a saucepan and covering them with at least 1 inch of water.

Cook the eggs until the yolks and whites are firm: Cooking times can vary based on the sizes of the eggs. Then, run cold water over the eggs and store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to decorate them.

Here are some other safety tips from the USDA to keep in mind:

  • Be sure to use only food-grade dye if you plan to eat the eggs you decorate.
  • The USDA recommends making two sets of eggs: one for decorating and hiding, and another for eating. You could also use plastic eggs for hiding.
  • If you plan to eat the eggs, after hard-boiling them, dye them and return them to the refrigerator within two hours.
  • If you plan to use the eggs for decorations and they will be out of the refrigerator for more than two hours, it’s best not to eat them.

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, OSU Extension educator and registered dietitian.

Springtime in Ohio is a good time for strawberries, asparagus, other in-season produce

Which fruits and vegetables are in season in the spring?

Strawberries and asparagus in an open air market. Photo: Getty Images.

Rain and bright sunny days make spring a good time to indulge in a wide range of plentiful produce such as asparagus, cabbage, kale, spinach, and strawberries. Not only are these items extremely fresh and flavorful because they’re currently in season, but they’re also widely discounted because of the abundance of supply based on this time of year.

Because fruits and vegetables grow in cycles and ripen during certain seasons, produce typically is fresher and tastes best when ripe. And while most fruits and vegetables are available to consumers year-round thanks to agricultural innovations, seasonal fruits and vegetables are typically cheaper to buy because they are easier to produce than fruits and vegetables that are grown out of season.

For example, the top advertised items on sale in local grocery stores this week were fruits, comprising 48% of all ads, and vegetables, accounting for 41% of all supermarket sale ads, according to the April 5edition of the National Retail Report, a weekly roundup of advertised retail pricing information compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While this is not an all-inclusive list, generally speaking, the following produce (among others) is in season in Ohio during the spring, according to the Ohio Farm Bureau:

  • Asparagus
  • Cabbage
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Turnip greens

While eating fruits and vegetables is an important part of a healthy diet, it’s also important to remember to incorporate food safety when preparing and eating them. This is because some raw fruits and vegetables can contain foodborne pathogens such as E. coli, listeria, and salmonella, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As such, nearly half of all foodborne diseases are caused by germs on fresh produce, the CDC says.

While cooking produce is one of the best ways to lessen the potential for developing a foodborne illness, here are some other tips from the CDC to keep in mind when choosing and consuming raw fruits and vegetables:

  • Always choose produce that isn’t bruised or damaged.
  • When shopping, choose pre-cut fruits and vegetables that are refrigerated or are kept on ice.
  • Keep fruits and vegetables separated from raw meat, poultry, and seafood in your shopping cart and in your grocery bags.
  • Wash or scrub fruits and vegetables under running water, even if you do not plan to eat the peel, so that dirt and germs on the surface do not get inside during slicing.
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
  • Refrigerate within two hours any fruits and vegetables that you have cut. Store them in a clean container at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder.
  • Store fruits and vegetables away from, and not next to or below, raw meat, poultry, and seafood. These items can drip juices that might contain germs.
  • Use a separate cutting board for fruits and vegetables than what is used for cutting or preparing raw meats, poultry, or seafood.
  • Wash cutting boards, counter tops, and utensils with hot, soapy water before and after preparing fruits and vegetables.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University 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 Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Shari Gallup, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

When to throw out moldy food

When is it ok to consume food that mold has grown on, and when should one throw the food away?

Photo: Getty Images.

That depends, in part, on the type of food.

First, it’s important to understand what mold is.

Mold and yeast are generally considered spoilage organisms, as they cause undesirable changes to the appearance, texture, smell, and taste of the product, explains Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

However, some instances of mold growth on food introduces food safety concerns, Snyder wrote in Mold Has Grown on Your Food: What Should You Do, a recent Ohioline fact sheet.

Ohioline is Ohio State University Extension’s free online information resource and can be found at ohioline.osu.edu. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of CFAES.

“Determining the difference between when food with mold growth should be discarded, or when the damaged portion can be removed and the rest of the food consumed, is the challenge,” she wrote. The specific food safety risk posed by mold growth varies by product.

Determining the specific food safety risk associated with mold growth in a given product is essential in determining what to do with the food. In some cases, there are concerns that mold might cause allergic reactions or illness due to mycotoxin production.

Generally speaking, canned food and beverages that have mold growth should be thrown out, while foods such as fermented vegetables, hard cheeses, hard meats, and firm vegetables can be eaten if you remove the molded portion of the food before consuming, Snyder said.

For example, in the case of canned food, the issue of mold is one of food safety.

Some molds will digest the acid in the canned product. This increases the pH levels of the canned food. This is important because some canned goods rely on acid to control the growth of Clostridium botulinum spores and to prevent botulism, she said

Mold in canned goods can also indicate incorrect heat processing, a poor vacuum, a weak seal, contamination along the jar rim, too little headspace, or under-processing of the food—all of which are potential concerns regarding the quality and safety of the product over its shelf life, Snyder said.

In beverages, mold growth can lead to mycotoxin formation, which diffuses through the product. Mold growth can occur when opened juice is left too long in the refrigerator, when coffee has been left out, or in canned juices due to growth of heat-resistant molds, for example. In these cases, the beverages should be thrown out.

In the case of mold on hard cheeses, hard meats, and firm vegetables, generally speaking, you can remove the molded portion of the food and use the rest of the product, she said.

“Some cheeses and dried meats utilize mold as part of their normal fermentation and development,” Snyder said. “As such, mold-ripened products are safe to consume.

“However, spoilage molds on soft cheeses that are not a part of manufacturing, such as blue mold growing on feta, should be discarded.”

If spoilage molds are found growing on hard cheeses such as cheddar; hard meats such as dry-cured salami; and firm vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, and peppers, then the affected portion can be cut off and the rest of the product consumed, she said.

“Be generous in determining how much of the affected portion to remove,” Snyder said. “You should cut at least 1 inch outside of where the mold is growing in order to remove all hyphae, which may not be visible.”

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

Modeling healthy eating is beneficial to children

My little boy is at the age where he has decided he does not like to eat vegetables. As a parent, how can I instill better eating habits in my child?

Photo: Getty Images

While it’s normal for young children to be picky eaters, there are ways that you can help them develop healthier eating habits. One easy way is through modeling healthy eating habits yourself. One of the most common ways that children learn new things is by watching and imitating parents’ actions.

In fact, research has shown that parents’ eating choices can have a major influence on their children, said Ingrid Adams, state specialist in food, health, and human behavior 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.

Studies have found that parental modeling of healthy food choices has been positively associated with those same parents’ children’s consumption of fruits and vegetables. And children whose parents modeled healthy eating behaviors were more likely to meet their recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables, Adams said.

“By modeling unhealthy eating behaviors, parents may increase the likelihood of their children being overweight or obese, putting them at greater risk for chronic diseases that can affect their health now and in the future,” she said in Modeling at Mealtime, a recent Ohioline fact sheet. Ohioline is OSU Extension’s free online information resource and can be found at ohioline.osu.edu.

Adams offers these helpful tips for parents to model healthy eating habits in children:

  • Be willing to try new and healthy food options yourself. Offer new foods without forcing or bribing your child to eat them.
  • Show your kids how to make healthy choices during meals and snack times by choosing nutritious foods—and avoiding “junk foods”—yourself.
  • Choose fruits and vegetables as snacks in place of chips and candies, and replace sodas and other sugary, sweetened drinks with water. In other words, make water your dink of choice.
  • Make meals nutrient dense by including foods from each of the five good groups: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, and dairy.
  • Take kids with you when you go grocery shopping. Show them how to choose fresh produce, compare nutrition labels on foods, and how to shop on a budget. This can help them understand where their food comes from, how to make healthy choices, and how to use money wisely.

“Planning and making healthy meals with your children is another way to teach healthy eating habits. It is also a great way for children to learn about nutrition and food safety, and develop cooking skills and creativity,” Adams said. “Encourage creativity by having children create a new menu item from a list of ingredients you picked out together.”

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: Ingrid Adams, field specialist in food, health, and human behavior for OSU Extension, reviewed this column.