Wash Fresh Produce Before Eating to Ensure Food Safety

My boyfriend insists that we have to rinse off all fruit before eating it – even watermelon, kiwi and cantaloupe. I say fruit that I cut to eat, like melons, doesn’t need to be rinsed first, and it’s OK to just wipe off an apple or grape before popping it into your mouth. Who’s right? 

Close-up of various fruits and vegetables.

Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is a great choice that promotes a healthy diet. As such, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest you should fill half your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables at each meal.

But, because fruits and vegetables can sometimes harbor harmful bacteria, it is important that you rinse all produce under running water before preparing or eating it.

That includes fresh produce that was purchased from a grocery store, a farmers market or even grown at home.

And, yes, even some fruits and vegetables that have skin need to be rinsed under running water before preparing or eating them, even if you do not plan to eat the skin.

For example, cantaloupe skin has nooks and crannies that can house dirt particles. You should give cantaloupes a good rinse and scrub them with a clean brush before you cut through them with a knife. That is because peeling or cutting unwashed produce can transfer dirt or other contaminates from the surface of the produce to the portion of the fruit or vegetable you plan to eat.

In fact, firm produce such as melons, apples and cucumbers should be scrubbed with a clean produce brush before peeling or cutting into them. And they should then be dried off with a clean paper towel or cloth to further reduce harmful bacteria that may be present on the skin, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Sprouts are among the vegetables that cause a high number of outbreaks. They have to be thoroughly washed before consuming. Vegetables like broccoli, lettuce and leafy kale should be rinsed under cold water just before you intend to eat them. However, don’t wash berries before putting them in the fridge because that will increase moisture and accelerate growth of spoilage bacteria and molds.

It is important to note that most fresh produce is eaten uncooked and there is no way to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present. This is where proper food safety handling comes into play. To lessen your chance for contracting foodborne illness, it is important that you not only wash fresh produce before preparing or eating it, but you should also wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after preparation, FDA says.

So even though it may be quick and easy to just shine that apple on your shirt or wipe off those grapes and cherries with a quick swipe of your hands, don’t do it. Take the extra step to avoid the potential for foodborne illness.

Understanding food safety is an important step to avoiding foodborne illness. Some 48 million people get foodborne illnesses, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Several groups of microorganisms can colonize or contaminate fruits and vegetables at any point in the food supply chain, according to food safety experts. Pathogenic bacteria such as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and viruses such as norovirus are commonly associated with consumption of fresh produce.

While washing produce is important, washing will not get rid of all bacteria or viruses. And washing with soap, detergent or commercial produce washes is no more effective than water. In fact, those products aren’t recommended at all, FDA says.

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

Grilling this Weekend? Use Meat Thermometer to Increase Food Safety

My dad considers himself a grill master, but I think some of his techniques are questionable, like marinating the meat in a dish on the countertop or checking the doneness of burgers or chicken by color. What can I tell him to convince him these methods aren’t safe?

Pork on skewers cooked on barbecue grill. USDA advises consumers to use a food thermometer to accurately measure if meat is cooked to a high enough internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria. Photo: Thinkstock.

Your dad is not alone — many people use color as an indicator of doneness when grilling meats. In fact, according to recent research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, only 34 percent of the public uses a food thermometer when cooking hamburgers.

But, in order to avoid foodborne illness, the USDA advises consumers to use a food thermometer to accurately measure if meat is cooked to a high enough internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli that may be present.

The safe minimum cooking temperature for ground meats, including beef, pork, veal and lamb, is 160 degrees. Turkey and chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, according to USDA. Steak and pork can be safely cooked to 145 degrees.

To get the most accurate temperature reading, you should place the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the food to gauge its temperature.

In addition, USDA says you should allow a three-minute rest time after removing the meat from the heat source. During this rest time, the temperature of the meat remains constant or continues to rise and destroys any pathogens that may be present.

The problem with using color as an indicator of doneness for ground beef, for instance, is if raw ground beef is somewhat brown already, it may look fully cooked before it reaches a safe temperature. Different levels of oxygenation at different locations inside and on the surface of the meat can cause the meat to look red on the outside and brown on the inside.

So if the meat is already brown, it won’t change color during cooking, USDA says.

On the question of marinating meats and poultry, it’s safest to do so in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator kept at 40 degrees or colder, or in an iced cooler if you are transporting the food. This is because bacteria that can cause foodborne illness grow rapidly at room temperature.

Keeping these safety tips in mind can help you have enjoyable backyard BBQs this spring and summer without the worry of getting sick from eating undercooked meats.

Other tips for safe grilling from USDA and the National Fire Protection Association include:

  • Propane and charcoal BBQ grills should be used only outdoors.
  • The grill should be placed well away from the home, deck railings, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
  • Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grills and in trays below the grill.
  • Never leave your grill unattended.
  • For charcoal grills, use only lighter fluid designed for grilling. Never use gasoline or other flammable liquids, and never add more lighter fluid once the fire has started.
  • Don’t cover or store your grill until it has cooled, and soak coals with water before throwing them away.

Wedding Season Food Safety Tips

My fiancé and I are getting married in June and we want to make sure our guests have a wonderful experience. But I’ve heard some horror stories about people getting sick from food during wedding receptions. What can we do to make sure that doesn’t happen at our wedding?

Adhering to good food safety guidelines during a wedding reception will help ensure that your guests leave your wedding with only happy memories.

Adhering to good food safety guidelines during a wedding reception will help ensure that your guests leave your wedding with only happy memories. No one wants a bad case of food poisoning that could leave them sick for days or even land them in the hospital as a wedding favor.

That has been the case for some wedding guests, according to published reports.

More than 300 guests were sickened during a 2014 wedding in Sullivan, Mo. after consuming gravy that was not cooled and reheated correctly. That allowed Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that can be harmful to humans, to develop, leaving guests with abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

Guests at a 2016 Alabama wedding contracted Salmonella poisoning from eating green beans and improperly cooked chicken. Cross contamination was likely caused by using the same serving utensils for the green beans and the chicken, authorities there said.

And in July 2015, some 35 wedding guests in Brewerton, N.Y., were sickened by Staphylococcus aureus — a salt-tolerant bacteria that can grow in foods such as ham and in gravies and sauces — after eating food served at a wedding reception.

Nationwide, the CDC estimates 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year. To help prevent that from happing at your wedding, the U.S Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service offers these food safety questions brides and grooms should ask their caterer before the reception:

  • Is the catering staff properly trained on safe food handling?
  • When and where is the food prepared? If the food is prepared off-site, ensure the food is transported safely. If the food is prepared on-site, appropriate tools are needed to prepare and serve the food including multiple knives, serving spoons, cutting boards and towels.
  • How is food transported to the venue? Cold foods should stay cold and hot foods stay hot. Use sealable containers for food – transporting unsealed food containers in the same compartment could result in spillage and cross-contamination.
  • How long after food—especially meat, poultry, seafood and eggs—is cooked is it brought out to guests? Perishable foods should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • How long does the buffet remain open and how will the caterer avoid food from entering the “danger zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees, where bacteria multiply rapidly? Chafing dishes or warming trays should be used to keep hot foods hot, and ice or other cold sources should be used to keep cold foods cold. Never leave perishable foods in the “danger zone” for more than two hours or longer than one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees. After two hours, food that has been sitting out without temperature control should be replaced with fresh food.
  • Are there any potential allergens used in the preparation of the food, including nuts, soy, milk, eggs, wheat and fish or shellfish? If there are, guests should be notified in advance. Allergens should also be noted on the buffet.
  • Is a food thermometer used to check that all foods have been properly cooked and are held at safe temperatures? No one can tell if meat is properly cooked by its color – using a thermometer is a must.

For brides and grooms who choose to prepare the wedding food on their own without a caterer, in addition to the above food safety tips, keep in mind the following:

  • Separate raw foods from cooked foods.
  • Do not use utensils on cooked foods that were previously used on raw foods.
  • Chill foods promptly after preparing and when transporting from one place to another.

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

Stay Hydrated in Warmer Weather

Now that spring is here and the weather is warming up, I plan to be outside more doing all kinds of strenuous outdoor activities. What are some ways to keep hydrated?

When temperatures rise, getting enough fluids is even more important whether you’re playing sports, traveling or just outside in the sun. Photo: Thinkstock.

Staying hydrated is a key part of staying healthy. Consuming an adequate amount of fluids helps to maintain body functions, including those of your heart, brain and muscles. Fluids also serve to carry nutrients to your cells, keep your temperature normal, digest food, flush bacteria from your bladder and prevent constipation.

However, when temperatures rise, getting enough fluids is even more important whether you’re playing sports, traveling or just outside in the sun, according to the American Heart Association. In fact, your body needs more fluids when you are more physically active, are running a fever, or are experiencing vomiting or diarrhea.

So how much water should you be drinking daily?

Doctors at Harvard Medical School recommend that healthy people should get 30 to 50 ounces of water per day, which translates to about 4 to 6 cups or 1 to 1.5 liters.

And the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends that people avoid sugar-sweetened drinks from their diet overall, or at the very least, that they limit the amount of sugary drinks they consume. In addition to water, milk is also a good option to help in hydration.

You can try these tips offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to add more water to your fluid intake:

  • Infuse tap water with flavor by adding foods such as berries, cucumbers, mint leaves, lemons or limes. Slightly mashing berries and mint leaves before adding them will make the water even tastier.
  • Freeze ice cube trays with berries to add to water to keep it cold.
  • Freeze some freezer-safe water bottles for ice-cold water all day long.
  • Choose water instead of other beverages when eating out. This not only will save you money, but you will also lower your caloric intake.
  • Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, which can also help you manage your weight. Substituting water for one 20-ounce sugar-sweetened soda will save you about 240 calories.

You can also increase your fluid intake by consuming foods with high water content. In addition to helping to fulfill your fluid needs, such foods can provide needed nutrients including vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. Nationwide, an estimated 22 percent of our water comes from our food intake, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Fruits such as watermelon, strawberries, grapefruit, cantaloupe, peaches, pineapple, cranberries, oranges, raspberries, apricots, blueberries, plums, apples, pears, cherries, grapes and bananas are high in water content.

Vegetables such as cucumbers, lettuce, zucchini, radishes, celery, tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, spinach, broccoli, carrots, peas and white potatoes also provide water to help you stay hydrated.

But how will you know if you are getting enough fluids? According to the Cleveland Clinic, signs of dehydration include fatigue, loss of appetite, flushed skin, heat intolerance, light-headedness, dark-colored urine and dry cough.

A great way to avoid dehydration is to consume fluids before you get thirsty. So remember to grab a water bottle each morning and keep it with you all day long!

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 Carol Smathers, field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension

Food Safety after the Storm

Our neighborhood lost power after a round of violent storms hit our area and some of our neighbors’ homes were also flooded. Now that the storms are over and the power is coming back on, can we still eat the food in our fridge and freezer?

Any foods in your home that aren’t in a waterproof container that comes into contact with floodwater needs to be thrown out.

That depends on how long the power was out, how you managed the food in your refrigerator and freezer while the electricity wasn’t on and whether any of the food or beverages were touched by floodwaters.

If your home was flooded, it is important that you throw away any food that may have come into contact with floodwater. That includes cartons of milk, juice or eggs and any raw vegetables and fruits. In fact, any foods in your home that aren’t in a waterproof container that came into contact with floodwater need to be thrown out.

Floodwater can seep into and contaminate foods packaged in plastic wrap or cardboard and in containers with screw-on caps, snap lids and pull tops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The best way to avoid the potential for foodborne illness in such cases is to throw away all foods not contained in waterproof packaging – that includes foods in your pantry, cabinets, fridge and freezer that came into contact with floodwater.

Canned goods also need to be inspected for damage due to flooding. Throw away any cans with swelling, leakage, punctures, deep rusting or those that are crushed or severely dented and can’t be opened with a can opener.

Foodborne bacteria can cause illness. Symptoms will occur usually within one to three days of eating the contaminated food. However, symptoms can also occur within 20 minutes or up to 6 weeks later, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In the case of a power outage without flooding, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. If not opened, a refrigerator without power will keep food cold for about four hours. A half-full freezer will hold its temperature for about 24 hours, and for 48 hours if the freezer is full, USDA says.

If the power is out more than four hours, you can store refrigerated foods in a cooler with dry ice or block ice. You can also use dry ice or block ice in the fridge to keep it as cold as possible during an extended power outage, according to FDA.

Other safe food handling tips after a power outage from USDA and FDA include:

  • Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Throw away any perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers that has been above 40 degrees for two hours or more.
  • Check each item separately. Throw away any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.
  • Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees or below.

Remember, when in doubt about the safety of the food item, throw it out – never taste the food to decide if it is safe to eat, USDA says. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than four hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut, according to FDA.

Experts agree — one way to be prepared in the event of an extended power outage is to keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that don’t require cooking or cooling. And keep a supply of bottled water stored where it will be safe from floodwaters.

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

App Tells How to Store Foods Safely

I go grocery shopping once a month for my family and I tend to buy fresh fruits and vegetables in larger quantities. What is the best way to safely store these items to keep them fresh? 

Storing foods properly can greatly impact their quality and safety over time.

The “best way” to store your food depends on the food items that you’ve purchased.

Storing foods properly can greatly impact their quality and safety over time. For specific storage information at your fingertips, try the U.S Department of Agriculture Foodkeeper app. This recently updated app offers consumers information on how to avoid food waste by providing information on how to store food safely and information on how long certain foods last.

Not only does the app offer tips on how to keep and store fresh foods, it also includes information on how to store more than 400 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.

According to USDA, the app helps users understand food storage and “empowers consumers to select methods that extend shelf life and keep items fresh longer than if they were not properly stored.”

Understanding food safety is an important step to avoid foodborne illness. Some 48 million people get foodborne illnesses, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With that in mind, the app offers storage timelines for the refrigerator, freezer and pantry and cooking information on several types of food. The storage of unopened and opened food packages is also addressed.

For example, apples should be eaten within three weeks if they are stored in a pantry, according to the Foodkeeper app. If the apples are stored in a refrigerator, they should be eaten within four to six weeks. However, apples properly prepared can be stored in a freezer safely for eight months, the app says.

Carrots, on the other hand, can safely be stored in a refrigerator for two to three weeks and can be stored frozen for up to one year, the app says.

The app also provides guidance on how to store condiments and sauces. Jars and cans of gravy can be stored for two to five years if stored in a pantry but, when opened, can only be stored for one to two days in a refrigerator. Although jams and jellies can be stored for up to 18 months if stored in a pantry, they should be used within six to 12 months once opened and refrigerated.

The app, which also offers mobile accessibility, is available for Android and IOS devices. The information can also be accessed online at FoodSafety.gov.

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.

Frozen Vegetables Are Healthy Options

My wife and I disagree on whether or not it’s better to eat fresh vegetables or frozen vegetables. I say that frozen veggies are just as healthy as fresh vegetables, but my wife disagrees. Which one of us is right?

Fresh or frozen, eating vegetables is a great idea and a healthy food choice.

Both of you. As long as you both are eating vegetables, you are making the right decision. Eating vegetables, whether they are frozen or fresh, is a great idea and a very healthy food choice. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines recommends that you make half your plate fruits and vegetables at every meal. They can be raw or cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, or even dried or dehydrated.

There is new research, however, that says frozen veggies are as healthy as fresh vegetables. In a study to be published in the June 2017 issue of the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, the study’s findings “do not support the common belief of consumers that fresh food has significantly greater nutritional value than its frozen counterpart.”

The two-year study by researchers from the University of Georgia compared the following nutrients — vitamin C, provitamin A and total folate — in broccoli, cauliflower, corn, green beans, green peas, spinach, blueberries and strawberries in three categories: frozen, fresh on the day of purchase, and five days after being stored in a refrigerator.

The study found that in the majority of fresh versus frozen comparisons of vegetables and fruits, there were no significant differences in the assessed vitamin contents. The study also found that in some circumstances, the frozen produce was more nutritious than the five-day fresh stored produce.

To help ensure the nutritional content of commercially frozen fruits and vegetables, the produce is processed immediately at harvest to ensure the product’s peak ripeness and to seal in as many of its nutrients as possible. In many cases, fresh produce that is shipped to stores around the country is typically picked before ripeness and is exposed to heat and light during storage and transport, which degrades some nutrients.

Also, cooking and preservation exposes the fruit or vegetable to heat, oxygen and light, all of which can degrade nutrient and phytonutrient levels, according to an Ohio State University Extension Ohioline factsheet.

No matter what form of vegetable you choose to eat — fresh or frozen — it is important that you choose to eat vegetables. Fruits, vegetables, and their combinations of nutrients and phytonutrients likely play a role in preventing or delaying the development of age-related chronic diseases, like cancer and cardiovascular disease. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommends that most people consume 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day.

But, according to a 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 33 percent of American adults consume less than one serving of fruits and vegetables a day.

Some tips to increase your daily fruit and vegetable intake from the Produce for Better Health Foundation and the CDC include:

  • Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal and for snacking.
  • Substitute fruits and vegetables for simple carbohydrates or snack foods in any meal.
  • Always stock frozen and canned fruits and vegetables for quick meal prep. Be sure to choose those without added sugar, syrup or cream sauces.
  • Keep fresh fruits and produce in easy-to-grab places such as a fruit bowl or cut up in a storage baggie or to-go container.

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.

Save Time and Money at the Grocery Store

Lately I’ve found that I am spending more time and money at the grocery store, sometimes even buying things that I don’t need. What are some strategies to help me spend less and save time?

Have a shopping list prepared before you get to the grocery store. And when you get to the store, stick to your list.

One of the first things to remember when grocery shopping: never shop on an empty stomach. Shopping while hungry could lead you to buy less nutritious impulse items and cause you to spend more money than you’d intended.

It’s also important that you have a shopping list prepared before you get to the grocery store. Make a list by looking in your kitchen cabinets, pantry and refrigerator to see what food items you need at home. And when you get to the store, stick to your list. This will help you avoid buying unnecessary items.

Other smart shopping tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics include:

  • Save time by organizing your shopping list into sections according to the layout of the grocery store.
  • Check the grocery sales ads for deals. Depending on the store, the sales ads are typically released midweek and can be found at the store’s entrance, in the newspaper, on the store’s website or on the store’s mobile app.
  • Clip and use coupons for the items that you know you’ll use. If you don’t need the item right away, check the expiration date on the coupon and save it to use later, particularly if the item goes on sale.
  • Shop for items on the upper and lower shelves as most stores stock the most expensive items at the consumer’s eye level.
  • Buy store brands. Most stores offer their own brand of products that often cost less than name brands.
  • Find and compare unit prices listed on shelves to get the best price. You can also buy some items in bulk sizes or as family packs that usually cost less.
  • Check the expiration dates on food products. Grocery stores typically stock their shelves with the newest items behind the older ones. Choose items from the back of the shelf so that you are getting the freshest items, especially in the produce, dairy and meat aisles.
  • Avoid buying precut fruits and vegetables – choose whole fruits and vegetables instead, which are typically less expensive.
  • If you have the freezer space, buy frozen vegetables without added sauces or butter. They are as good for you as fresh vegetables and may cost less.
  • Ask for a rain check. If a sale item has run out, ask the store for a rain check. This allows you to pay the sale price after the item is restocked.

Lastly, you can join the grocery store’s loyalty program. Most stores offer a free loyalty program that offers shoppers access to discounted prices, special offers, coupons and, in some cases, rewards programs that aren’t offered to nonmembers.

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

To Eat or Not to Eat – An Egg-cellent Question about Easter Eggs

My mom is hosting Easter dinner this year and plans to have an Easter egg hunt for the grandkids. Growing up, we always ate the eggs used in the egg hunt, and my mom insists this is fine. But I’ve heard that you shouldn’t eat those eggs. You should have a separate batch — one to eat and one to hide and use for decorations. Which one of us is right?

Well, that depends. You both are right – in certain circumstances.

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. One such outbreak occurred nationwide in 2010 when nearly 2,000 consumers reported becoming ill and some 550 million eggs were recalled due to salmonella contamination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the chances of foodborne illness are small, you still need to practice safe food handling when dealing with raw eggs in preparation for dyeing Easter eggs. That includes washing your hands thoroughly before handling the eggs at every step – cooking well, cooling, dyeing and hiding – says the American Egg Board.

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 cover them with at least 1 inch of water. Cook the eggs until the yolk and white are firm. Then run cold water over the eggs and store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to decorate them.

However, if you are among those who prefer to decorate hollowed egg shells (by blowing the raw egg through a hole in the shell), be sure to use pasteurized shell eggs to lessen the potential of salmonella exposure. You can also wash the egg in hot water and rinse it in a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach per one-half cup of water to sanitize it, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Other safe handling tips from the USDA include:

  • Use warm water and food coloring or food-grade dyes to color eggs if they will be eaten.
  • Refrigerate the eggs in their cartons after coloring, and refrigerate them again after they’ve been hidden and found.
  • Don’t eat or hide cracked eggs because bacteria can get inside them.
  • When hiding eggs, consider the places you choose to hide them carefully. You should avoid places where pets, animals, insects or lawn chemicals could come in contact with the eggs and possibly contaminate them. Eggs should also be hidden in places that are protected from dirt, moisture and other sources of bacteria.
  • Boiled eggs can be safely kept out of the refrigerator for a maximum of two hours before they become hazardous to eat. But remember – that two-hour window includes the time it takes to both hide and find the eggs.
  • Boiled eggs can be stored in the refrigerator for one week. After that, they are unsafe to eat.

So in answer to your question, you can eat the eggs that you use for your Easter egg hunt – if you follow safe handling and storage practices. But, to be on the safe side, you may want to consider dyeing two batches of eggs – one for eating and the other for hunting.

If you plan to use Easter eggs for decorations and they will be out of the refrigerator for more than two hours, it’s best not to eat those eggs at all.

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.

New Rules Require Calorie Postings in Restaurant Menus

My family likes to eat out several times a month, but I’ve heard recently that many restaurant menu items contain plenty of calories. So how can we avoid eating too many calories when dining out?

One way of avoiding consuming a lot of calories when eating out is to first be aware of exactly how many calories are in the foods before you eat them.

Beginning May 5, that will be much easier for consumers to figure out. That’s when the Food and Drug Administration will officially require restaurants with 20 or more locations to post nutritional information facts for their regular menu items, including beverages.

While some food establishments already provide calorie counts on their menus or menu boards, the new regulations will require all impacted restaurants nationwide to provide this information, as of that date.

The new rules, which are a part of the federal Affordable Care Act, will also require impacted restaurants to post a statement alerting consumers that other nutritional information is available on request, including information on total calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein for their regular menu items.

This is significant considering that 92 percent of 364 measured restaurant meals from both large-chain and non-chain restaurants exceed the recommended calorie requirements for a single meal, according to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In fact, the study found that both chain and local restaurants routinely serve meals that contain more calories than should be consumed in a single meal. And that’s often more than a person should eat in an entire day – even before the beverage or desert is included in the meal.

This is of concern because about half of consumers’ annual food dollars are spent on foods prepared outside the home, including foods from restaurants and similar retail food establishments, according to the FDA. Many people simply don’t know, or they underestimate, the calorie and nutrient content of these foods, FDA says.

However, there is some research suggesting that simply knowing how many calories are in foods isn’t enough to stop people from overeating. A study published in the November 2015 issue of the journal, Health Affairs, found that calorie labels in New York City chain restaurants, on their own, have not reduced the overall number of calories that consumers of fast food order and presumably eat.

But, the study did find that 51 percent of survey respondents reported noticing the calorie counts, and 12 percent claimed that it influenced them to choose a lower-calorie item, even if it did not reduce overall caloric intake.

There are, however, steps that you can take to avoid overeating when dining out. These tips are offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate.gov website:

  • Choose water, fat-free or low-fat milk, unsweetened tea, and other drinks without added sugars to drink.
  • Start your meal with a salad packed with vegetables to help you feel satisfied sooner. Ask for dressing on the side and use a small amount of it.
  • Share a main entree. Ask for small plates for everyone at the table.
  • Order a side dish or an appetizer-sized portion instead of a regular entree. They’re usually served on smaller plates and in smaller amounts.
  • Pack fruit, sliced vegetables, low-fat string cheese or unsalted nuts to eat during road trips or long commutes. No need to stop for other food when these snacks are ready-to-eat.
  • Fill your plate with vegetables and fruit. Stir-fries, kabobs or vegetarian menu items usually have more vegetables. Select fruits as a side dish or dessert.
  • Compare the calories, fat, and sodium. Many menus now include nutrition information. Look for items that are lower in calories, saturated fat and sodium.
  • Have an item from the menu and avoid the “all-you-can-eat” buffet. Steamed, grilled or broiled dishes have fewer calories than foods that are fried in oil or cooked in butter.
  • Request 100 percent whole-wheat breads, rolls, and pasta when choosing sandwiches, burgers or main dishes.

And lastly, you don’t have to eat the entire meal in one sitting. You may want to consider taking leftovers home in a container and chilling them in the refrigerator right away to eat at a later time.

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.