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FDA warns consumers to stop drinking sodium chlorite products

I just saw a social media post warning against drinking Miracle Mineral Solution. What is it, and why shouldn’t I drink it?

Photo: Getty Images

Miracle Mineral Solution is a mixture of distilled water and sodium chlorite. It is sold online as a purported treatment for several diseases and conditions, according to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration.

But, instead of helping consumers, the product has sickened numerous people who’ve ingested it, the FDA said

As a result, the federal agency this week warned consumers to stop drinking the product, which is also known by several names including Miracle or Master Mineral Solution, Miracle Mineral Supplement, MMS, Chlorine Dioxide Protocol, and Water Purification Solution, according to the FDA.

“Some distributors are making false—and dangerous—claims that Miracle Mineral Supplement mixed with citric acid is an antimicrobial, antiviral, and antibacterial liquid that is a remedy for autism, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, flu, and other conditions,” the FDA said. “But the FDA is not aware of any research showing that these products are safe or effective for treating any illness.”

Although the agency first issued a warning against consuming these products in 2010, the warning was reissued this week after the FDA said it has received reports of consumers who have suffered from severe vomiting, severe diarrhea, life-threatening low blood pressure caused by dehydration, and acute liver failure after drinking these products.

“Drinking any of these chlorine dioxide products can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and symptoms of severe dehydration,” the FDA warned. “Some product labels claim that vomiting and diarrhea are common after ingesting the product. They even maintain that such reactions are evidence that the product is working. That claim is false.”

Of particular concern for the FDA is that the more concentrated the product is, the more severe the consumer’s reaction can be.

For example, “product directions instruct people to mix the sodium chlorite solution with a citric acid, such as lemon or lime juice, or another acid before drinking. In many instances, the sodium chlorite is sold with a citric acid ‘activator.’ When the acid is added, the mixture becomes chlorine dioxide, a powerful bleaching agent,” the FDA said.

“Sodium chlorite products are dangerous, and you and your family should not use them,” the FDA warned.

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, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

Food safety and homemade fruit- or vegetable-infused water

I’m planning to add either fresh strawberry or cucumber slices to a pitcher of water to serve with a lunch I’m hosting. Are there any food safety concerns that I need to be aware of when making fruit- or vegetable-infused water?

Glasses of infused water with fresh strawberries, lime, cucumber and mint leaves, lemon and orange.  Photo: Getty Images.Food safety and homemade fruit- or vegetable-infused water

Infusing water with fruits or vegetables is a wonderful, healthy, and delicious way to add flavor to water without adding sugar. Not only is infused water a simple way to stay hydrated, but it has also become increasingly popular among consumers who are seeking healthy alternatives to sugary drinks.

However, when preparing fruit- or vegetable-infused water, it’s important to keep food safety in mind to prevent the potential of developing a foodborne illness. In fact, you should handle infused water as you would any perishable food, according to Infused Water with Ohio Local Foods, a recent Ohioline fact sheet written by Patrice Powers-Barker, an Ohio State University Extension educator.

Ohioline is OSU Extension’s free online information resource and can be found at ohioline.osu.edu. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Because you are adding fresh fruits or vegetables, the infused water is perishable. When serving infused water at a party or on a buffet table, treat it like other perishable foods. Add ice to the water and remember that perishable foods should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. After two hours at room temperature, the food can enter the “danger zone,” a range of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit at which bacteria grows most rapidly.

“For food safety, store the infused water in the refrigerator,” writes Powers-Barker. “As in any food or beverage preparation, do not forget to wash hands with soap and water before handling the food, as well as wash all produce with clean running water.”

“Use clean containers and sanitize preparation surfaces before starting,” she writes.

Also, cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoid using any produce that looks rotten, advises the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Because fruits and vegetables can sometimes harbor harmful bacteria, rinse all produce under clear running water before preparing or eating it. When washing firm produce such as melons and cucumbers, clean it with a produce brush and pat it dry with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that might be present on the surface, the FDA says.

For example, cantaloupe skin has nooks and crannies that can house dirt particles. Therefore, give cantaloupes a good rinse and scrub them with a clean brush before cutting through them with a knife. 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 that you plan to eat or add to your water.

It’s important to note, however, that washing the produce will not get rid of all bacteria or viruses. And washing it with soap, detergent, or commercial produce washes is no more effective than washing it with water, the FDA says.

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 Patrice Powers-Barker, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

Multiple ways to disinfect drinking water in an emergency

The water supply for my household has been disrupted twice this summer due to historic rainfall levels, leaving us faced with boil alerts due to floodwaters. But since our power was also out because of the storms, we had to buy bottled water instead. Is there any other way to clean the water in a situation like that?

Water boiling in a clear glass pot.

Many people in Ohio and throughout the Midwest have experienced similar situations due to the excessive rainfall that has hit the region recently.

In fact, May 2018 to April 2019 was the wettest year on record nationwide, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information. An average of 36.20 inches of precipitation fell nationwide, which was 6.25 inches above the mean, the agency said.

As a result, several communities in Ohio at one point or another this season have had to issue boil-water advisories or boil-water orders, which is a directive given by health authorities to consumers when a community’s drinking water is, or could be, contaminated by pathogens.

These alerts can be issued for multiple reasons, including as the result of storms, flooding, and waterline breaks that cause a disruption in drinking water supplies. And while boiling water is the standard recommendation, there are other methods to disinfect water in an emergency situation, according to Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water, 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 The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Boiling water for just a minute is extremely effective at killing bacteria and parasites that can make people sick, writes Karen Mancl, a professor in CFAES’ Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering and a specialist with OSU Extension.

In many circumstances, “the boil water call is for good reason, since consuming contaminated water can make people very sick,” she writes. “When in doubt, drink boiled water.

“Any heat source—electric or gas range, camp stove, wood fire, and even a microwave oven—heats water to boiling temperatures and kills disease-causing microbes.”

But, as in your case, there are other measures that can be used for emergency disinfection of drinking water when the power is out, Mancl said, including:

  • Chlorine bleach, which can be added to water to kill microbes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you can add 1/8 teaspoon for every 1 gallon of clear water. It’s important to note that chlorine does not kill microbes on contact, so you must wait at least 30 minutes before drinking the water. After disinfection, the water will have a strong chlorine smell and taste. If the water you are trying to disinfect is cloudy, you can add 1/4 teaspoon for everyone 1 gallon of water. This is because particles in cloudy water help protect and hide microbes from disinfection, increasing the chance they will not be killed by the chlorine and will make you sick. If the water source is cloudy, more chlorine will be needed to disinfect it.
  • Disinfection tablets containing chlorine or iodine are available for campers and travelers to disinfect a small volume of water. Many different companies market disinfection tablets that can be easily added to water bottles. Always follow the directions on the package.
  • Sunlight is an amazing disinfectant and is the key to solar disinfection. Ultraviolet light kills pathogens on contact. To use sunlight to disinfect water, the water must be very clear and placed in the sun in clear containers. Clear plastic water bottles, plastic bags, or specialized commercial solar bags can be used for solar disinfection. The water should be exposed to sunlight for at least four and up to 10 hours to kill microbes.

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 Karen Mancl, OSU Extension.

Advanced meal planning one way to benefit from Community Supported Agriculture

I joined a CSA this spring for the first time, and now I’m getting so many vegetables in my weekly shares that I don’t know what to do with them all. Some of the produce spoils before I get around to using it. How can I better manage this bounty of fresh foods?

Photo: Getty Images.

It’s great that you’ve joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSAs are a wonderful way to access fresh, locally grown produce and other foods.

While every CSA has some slight differences in how it operates, all work by allowing consumers to purchase a share—some call it a subscription—to a farm in return for weekly deliveries of farm-fresh, local produce, goods, and foods. Farmers benefit because they are able to derive income from the shares, which are often used for payment for their supplies, seeds, and labor costs.

Joining a CSA can be exciting, yet challenging. An abundance of weekly, fresh produce might be something new to a household, according to Using a Community Supported Agriculture Share to Plan Family Meals, 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 The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Although some might struggle to find ways to use their entire CSA share each week, meal planning can be an effective tool to better family health, according to Patrice Powers-Barker, an OSU Extension educator.

“Some CSA farmers preview the weekly produce shares in a newsletter or on social media, which allows members to think ahead on meal preparation,” she wrote. “Members can anticipate the produce and then create a grocery store list of items to complement the CSA share.”

Here are some other tips Powers-Barker suggests for using the produce in your CSA share:

  • Prepare simple “go-to” meals that can be made quickly, without much planning. Meals such as these can be changed up depending on the produce you receive in your CSA share. Meals such as frittatas and stir-fry are convenient because they can be made using a wide variety of vegetables depending on which produce you receive in your CSA share.
  • Review the types of vegetables in your CSA share, then plan several recipes per vegetable. For example, tomatoes can be used in spaghetti sauce for dinner, salsa for snacking with nachos, BLTs for lunch, and bruschetta for an appetizer.
  • Sometimes seemingly unusual vegetables can appear in your weekly shares. You can substitute those vegetables for your familiar produce in your favorite recipes. For some people, vegetables such as kohlrabi, chard, and fennel might seem intimidating at first, but the more you research, the more you will find that many vegetables can replace or complement other more commonly used vegetables. For example, try adding shaved kohlrabi to slaw recipes, or substitute lettuce with a mix of kale and chard.
  • Review the selection of produce in your share to determine which vegetables need to be used sooner than later. For example, if you get lettuce, spinach, or other delicate greens, they should be used within the first couple days of harvest. But radishes and other root vegetables such as beets, carrots, parsnips, and turnips can be stored in the refrigerator crisper one to two weeks if the green tops have been removed.

Hopefully these ideas will help you stick with your CSA. Multiple studies have shown that being part of a CSA can have a positive impact on health. In fact, one study showed that CSA members increased their servings of fruits and vegetables by 2.2 times per week. Another found that joining a CSA contributed to 4.9 more home-cooked meals per month.

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 Patrice Powers-Barker, educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, OSU Extension.

Help for family members dealing with diabetes

My dad was diagnosed with diabetes last year, but it seems he hasn’t really embraced what that means. For example, he hasn’t made any changes to his eating habits at all. How can I help him better understand his diagnosis and make healthier food choices?

Photo: Getty Images

While it might seem that your dad hasn’t accepted his new reality of living with diabetes, it might just be that he doesn’t know where or how to start in terms of making changes to accommodate his new health situation.

Changing and maintaining a new behavior can be difficult, especially when you’ve received a new diagnosis of diabetes that might require you to change several behaviors all at once, according to Communication Strategies to Support a Family Member with Diabetes, a new 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 The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“Behavior change experts suggest that people go through six stages of change,” according to the authors of the fact sheet.

“Our personal motivations ‘pull’ us through the stages towards adopting a health behavior such as healthy eating or physical activity,” the authors write. “Being aware of the six stages can help family members find ways to support or encourage the person with diabetes, motivating them to change towards healthier behaviors.”

The six stages of change could be applied to helping a family member living with diabetes in the following ways.

  1. Precontemplation: A person with diabetes has no inclination how to change a behavior related to diabetes management. He or she does not view that there is problem or is unaware of the problem.
  2. Contemplation: A person is aware of a problem with his or her diabetes management and the consequences of not changing or not adopting self-management behaviors, but still is not committed or motivated to change. The person weighs the pros and cons of changing his or her behavior.
  3. Preparation: A person is motivated to change but has not yet started. He or she is making plans, looking into strategies, or setting concrete goals.
  4. Action: A person has started to change and has maintained the behavior for fewer than six months.
  5. Maintenance: A person has maintained the behavior for six months and beyond, and the adopted behavior has become a habit.
  6. Relapse: A person returns to his or her previous behavior of poor diabetes management.

So how can you help?

The authors suggest the following:

  • During the precontemplation stage, you could talk to your dad about why change is important for him now that he has diabetes. You can ask him open-ended questions that being with “who, what, when, where, why, and how,” to help him begin to think about the changes he will need to make.
  • In the contemplation stage, you can encourage the change that you want your dad to make and be an active listener to his needs and offer encouragement and support.
  • In the preparation stage, you can help your dad make the changes that need to happen by helping him set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART) goals.
  • In the action stage, you can help create opportunities for your dad to be successful in his diabetes management.
  • In the maintenance stage, you can continue to support your dad’s behavior changes and offer him praise for his accomplishments.

If you get to the relapse stage, you can help your dad identify the cause of his relapse and begin his diabetes living plan again, the authors suggest.

“It’s important for you to understand that relapses are common, and that doesn’t have to mean that your dad can’t get back on his healthy living plan,” the authors write. “Using non-judgement statements such as ‘I understand it’s hard to make these changes, what can I do to help,’ is one way you can offer your support.”

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 Dan Remley, field specialist in food, nutrition, and wellness for OSU Extension.

No such thing as male and female bell peppers

I saw a link on Facebook saying that male bell peppers have three bumps on the bottom and are better for cooking, while female bell peppers have four bumps and are sweeter and better for eating raw. Is that true?

Chopped bell pepers on cutting board wood.

No.

Although the myth that bell peppers are either male or female continues to spread, bell peppers do not have genders.

According to the myth, “male” bell peppers have three lobes and are more bitter, while “female” bell peppers have four or more lobes, have more seeds, and are sweeter to eat.

However, bell peppers grow from flowers that have both male and female parts. The peppers, which are the fruits of a pepper plant, each contain ovaries that produce the seeds inside the peppers. Each pepper is produced through self-fertilization. The seeds are formed in each pepper after pollination, with those seeds then able to form new pepper plants.

Peppers are warm-season vegetables and are part of the Solanaceae or Nightshade family, along with tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes, according to Growing Peppers in the Home Garden, 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 The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Peppers are easily grown, can be prolific producers, and can be grown in a variety of colors, shapes, and flavors. For instance, green bell peppers are green when they are in their immature stage. Bell peppers that ripen on the plant longer will develop a red, orange, yellow, or purple color.

Just like many other fruits and vegetables, the degree of sweetness is generally a factor of how ripe the fruit or vegetable is. Bell peppers start out green, then ripen to yellow, then orange, then red, and in some cases turn purple. Thus red, orange, yellow, and purple bell peppers are generally sweeter than green bell peppers. And the lobes on peppers are determined by growing conditions and genetics, so they don’t indicate the sweetness factor of the pepper in any way.

Bell peppers are an excellent, healthy dietary option. They are a great source of vitamins A and C, and beta-carotene. They also provide essential minerals including iron, copper, zinc, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and selenium. And they are a great-tasting, low-cost vegetable.

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 Timothy McDermott, educator, OSU Extension.

Barbecue safely this Fourth of July

I’m ready to use my grill for the first time this summer for a July Fourth cookout. Is it OK to use a steel wire grill brush to clean the grease and grime that’s built up since the last time I used it? 

Grill with hot coals ready to bbq with the brush cleaning it.

Your question is similar to another that was asked in a “Chow Line” column from July 2018, so it’s best answered by reissuing that column here.

When using a wire grill brush, it’s important to take note of 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 might 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 upon swallowing, to perforation of the gastrointestinal tract, requiring emergency surgery, the CDC said.

In fact, an estimated 1,698 consumers visited 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 Reportsoffered 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 might be able to clean it using a pumice stone or a coil-shaped, bristle-free bush.
  • You might 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 might 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, the 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, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

Excess rainfall impacting tomato plants

I’ve grown tomato plants in my central Ohio backyard for the past couple of years, as part of my efforts to make healthier food choices for my family. But this year, the leaves on the tomato plants are discolored and dying. What’s going on with the plants, and can my tomatoes be saved?

It’s wonderful that you are making healthy food choices for your family. Tomatoes are excellent sources of vitamins A, C, and K, and potassium and folate. The tomato is also a wonderful source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to several important health benefits such as reducing your risk of heart disease and some types of cancer, as well as helping you maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Without having seen your specific tomato plants, I can offer some suggestions of what you can do to possibly address the issues occurring in your backyard garden.

Due to the historic rainfall the region has experienced this year, it’s likely that your tomatoes have been impacted by too much moisture.

Tomatoes can suffer several problems related to heavy rainfall, which can shorten their harvest period and affect their yield, said Timothy McDermott, educator, Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

There are, however, a few things that backyard growers, community gardeners, and urban farmers can do to keep their tomato plants healthy and productive through heavy rain periods, McDermott wrote in a recent blog post.

Mulch can be used as a barrier to keep soilborne fungal spores off of lower tomato plant leaves. You can use organic or nonorganic mulch, placed around the base of your plant.

You can also prune the lower leaves of your tomato plant to minimize lower leaf contact with soil, McDermott wrote.

“Pruning promotes air circulation,” he said. “But when pruning, use sterilized pruners to remove any diseased leaves, and put diseased leaves in the garbage, not the compost after pruning.”

Also, take note of any fertility issues that your tomato plants might be facing due to heavy, excessive rainfall, such as what the region has faced this year.

“Constant rainfall can leach fertility from soil, making it unavailable to the plants,” McDermott said. “Make sure you monitor your plant’s growth and health carefully to avoid a nutrient deficiency.

“Foliar feeding can be used when the ground is too saturated to irrigate with water-soluble fertilizer.”

McDermott also cautions that you monitor your tomato plants for signs of blight, removing any affected leaves when you see them.

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 Timothy McDermott, educator, OSU Extension.

Food safety after a power outage or flood

I went grocery shopping last week, and the next day, our power went out for several hours due to severe storms. Is there any food that can be saved, or do I have to throw everything out of our fridge due to spoilage?

Photo: Getty Images

It’s that time of year when severe weather can leave consumers without power for a few minutes to multiple days, in some instances. Rounds of severe weather have already impacted many consumers nationwide this spring, with thousands experiencing widespread power outages and flooding issues in Ohio and throughout the country.

It’s incredibly frustrating to think you have to discard groceries that you’ve just purchased due to a power outage. Understanding the basics of food safety and how perishable foods are impacted when the temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or more can help you decide if your food is still safe.

Generally speaking, perishable foods that have been at temperatures of 40 degrees or higher for two hours or more will need to be discarded to avoid the potential for foodborne illnesses.This is because food that isn’t maintained at proper temperatures can enter the “danger zone,” a range of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees at which bacteria grows most rapidly.

If your power goes out, 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, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Always keep a thermometer in the refrigerator so you know the precise inside air temperature, 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).

“You can also keep several ice cubes in a zipper bag or small container in the freezer as a way to monitor the temperature,” she said. “If the ice cubes have melted, the temperature was above 32 degrees.”

Once the power is back on, check your food to make sure it is safe to eat, making sure to check each item separately.

According to FoodSafety.gov, here is the listof perishable foods you’d need to discard if they’ve been at 40 degrees or higher for two hours or more:

  • Meat, poultry, and seafood products
  • Soft cheeses and shredded cheeses
  • Milk, cream, yogurt, and other dairy products
  • Opened baby formula
  • Eggs and egg products
  • Dough and cooked pasta
  • Cooked or cut produce

FoodSafety.gov says the following perishable foods are generally OK to keep after they’ve been held at 40 degrees or higher for more than two hours:

  • Hard cheeses such as cheddar, colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, and Romano
  • Grated Parmesan, Romano, or a combination of both in a can or a jar
  • Butter and margarine
  • Opened fruit juices
  • Opened, canned fruits
  • Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives, and pickles
  • Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, and hoisin sauces
  • Peanut butter
  • Opened, vinegar-based dressings
  • Breads, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, and tortillas
  • Breakfast foods such as waffles, pancakes, and bagels
  • Fruit pies
  • Fresh mushrooms, herbs, and spices
  • Uncut, raw vegetables and fruits

Another safety rule of thumb is to throw away any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm to the touch, the USDA advises. You should also check any of your frozen foods 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 at 40 degrees or below.

“Some foods that might have completely thawed, such as raw meat, you might not want to refreeze due to a decrease in quality,” Shumaker said. “These products could be cooked first and then frozen in their cooked form—such as ground beef crumbles or chicken pieces.”

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 USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.

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, the USDA 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.

FDA warns of Hepatitis A with certain frozen blackberries

I just heard the recent health warning advising people about the concern with a brand of frozen blackberries and hepatitis A. How is it possible that frozen berries could be contaminated with the virus?

Photo: Getty Images

Hepatitis A virus is a highly contagious virus that infects a person’s liver. It can be easily spread through close contact with a person who has hepatitis A or by eating food prepared by a person with hepatitis A.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a recent warning alerting consumers that some frozen blackberries branded by the Kroger Co. as “Private Selection” were found to be contaminated with the hepatitis A virus.

The Kroger Co. issued a recall on June 7 for the following Private Selection items:

  • Frozen Triple Berry Medley, 48-ounce packages (UPC 0001111079120 ), with a best-by date of July 7, 2020.
  • Frozen Triple Berry Medley, 16-ounce packages (UPC 0001111087808), with a best-by date of June 6, 2020.
  • Frozen Blackberries, 16-ounce packages (UPC 0001111087809), with a best-by date of July 7, 2020.

The FDA said that the contamination was discovered as a part of its ongoing frozen berry sampling assignment.

As a result, the government agency is advising consumers, “not to eat and to throw away the identified frozen blackberry products purchased from Kroger and other retail locations packaged under Kroger’s Private Selection brand.”

So how is it possible for the berries to be contaminated with hepatitis A?

The virus is found in the stool and blood of people who are infected. It’s spread through person-to-person contact or when someone ingests food or drinks contaminated by the stool of an infected person, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Food and beverages can become contaminated with the hepatitis A virus when microscopic amounts of feces are transferred from an infected person’s hands to the food or beverages.

Freezing does not destroy the hepatitis A virus, 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).

“In addition, unlike other frozen produce that is blanched by food companies prior to freezing, berries cannot be treated due to their gentle texture,” she said.

Hepatitis A can be prevented through vaccination and by practicing good hand-washing hygiene, such as by thoroughly washing hands after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food, the FDA said.

Prevention is the key, considering that contamination of food with the hepatitis A virus can happen at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, handling, and even after cooking, the FDA said.

Additionally, the virus can survive on surfaces for prolonged periods of time, Ilic said.

Symptoms of hepatitis A can include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, fatigue, fever, a loss of appetite, joint pain, dark urine, and gray stool. These symptoms can develop two to six weeks after the infection occurs. During that time, infected people can spread the virus to others without realizing they themselves are ill.

Ohio is now in the midst of a statewide community outbreak of hepatitis A, the Ohio Department of Health said. As of June 10, the state health agency said there have been 3,039 cases reported statewide, resulting in 1,821 hospitalizations and 10 deaths.

The agency also said outbreaks of hepatitis A are occurring in several states across the nation, including Ohio’s neighboring states of Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, and West Virginia.

Considering that there were 10,582 confirmed hepatitis A cases last year nationwide—and 19,723 cases and 189 deaths in 22 states since 2016—it is worth considering a vaccine, Ilic said.

“There are two options available to the public for hepatitis A vaccine administration, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” she said. “Those are the hepatitis A vaccine, and a combination vaccine against both the hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses called ‘TWINRIX’ for consumers that are at high risk.”

People who think they’re at risk for hepatitis A infection can contact their healthcare provider or their local health department for information about vaccination, Ilic 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 Sanja Ilic, state food safety specialist for OSU Extension.