App, Websites and Grocers offer Ways to Keep Abreast of Food Recalls

Turns out that the hot dogs I had planned to make for lunch yesterday were recalled but I had no idea. Why do foods get recalled, and how can I be better aware of recalls on foods I’ve purchased? 

Typically, food recalls are a voluntary response from a food supplier or manufacturer when their product has been mislabeled or hazardous, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Food mislabeling – such as listing the wrong ingredients, failing to declare allergens or offering misleading claims about the product – can pose a risk to consumers looking to avoid certain allergens (chemical hazards) or ingredients. Allergen mislabeling is the most common cause of food recalls in the U.S.

Depending on the nature of the food recall, consumers typically will be advised to throw out the affected product or return the item to the store of purchase for a refund.

Foods can also be recalled for containing foreign objects or physical hazards such as metal shavings or plastic pieces from equipment or packaging, the FDA says, or for contamination with microbial pathogens (biological hazards) such as E. coli, Salmonella or Listeria.

If consumers find they have a recalled product in their refrigerator or pantry, they should follow instructions from regulators or the producer regarding its disposition.

One way to keep abreast of food recalls is to sign up for notifications by FDA. You can visit their website at fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/default.htm to request notifications of food recalls, market withdrawals and safety alerts. The site also lists historical data on those issues.

Another resource that alerts consumers to food recalls is the U.S Department of Agriculture Foodkeeper app. The app, which offers consumers information on how to store food safely and how long certain foods last, was updated this month by USDA to include food safety recall alerts.

Now, each time a user opens the Foodkeeper app, it will check the data feed for updates on food safety issues. You can also set the app to receive food recall alerts as they happen, once a day or weekly. The app, which also offers mobile accessibility, is available for Android and IOS devices. The information can also be accessed online at FoodSafety.gov.

Some grocery stores also offer a service in which they will notify their customers who have loyalty cards with the store, of food recalls. A receipt of previous purchases will be associated with the customer loyalty information so that individuals can receive a notice from an automated messaging service if a food purchase is later recalled.

One of the greatest barriers to a successful recall is food perishability. Depending on the product, consumers may have already eaten the food before learning of the recall. Rapid response systems like those described here help shorten the time between the announcement from the company and the consumer response.

Depending on the nature of the food recall, consumers typically will be advised to throw out the affected product or return the item to the store of purchase for a refund.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES.

Fall Offers More Than Just Pumpkins

I know that autumn is a great time to buy pumpkins, but I’m not so sure what other produce is in season in the fall. Any ideas?

Fall is a great time for apples, pears, other seasonal fruits and veggies.

Fall is a good time to start looking to buy pears, apples and hard squash, among many other seasonal fruits and vegetables. In fact, those are some of the items that many grocery stores are now starting to promote heavily at discounted prices in their grocery aisles, according to the Sept. 1 edition of the National Retail Report, a weekly roundup of advertised retail pricing information compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While improved technology and agricultural innovations mean that consumers can access fresh fruits and vegetables year round, fruits and vegetables naturally grow in cycles and ripen during a certain season. When ripe, produce is fresher and typically has its best taste. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are also typically cheaper to purchase because they are easier to produce than fruits and vegetables that are grown out of season.

So how do you know which fruits and vegetables are in season?

One way to find seasonal foods near you is to use a new app and website developed by Grace Communications Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for sustainable foods. The app compiles data from the USDA and the Natural Resources Defense Council on over 140 varieties of produce to show users what fruits, vegetables, herbs and nuts are in season on a state-by-state basis.

Called the Seasonal Food Guide, the app and website allow users to check what produce is in season in half-month increments in each state. Other sources to check for what’s in season include the USDA Seasonal Produce GuideOhio Farm Bureau and Ohio Proud, among others.

While this is not an all-inclusive list, generally speaking, the following produce (among others) is in season in Ohio in fall:

  • Apples
  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Collards
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Grapes
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Peaches
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Radishes
  • Raspberries
  • Spinach
  • Summer Squash
  • Turnips
  • Winter Squash

So get out and enjoy some really tasty, healthy, fresh fruits and veggies. Your body — and especially your waistline — will thank you! Not only are fruits and veggies naturally low in calories, eating them may help reduce the risks of multiple diseases including high blood pressure, some cancers and heart disease, experts say.

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

Tips to Prevent Food Spoilage When the Power Goes Out

Storm preparedness has been on my mind lately. I’m wondering what I can do to be ready in the event of a power outage to prevent the foods in my refrigerator from spoiling?

Refrigerator thermometer indicates spoilage.

One of the biggest factors in deciding whether the foods in your household will spoil during a power outage is the duration of the power loss. Generally speaking, perishable foods that have been in temperatures above 40 degrees for two hours or more will need to be discarded to avoid the potential for food borne illnesses.

While you cannot control the duration of a power outage (unless you use a generator) there are some steps that you can take before the storm to prepare in the event that your power goes out. One way is to make sure that you have on hand a few days worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling, says the U.S. Department of Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Examples include shelf-stable foods, boxed or canned milk, water, and canned goods. Also, it is a good idea to have ready-to-use baby formula for infants on hand and foods for your pet available.

In addition, know where you can purchase dry ice or block ice, and make sure you have coolers on hand that you can use to temporarily keep refrigerator food cold if the power goes out for more than four hours. A 50-pound cake of dry ice should protect the food in a full, 20-cubic-foot freezer for three to four days, according to an Ohio State University Extension Ohioline fact sheet.

Be careful, however, when using dry ice to avoid the build up of gas. To prevent gas buildup, don’t use dry ice in a closed or unvented container. To relieve gas pressure in your refrigerator or freezer, open the door occasionally. And always wrap the dry ice in a towel or newspaper prior to use, being careful not to touch the dry ice with your bare hands, Ohioline advises.

Other tips from USDA and Ohioline to be prepared for a power outage before the storm include:

  • Keeping appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure temperatures remain food safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40 degrees or lower in the refrigerator, 0 degrees or lower in the freezer.
  • Place two or three ice cubes in a plastic freezer bag and seal the bag. Keep the bag in the freezer at all times. In an upright freezer, you can have a test bag on each shelf. If there is a power outage, you will know if the interior temperature was above 32 degrees if the cubes melt.
  • Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags or small containers prior to a storm that can be used to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold.
  • Freeze refrigerated items, such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately—this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Group foods together in the freezer to help the food stay cold longer.

Once the power goes out, Ohioline recommends that you keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. This is because a refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed, and a full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours. A half-full freezer will hold its temperature for 24 hours if the door is kept closed.

Once your power is back on, it is important that you check your food to make sure it is safe to eat. Generally, you should throw away any perishable food that has been above 40 degrees for more than two hours. Remember, never taste food to determine its safety.

Additional information on food safety before, during and after a power outage can be found on the Ohioline website at ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-5357.

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.

September Is Food Safety Month and a Good Time to Learn Practical Tips

My dad absolutely hates to waste food, so he tends to keep leftovers until they smell bad. Until then, they are safe to eat, as far as he’s concerned. Is that true?

The safe storage time for leftovers depends on what foods are in question and also how the foods are stored.

No, not really.

The bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses aren’t easily detectable to the naked eye nor by smell because these organisms do not affect the look, smell or taste of foods, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The safe storage time for leftovers depends on what foods are in question and also how the foods are stored. Generally, foods such as wet salads (egg, chicken, ham, tuna and macaroni) can be eaten safely up to five days after opening if stored correctly in a refrigerator. Foods like cooked meat or poultry and pizza are safe to eat within three to four days after preparation if stored correctly in a refrigerator.

For more detailed information, you can refer to the safe food storage chart offered by Foodsafety.gov. While some foods can safely be consumed after the best-by date label like dried and canned foods, leftovers may support the growth of pathogenic bacteria and should be eaten quickly or discarded.

Being aware of general food safety practices can help consumers avoid a foodborne illness, says Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

Annually, 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.

Some other big myths about food safety, according to Foodsafety.gov, include:

  • Leaving food out of temperature control (e.g., refrigeration) for more than an hour or two is not a good idea because bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature when food reaches the temperature “danger zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees. While it may be tempting to think that re-heating food that’s been in the danger zone for too long will make it safe, that is incorrect. Some toxins produced by the bacteria can withstand cooking and can lead to illness.
  • Washing raw meat, like chicken, under running water gets rid of pathogenic bacteria. This is false. Rinsing raw meat actually can increase your chance of getting a foodborne illness because the pathogenic bacteria can be spread to your sink, countertops and other kitchen surfaces. The only way to kill the bacteria from raw meat is through proper cooking times to reach the recommended internal temperature. More information on safe minimum cooking temperatures can be found at foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html.
  • Not washing your hands before eating or after food preparation, especially after handling raw foods. Bacteria that can cause numerous illnesses can survive on many surfaces, including your hands. Therefore, you should always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm, running water before and after handling food.

Heeding basic food safety practices can help prevent serious illnesses. With September designated as National Food Safety Education Month, now is a good time to learn more. Additional information on food safety can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/News/Features/food-safety-month-2013.htm.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES.

Healthy, Stress-free Packed Lunches for School Start With Planning and Preparation

My kids go back to school next week and I’m already stressing about what to pack for their daily lunches. Do you have any suggestions about how to make the process easier and the lunches more healthy?

Planning ahead is one way to take the stress out of packing healthy, nutritious lunches that your kids will enjoy.

Planning ahead is one way to take the stress out of packing healthy, nutritious lunches that your kids will enjoy. Before heading to the grocery store, plan a menu of what you want to pack in your kids’ lunches that week. Then, make a shopping list to ensure that you have what you need.

When packing your kids’ lunches, try to include a whole grain (e.g., whole-grain bread, pita, tortilla or crackers), a protein (e.g., lean lunch meat, tuna, peanut butter or beans), some form of calcium (e.g., milk, cheese or yogurt), and fruits and vegetables (canned, fresh or frozen), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s guidelines for school lunches.

The guidelines recommend that kids in kindergarten through fifth grade consume no more than 550–650 calories during lunch; students in sixth through eighth grades consume no more than 600–700 calories; and students in ninth through twelfth grades consume no more than 750–850 calories.

Here are some tips to packing those healthy lunches from the USDA and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • Prep some foods for lunch a day or two in advance. For example, pre-portion fruits and vegetables in sandwich bags or plastic containers. Then, store them in the refrigerator so your kids can choose easily in the morning what they want to pack in their lunch. You can also pre-portion in sandwich bags healthy snacks like granola, light popcorn, crackers, raisins or pretzels.
  • Try to add variety to your kids’ lunches. Some suggestions include wraps, cracker sandwiches, little salads or bread-free sandwiches consisting of slices of lunch meat wrapped around cheese sticks.
  • Repurpose meals by packing leftovers in plastic containers to send in your children’s lunches. You can also lightly steam vegetables or send other cooked foods, as long as they are kept hot.
  • To ensure that hot foods stay hot and cold foods stay cold, use an insulated thermos. Soups, chili, and macaroni and cheese will stay hot in a thermos. Freezing milk, juice boxes and water bottles keeps cold foods cold. The frozen drinks will melt during morning classes and be ready for drinking at lunch.
  • Freeze lunchbox-sized water bottles and yogurt tubes for your kids’ lunches. They will defrost, keeping the lunches cool for lunchtime.
  • Insulated, soft-sided lunchboxes or bags are best for keeping food cold, but pack at least two ice sources with perishable food in any type of lunch bag or box that you use. Doing so can help keep perishable foods out of the bacterial danger zone — temperatures between 40 F and 140 F, at which bacteria grow most rapidly — until lunchtime.

Remember to tell your kids to discard the perishable foods they don’t eat during lunch. The USDA advises that these foods should not be eaten later in the day. You should also clean your kids’ lunchboxes each night, either by wiping them down with a disinfectant wipe or by throwing the lunchboxes (depending on the types) into the dishwasher or washing machine at least once a week.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension.

Careful: Some People Foods Just Aren’t Good For Dogs

My dog loves to sit under the table during dinner near the kids’ chairs in hopes of finding tidbits that may fall from their plates. I’ve even given our dog portions of food from our meal. Is that ok? 

Grapes are among those foods not good for dogs to eat.

In some cases, no, it’s not a good idea to feed your dog some foods that come from your dinner table.

In a recent notice from the U. S. Food and Drug Administration, pet owners are reminded not to feed their dog some foods that are meant for human consumption. That’s because some foods people eat can be dangerous or even deadly for dogs, FDA says.

The reason?

An animal’s body processes food much differently than a human body, Carmela Stamper, a veterinarian at FDA, said in a written statement.

“Our bodies may break down foods or other chemicals that a dog’s can’t tolerate,” she said.

High on the list of human foods that dogs should not eat – chocolate and any food that contains xylitol, which is a sugar substitute that is used in many sugar-free foods.

Chocolate contains methylxanthines, a stimulant that can stop a dog’s metabolic process. Even a small piece of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, can result in your dog developing diarrhea and vomiting. And xylitol, which can also be found in some peanut butters, can be deadly for dogs, FDA warns.

Other human foods FDA, the American Kennel Club and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says to avoid feeding to your dog include:

  • Raw meat. Just like in humans, any E. coli, Salmonella or other harmful bacteria that may be present in raw meat, can also make your dog sick. It’s also a good idea for you to wash your hands if you are handling raw meat before you give your dog anything to eat.
  • Raw eggs. Just like raw meat, raw eggs can contain Salmonella. Also, raw eggs contain avidin, an enzyme that decreases the absorption of biotin. This can lead to skin and hair coat issues as well as cause neurologic problems in dogs.
  • Grapes, raisins or currants. These foods can cause kidney failure in some dogs.
  • Fried and fatty foods. These items can cause pancreatitis, a potentially life-threatening disease.
  • Cinnamon. While cinnamon is not toxic to dogs, it can irritate the inside of dogs’ mouths and it can lower a dog’s blood sugar too much and can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, increased, or decreased heart rate, and even liver disease.
  • Onions, garlic, and chives. Garlic can create anemia in dogs, causing side effects such as pale gums, elevated heart rate, weakness and collapsing. Poisoning from garlic and onions may have delayed symptoms, so if you think your dog may have eaten some, monitor him or her for a few days, not just right after consumption. However, since garlic and onion tend to be cumulative toxins, they are unlikely to cause a problem unless your dog ingests a very large amount at one time or eats them often, says Dr. Valerie Parker, a veterinarian and associate professor at The Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Moldy food. If you throw away moldy cheese rinds or hamburger buns in the trash can, make sure your dog doesn’t then get into the garbage, where he may eat them.
  • Salty snacks. Salty snacks can increase water retention in some dogs. So if you dog happens to grab a bag of salty potato chips or pretzels, make sure your dog has access to plenty of water.
  • Macadamia nuts. These are some of the most poisonous foods for dogs and can have a damaging effect on the dog’s nervous system. They can cause vomiting, increased body temperature, inability to walk and lethargy.
  • Ice cream. As tempting as it may be to want to give your dog ice cream on a hot summer day, most dogs don’t digest dairy products well and many may also have lactose intolerance.

So, while your dog may look longingly at you while you eat, you may want to resist the temptation to share your goodies until you are sure that the foods you are eating won’t have a negative impact on your dog.

Talk to your veterinarian before introducing human foods to your dog to make sure that your good intentions don’t accidentally cause harm for your pets.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Dr. Valerie Parker, DVM, an assistant professor, clinical, at The Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Use-By, Sell-By, Best-By Dates Don’t All Mean the Same Thing

I bought a carton of milk and it says, “Sell by July 25,” but today is July 28. Is the milk still OK to drink? Does the sell-by date mean the food is no longer safe to eat? What about the use-by or best-by date? I’m so confused!

For most foods, the date label is a manufacturer’s best guess as to how long the product will be at its peak quality.

Take heart. You’re not alone in your confusion. Most people aren’t sure what those date labels on food actually mean.

In fact, more than a third of consumers throw away food once the date passes because they mistakenly think the date is an indicator of food safety, according to a recent 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, with the average American household spending more than $2,000 annually on wasted food, according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

So what do the dates mean?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the:

  • “Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or a safety date.
  • “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the 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, there’s some good news: The issue of consumers misinterpreting label dates might soon be less confusing.

Two major food industry groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, are asking their members to use only two date labels on their food products. The goal is for food manufactures to use only “Best if Used By/Before” and “Use By” on their packaging, with widespread voluntary adoption of the new labeling on most foods by summer 2018.

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. However, the “Use-By” date would be used on highly perishable foods that have a food safety concern over time. These products should be consumed by the date listed on the package and disposed of after that date, the groups said.

In the meantime, the USDA says most food products—excluding infant formula, for example—should still be safe and wholesome after the date passes if handled properly until the time spoilage is evident. Spoilage is indicated if the food has an odor or has mold, for example.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, state specialist in Community Nutrition for Ohio State University Extension.

Don’t Eat Uncooked Flour

Is it true that you can get sick from ingesting uncooked flour?

While many people are well aware of the warnings against eating foods with raw eggs for fear of contracting salmonella or other foodborne illnesses, fewer people are aware of the dangers of eating uncooked flour.

Caution: Eating raw flour can make you sick. Photo: Thinkstock.

It too can cause a mean case of foodborne illness.

In fact, eating raw dough or raw batter could make you sick, in part, because flour can contain bacteria that cause disease, according to a warning from the U. S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Recent incidents in the U.S. and Canada underscore the issue.

Between December 2015 and September 2016, some 63 people across the U.S. developed an E. coli infection after eating raw flour. And in Canada, 30 people became sick between November 2016 and April 2017 after eating raw or uncooked flour contaminated with E. coli, according to published reports.

What is the cause of the problem?

“Flour is derived from a grain that comes directly from the field and typically is not treated to kill bacteria,” Leslie Smoot, a senior FDA advisor said in a written statement. “So if an animal heeds the call of nature in the field, bacteria from the animal waste could contaminate the grain, which is then harvested and milled into flour.”

The issue was significant enough that the FDA issued a warning to consumers last summer to not eat any raw dough. Consumer Reports and FDA lists the following ways to avoid ingesting uncooked flour:

  • Do not eat any raw cookie dough, cake mix, batter, or any other raw dough or batter product that is supposed to be cooked or baked.
  • Follow package directions for cooking products containing flour at proper temperatures and for specified times.
  • Avoid giving homemade modeling clay, playdough, papier-mâché or ornaments with flour as the main ingredient to young children who may, inadvertently, put these objects in their mouths.
  • Keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them to prevent any contamination that may be present from spreading. Be aware that flour may spread easily due to its powdery nature.
  • Make sure you throw out any old flour and thoroughly wash out the container or bin that you use to store flour in, before adding in a new bag of flour.
  • Follow label directions to chill products containing raw dough promptly after purchase until baked.

While most of these tips may sound intuitive, even the smallest of precautions such as washing your hands after handling any uncooked flour or any raw dough or batter, can make a huge difference in helping you prevent contracting a foodborne illness.

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 Shari Gallup, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for Ohio State University Extension

Reusable Water Bottles Need to Be Washed Between Uses

I heard recently that reusable water bottles can sometimes be a hotbed of germs. Is that true?

Yes, at least according to a recent analysis from Treadmill Reviews that found that unwashed reusable water bottles could harbor significantly high levels of bacteria that are harmful to humans.

Wash reusable water bottles after each use to avoid harmful bacteria.

In fact, the report goes as far as to say that “drinking from the average refillable bottle can be many times worse than licking your dog’s toy.” According to the study, the average athlete’s water bottle has 313,499 colony-forming units, or CFUs, of bacteria per square centimeter while the average pet toy has 2,937 CFUs.

Yuck.

The study, which was performed by EmLab P&K, a New Jersey-based environmental testing firm, analyzed 12 types of water bottles and found differing amounts of CFUs based on the design of the bottle.

For example, slide-top bottles harbored 933,340 CFUs, compared to squeeze-top bottles at 161,971 CFUs and screw-top bottles at 159,060 CFUs. The bottle type that harbored the fewest bacteria was the kind with a straw top, which measured 25.4 CFUs.

But, that doesn’t mean you should toss your reusable water bottles and opt exclusively for store-bottled water instead. The report offers the following options for consumers to still get their required daily water intake while lessening their chances to encounter harmful bacteria and limiting their consumption of single-use containers:

  • After every use, wash your bottle in hot water with a teaspoon of unscented dish soap added. Soak it for a few minutes, rinse it well using warm water, and allow it to dry completely before the next use.
  • Occasionally use a weak bleach solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach per quart of water to sanitize the bottle.
  • Avoid letting your water bottle sit half full for long periods in between use.
  • Opt for using a straw-top water bottle. In the study, these types of bottles were found to have a lower prevalence of bacteria.
  • Opt for a stainless steel bottle.
  • Try to find a water bottle that doesn’t contain crevices and harder-to-clean spots. This will lessen the potential for harboring harmful bacteria, the study says.

Whatever you decide to do with your water bottle, it is important to remember that 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.

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, according to recommendations from doctors at Harvard Medical School. In addition to water, milk is also a good option to help in hydration.

So clean those water bottles and keep up your daily fluid intake. Your body will thank you later.

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.

Eating Healthy at the Amusement Park

My friends and I are planning to spend the day at an amusement park. Do you have any tips on how to avoid the sugar and calorie overload and eat as healthy as possible while there?

Amusement parks can still be a fun, wonderful way to enjoy a summer day without overindulging in the sugary, deep-fried, calorie-laden foods that the parks are traditionally known for.

Eating healthy at the amusement park is possible.

Despite the temptation to feast on mounds of cotton candy, deep-fried candy bars, funnel cakes, snow cones, chili cheese fries and, of course, those infamous giant turkey legs, you can have nutritious foods and drinks at the park that taste good and are better for your health.

One of the best ways to eat healthy at the park is to pack some nutritious meals to bring with you. While many amusement parks won’t let you bring in outside food, you can pack a cooler with ice in your car and fill it with nutritious, portable foods that you can eat throughout the day. Some ideas for the cooler include fruit, nuts, yogurt, sandwiches, and veggies such as carrots and celery sticks, among others.

If you’d prefer to eat at the park, below are some suggestions for healthy food choices from Eatinghealthy.org and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • Instead of hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries, opt for something like a grilled chicken breast with a side salad or fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid super-sized sodas, lemonades and other sugary drinks. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk or chocolate milk instead or a nice cold glass of water.
  • If you are looking for something sweet, try a candy apple. While they do pack about 300 calories each, the fiber in the apple will help keep you full.
  • Meat and vegetable kabobs allow you to indulge in the food-on-a-stick tradition of amusement park foods without the extra sugar and calories.
  • Corn on the cob is also a good option, preferably without the mounds of butter.

Another thing to remember about spending the day at an amusement park – you need to stay hydrated. It’s important that you drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated. One tip is to bring a water bottle with you and drink it frequently throughout the day. If you don’t want to carry it around with you, another option is to request a cup of ice water from any food vendor at the park and drink it in between rides.

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 Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for Ohio State University Extension.