Keep spreading word on food safety

95019142Due to my work, I have learned a lot about food safety. But no matter what I say, friends and family think I’m too finicky, and they continue to take what I think are unnecessary risks. How can I get my message across?

Don’t be discouraged. It’s often difficult for people to distinguish between words to the wise and the cries of Chicken Little. But at least some of your guidance about practical food safety measures just might sink in over time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that each year, about 1 in 6 Americans get a case of foodborne illness. Most people recover within a few days, but of those estimated 48 million cases, 128,000 result in hospitalizations, and 3,000 are fatal.

Some foodborne illnesses can cause long-lasting effects, including kidney failure (from some types of E. coli bacteria), chronic arthritis (occasionally from infections from Shigella, Salmonella or Campylobacter), and brain and nerve damage (possible from Campylobacterand, in infants, from Listeria).

So, food safety guidance shouldn’t just be shrugged off. But too commonly, it is. Recent research reveals that 64 percent of families admit to not using a food thermometer regularly to check the temperature of meat and poultry, and 33 percent aren’t using different or freshly cleaned cutting boards to prevent cross-contamination between raw meat and produce.

You might suggest that your friends and family get online and take a look at, a one-stop shop for food safety-related information from the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Currently, the site features “Recipes for Disaster,” a new campaign with pointed messages on food safety, co-sponsored by the Ad Council.

Included is a listing of 10 common food safety myths (explaining, for example, why the “smell test” for leftovers doesn’t hold up) and an accompanying list of dangerous food safety mistakes to avoid.

You can also point them to Ohio State University’s Food Safety website at The experts behind that site also offer a food safety hotline at 800-752-2751 (Ohio only) or

Perhaps with the weight of that kind of expertise behind you, your friends and family will begin to heed your warnings. Let’s hope it doesn’t take a case of foodborne illness to do that.


Zucchini bread is not a vegetable

95062455We’ve been making (and eating) a lot of zucchini bread lately. Is it as nutritious as I hope it is?

As with any homemade dish, the nutrition really depends on your recipe.

Zucchini itself is a great vegetable. A half-cup of sliced raw zucchini or other summer squash contains just 10 calories but supplies 15 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C, as well as a gram of fiber and good amount of vitamin K, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium and potassium.

If you don’t peel the skin, you’ll have the added benefit of getting a healthy dose of the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin — carotenoids that can promote healthy vision and potentially offer other health benefits.

As for zucchini bread, most recipes call for one to two cups of grated zucchini per loaf. If you use one cup, you would have to eat half the loaf to get a half-cup serving of zucchini. (Um, that’s not recommended.) Suffice it to say, that slice of zucchini bread on your plate doesn’t legitimately count as a vegetable.

You can find a wide range of calorie counts in different zucchini bread recipes. A quick online search results in recipes that offer anywhere from 87 calories per slice (in a “low-fat, low-calorie” recipe) to 260 calories per slice (in a recipe that jazzes up the bread with chocolate and almonds).

If the recipe that you’re using doesn’t include calorie and other nutrition information, you can plug the ingredients into any of several free online calculators to figure that out. Just search for “recipe nutrition calculator” to find one.

Also, you can easily adjust your zucchini bread recipe to make it healthier. Try these:

  • Substitute half of the flour with whole-wheat flour, or use whole-wheat pastry flour entirely. Using whole-wheat flour instead of standard white flour increases your intake of whole grains. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that half the grains we eat be whole grains, which have more vitamins, minerals and fiber than refined grains.
  • If the recipe calls for oil, use applesauce instead (use a one-to-one substitution). A half-cup of oil has nearly 1,000 calories, while a half-cup of applesauce has just 50.
  • Use liquid egg substitute or egg whites instead of whole eggs. One-quarter cup of liquid egg substitute equals one egg; whites from two eggs equal one whole egg. This reduces calories and cholesterol.
  • Try reducing the sugar in the recipe by one-quarter. Reducing sugar from one cup to 3/4 cup saves nearly 200 calories in the loaf.


Water, weight loss link needs research

609_3640759I heard about a study that showed drinking more water can help people lose weight. But I thought that was a myth that had been debunked a long time ago. Can you clarify?

You probably heard something about a recent review of previous studies on this topic, published ahead of print online in late June in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers searched through nearly 5,000 records of research in online databases for studies that reported on an association between daily water consumption and any weight-related outcome. They found just 11 original studies and two other systematic reviews. Of the 11 original studies, only three specifically focused on people trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss.

Those three studies did, in fact, show a relation between increased water consumption and increased weight loss, the reviewers said. But two other short-term studies that included mixed-weight populations that weren’t necessarily dieting didn’t show a relation between drinking water
and weight loss. Other studies reported on water consumption and current body weight status, and results were inconsistent. In fact, some showed obese people tended to drink more water.

Still, nutritionists and other professionals specializing in weight loss often recommend that their clients drink more water, which some believe can help reduce hunger pangs and increase a feeling of fullness with absolutely no calories. In comparison, juices and sweetened beverages often have 160 calories per serving.

There’s also speculation that drinking enough water helps the body’s metabolism and increases energy expenditure, but solid research on that is hard to find.

But water does help the body in countless other ways, including:

  • The functioning of every cell and organ in the body.
  • Regulation of body temperature through perspiration. (You need more water when you exercise — at the gym, in the garden or any other time you work yourself into a sweat.)
  • Prevention and relief of constipation by helping food move through the intestines.
  • Lubrication and cushioning of joints.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that women consume 91 ounces (about 11.5 cups) and men consume 125 ounces (about 15.5 cups) of water a day, but that includes water from other beverages and from food. The institute says on average, people get about 20 percent of their water intake from food.

Don’t let doggy bag make you sick

545_4073143 (1)We ate out this weekend, and I got a take-home container for my leftovers. On the way home, we stopped at a store and were there much longer than we anticipated. By the time we got home, it was three hours since we had been served at the restaurant. We refrigerated the leftovers, but should we throw them away instead?

Yes, it’s a good idea to pitch them.

Food safety authorities recommend throwing away food items that have been left out for more than two hours, or for more than one hour if the surrounding air temperature is 90 degrees or above.

At those temperatures, harmful microorganisms can multiply rapidly and can easily get to a point where they can cause illness. Reheating the leftovers would kill bacteria, but some types of organisms that cause foodborne illness can actually produce toxins that don’t go away even if you thoroughly heat the food.

Some people are more susceptible to foodborne illness and need to be especially careful, including:

  • Seniors, because the immune system weakens with age, making it more difficult to combat illness from bacteria and other pathogens. Also, stomach acid tends to decrease with age, which means less is available to reduce bacteria in the intestinal tract.
  • Young children, whose immune systems are still developing.
  • Pregnant women, whose immune systems are altered by the pregnancy. Foodborne illness during pregnancy can not only make the mother ill but can lead to miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth, or sickness or death of the newborn baby.
  • People with chronic illnesses, including diabetes. They also have weakened immune systems that could exacerbate problems from foodborne pathogens. People with diabetes are also more likely to have problems with their kidneys, which may hold onto harmful bacteria and other pathogens longer than normal. People with cancer or HIV/AIDS and transplant recipients also need to be especially vigilant.

Even when properly handled, use leftovers within three or four days. It’s always a good idea to label the container with the date to help you remember. When reheating leftovers, make sure they get steaming hot — 165 degrees F throughout. Use a food thermometer. Soups, sauces, gravies and other liquids should be reheated to a boil.

Watermelon tasty, nutritious

160145128My favorite fruit is watermelon. Since it’s so watery, does it offer much nutrition?

You’re correct that watermelon is “watery.” In fact, it’s more than 90 percent water. Still, two cups of diced watermelon (about 10 ounces) offers 38 percent of the vitamin C you need in a day, 32 percent of vitamin A, as well as a small amount of protein and fiber, and all for a mere 85 calories.

Watermelon is also a good source of lycopene, a phytonutrient that gives your favorite fruit (as well as tomatoes and pink grapefruit) its red color. Lycopene protects against prostate cancer and possibly other cancers, and also protects cells from damage associated with heart disease.

In addition, citrulline in watermelon is converted into arginine, an amino acid that plays a key role in cell division, wound healing, and the removal of ammonia in the body.

Watermelon also offers some potassium, which is helpful because most Americans don’t get enough of it. Potassium helps control blood pressure and possibly prevent strokes.

Part of the challenge with watermelon is choosing one that’s ripe. That’s not always easy to figure out, according to “Selecting, Storing and Serving Ohio Melons” ( from Ohio State University Extension. Here are some suggestions from the fact sheet:

  • Examine the rind and find the spot where the melon had been resting on the ground — it should be yellow-white. If it’s white or pale green, it was picked too early.
  • Scratch the surface of the rind with your thumbnail. If the outer layer slips back with little resistance showing the green-white under the rind, the watermelon is ripe. If all you get is a darker depressed line, the melon isn’t ripe.
  • When purchasing cut watermelon, look for more red flesh and less white rind to find riper melons. White seeds usually indicate the melon was picked too early — unless you’re looking at a seedless watermelon. In that case, any white seeds you see are really just empty seed coats.

If you think your watermelon isn’t quite ripe yet, keep it at room temperature for a few days. It will continue to ripen if it’s not too mature. But only whole, uncut watermelon should be left unrefrigerated. Once it’s cut, watermelon needs to be kept at 40 degrees F or below.

Before cutting into watermelon (or any melon), be sure to thoroughly rinse it under clean running water. You may even want to scrub it with a soft-bristled brush while rinsing. This will help remove any contaminants on the rind that could spread to the fruit inside when you slice through it.