Canning expected to be big this year amid COVID-19

I’m growing my own produce this year since I’ve got time on my hands due to the pandemic. I want to be able to store the foods that I grow and don’t immediately use, but I have no idea how to get started. Do you know of any resources?

Photo: Getty Images.

Home food preservation is expected to be very popular this year, as many people such as yourself have taken on several kinds of new hobbies to pass time while staying home during quarantine.

Temporary business closures due to stay-at-home orders have also resulted in more people turning to gardening, whether due to a fear of food supply chain disruptions or a desire to have more control over the foods they eat. Nationwide, more consumers are expected to plant gardens this year. For example, online searches for “growing vegetables from scraps” increased 4,650% in March compared the same time last year, according to Google Trends.

“Empty grocery store shelves, decreased incomes, more time at home, and an increased sense of an unknown future have many people wanting to do what they can to be more self-sufficient,” says 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).

“That has led many to a new era of ‘victory gardens,’ where local food security starts in your own back yard,” she said, noting media reports of up to 300% increases in seed sales this spring. “As a result, we expect home food preservation to be very popular with consumers this year.”

With that in mind, the OSU Extension Food Preservation Team is now conducting live webinars and virtual office hours biweekly through the end of July to help consumers learn more about home food preservation and processing methods, and to help ensure that these methods are done correctly and safely.

The sessions are Tuesdays from 4 to 5 p.m. Each one starts with a short presentation followed by questions from participants. Each session will be recorded and posted at go.osu.edu/virtualcanning.

“It’s important that people precisely follow the proper steps and recipes when home-canning to help prevent botulism, a rare but potentially deadly illness produced by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum,” Shumaker said.

These bacteria are found in soil and can survive, grow, and produce a toxin in certain conditions such as when food is improperly canned, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The toxin can affect your nerves, paralyze you, and in some cases, cause death.

That’s what happened in April 2015 when one central Ohio woman was killed and 24 others were hospitalized with botulism after eating potato salad that was made with improperly home-canned potatoes.

While canning is not really a complicated process, you do have to follow researched and tested recipes, Shumaker said.

“Home-canning is a science, but it’s not the time to experiment. You can’t make up your own recipes,” she said. “A lot of things can affect the safety of your final product.

“It’s important not to alter the acid (pH) level of the food in the jar, the sizes of the pieces of food, the canning method, or the processing time. Each of these items plays a role in the amount of time and heat it will take for the core (center) of the jar to reach a safe temperature to keep the food safe to eat and not make someone sick.”

Here is the listing of topics for the currently scheduled canning webinars.

  • May 19: preparing for canning
  • June 2: jams and jellies
  • June 16: canning and freezing vegetables
  • June 30: canning and freezing fruits
  • July 14: pickles
  • July 28: salsa

Register for the webinars at go.osu.edu/virtualcanning.

Additionally, CFAES experts have produced several YouTube videos on food preservation and canning. They also offer recipes and other resources for food preservation and canning at go.osu.edu/food-preservation and on Ohioline.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line author 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 OSU Extension educator and registered dietitian.

After the flood

My home was flooded, impacting food I had stored in cabinets, my pantry, and my fridge. As my home dries out, what do I do with the food?

Photo: Getty Images.

Many Ohioans have experienced similar problems recently as heavy rains, flash floods, and flooding have caused water-soaked homes and businesses, and evacuation situations across the state.

Because your question is very similar to others that were asked in previous “Chow Line” columns, it’s best answered by reissuing a combination of those columns here.

If your home becomes flooded, it is important to throw away any food that might have come into contact with floodwater. That includes cartons of milk, juice, or eggs, and any raw vegetables and fruits. In fact, unless they were in a waterproof container, any foods in your home that came into contact with floodwater need to be thrown out.

Floodwater can seep into and contaminate foods packaged in plastic wrap or cardboard, or stored in containers with screw-on caps, snap lids, or 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 any 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, or 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 six 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, the 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 the FDA.

Generally speaking, perishable foods that have been at temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit 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.

According to FoodSafety.gov, here is the list of perishable foods you 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. The USDA and the FDA offer these other tips for safe food handling after a power outage:

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

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

Editor: This column was originally reviewed by Sanja Ilic, specialist in food safety for Ohio State University Extension, and Kate Shumaker, an OSU Extension educator and registered dietitian.

Questions on meat safety and supply amid COVID-19

Is it safe to eat food or meat if it has been handled by someone who has COVID-19?

Photo: Getty Images.

According to food safety and meat science experts, the risk of acquiring COVID-19 through the handling of food or meat is extremely low. In fact, there is no evidence at this time that COVID-19 can be transmitted through consumption of contaminated foods, said Lyda G. Garcia, an assistant professor of meat science with The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

COVID-19 transmits person-to-person through droplets that are produced when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. The virus is most often transferred to another individual when droplets directly reach their nose, mouth, or eyes, or through close contact such as a handshake. Traditional food safety measures, especially proper hand-washing and cooking meat to the correct internal temperature, should always be followed.

Because many consumers have similar questions as yours regarding meat safety—and meat supply—amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Garcia, who is also an Ohio State University Extension meat specialist weighs in here. OSU Extension, CFAES’ outreach arm, includes a focus on fresh meat processing, so Garcia, who is also working directly with livestock producers and meat processors addressing needs specific to each segment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic through the CFAES Lean on Your Land Grant Food Supply Chain Task Force, answers some important meat-related questions below.

Can I get sick by handling food or meat packages if the COVID-19 virus has contaminated the surfaces? 

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be contracted through food or meat packages. In addition, according to the FDA, you do not need to wash food containers to prevent COVID-19 infection. You shouldn’t wash meat in the sink, nor should you spray or dip food products into chemicals commonly used for household cleaning. Rather, you should always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content after handling packages or leaving a retail establishment. Be sure to disinfect food preparation areas according to chemical manufacturer’s recommendations.

Will meat plant closures due to workers contracting COVID-19 cause meat shortages? 

The meat industry is devoted to maintaining the supply chain. Although some plants have temporarily closed and others have slowed production, the meat industry began preparing for interruptions in the supply chain once COVID-19 began to spread globally. Currently, the industry does not foresee any interruptions in the supply chain. Those meat processing plants that have closed are deep cleaning, beyond traditional cleaning and sanitizing measures, as well as working with state and local health departments to reopen as soon as it is safe. Consumers should not panic-buy or stockpile meats. Rather, they should maintain traditional buying patterns.

What is the meat industry doing to maintain the supply chain? 

While temporary closures of restaurants and other food service establishments have caused overall total meat sales to decline, restaurant and food service meats are being transferred to meet the needs of retail grocery stores. Additionally, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) is working with the meat industry to help ensure that the supply chain remains intact and safe. Consumers can help the meat industry maintain consistent supplies by avoiding panic-buying or stockpiling.

What are meat plants doing to help their workers remain healthy during the pandemic?

Social distancing has become the new buzz phrase. Part of the reason some meat plants are reducing production is to institute and enforce social distancing. Most plants are staggering shifts, breaks, and lunchtimes, along with installing tents to allow workers to social distance. They’re also taking workers’ temperatures and completing overall worker health assessments at the beginning of each shift, and workers are required to wear masks, gloves, and eye protection. Plastic dividers are also being installed when social distancing is not possible. Workers that do become ill will still receive pay while they recover.

What is the USDA-FSIS doing to maintain a safe meat supply? 

Mandatory meat inspection is the law. The USDA-FSIS is working with the meat industry to ensure that meat inspectors are present at all inspected processing facilities. If an inspector becomes ill, a replacement or relief inspector is sent to fulfil the duties. In addition, the USDA-FSIS is working with state and local health departments to reopen closed plants to make sure all workers are safe.

“The meats industry, the USDA, and farmers are trying to maintain the supply chain,” Garcia said. “Please understand everyone is trying to make sure safe, healthy food is available to consumers.”

“Meat plants that have closed are testing employees for COVID-19, performing deep cleanings in the plants, instituting safety measures including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), promoting social distancing, as well as working with state and local health departments to reopen as soon as possible. Consumers can help by avoiding panic-buying and stockpiling. By working together, we can make sure there is plenty for everyone.”

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

Editor: This column was reviewed by Lyda G. Garcia, a CFAES assistant professor of meat science and an OSU Extension meat specialist.

Face masks and eating

I now wear a mask every time I leave my house, and I plan to do so as long as we are faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. But I haven’t figured out how to eat or drink with a mask on. Do I take it off or pull it up between bites? Any tips on what to do?

Photo: Getty Images.

As states ease their stay-at-home orders and people return to venturing out of the house, your question of how to eat or drink while wearing a face mask is one that is likely to come up frequently.

According to published reports, some restaurants in Hong Kong, for example, have begun providing patrons with a clean bag to store their masks in while they eat at the restaurant. With that in mind, if you do plan to eat when out in public, you should carefully take your mask off completely without touching the outside of the mask, said Sanja Ilic, food safety state specialist with Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“The best practice is not to reuse the mask before it be can be properly cleaned,” she said. “One option would be to have a second, cleaned mask that you can put on after eating. Also, before eating, you need to wash or sanitize your hands after removing your mask.”

It’s also important to know how to take off your mask safely, Ilic said, because proper use of face masks might help restrict the spread of the virus from an infected person or prevent a healthy person from becoming infected. Improper use could cause the opposite, she said.

“Masks and cloth face coverings should be handled assuming they are contaminated with the virus causing COVID-19,” Ilic said. “As such, face coverings should be removed without touching the outside of it or your eyes, nose, or mouth. The mask or face covering should be immediately placed with dirty laundry or stored in a plastic bag until they can be properly cleaned.”

Also, people should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth when removing their face covering, and they should wash their hands immediately after removing their mask.

Ilic said face coverings can be an effective means of slowing the spread of the infectious agent for many respiratory illnesses and might help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“But, wearing a face covering does NOT provide complete protection and does not replace other ways of slowing virus spread,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here are some ways to slow the spread: practicing good social distancing by staying at home; avoiding contact with others, and staying at least 6 feet away from others when out in public; washing your hands with soap for 20 seconds and using hand sanitizer often; and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

When choosing and wearing a face mask, the CDC says the mask should:

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of your face.
  • be secured with ties or ear loops.
  • include multiple layers of fabric.
  • allow for breathing without restriction.
  • be able to be laundered and machine-dried without damaging or changing its shape.
  • cover your mouth and nose with no gaps between your face and the mask.

Additionally, the CDC says to:

  • wash or sanitize your hands before putting on a mask, every time the covering is touched, and immediately after removing the mask.
  • put the mask on, grasp the mask and pinch it at the ear loops or grasp the upper ties. For ear-loop-style masks, secure the ear loops behind the ears. For tie-back-style masks, secure the upper ties behind your head first, then secure the lower ties behind your head. Always put the same side of a reused mask against the face.
  • remove the mask slowly and carefully without touching the outside of it or the eyes, nose, or mouth. Remove ear-loop masks by holding the ear loops. Remove tie-back masks by untying the lower ties first and the upper ties last; ensure that the ties don’t fall into the clean, interior side of the mask. If the mask will be reused, place it in a bag until it can be laundered.
  • wash the cloth mask after each use with regular detergent and warm/hot water, then dry it thoroughly in the dryer.

It’s also important that you don’t wear a mask that hasn’t been cleaned thoroughly, or one that is soiled, torn, saturated, or damaged, Ilic said.

“Remember, you can still get infected by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, so don’t let the mask provide you with a false sense of security,” she said.

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

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, state specialist in food safety for OSU Extension.

Not all foods fit for humans are fit for dogs

I’ve recently adopted a dog. He’s been a great companion for me as I’ve been sheltering at home alone during the coronavirus pandemic. As this is my first time as a dog owner, I’ve given my dog bites of food from my meals in addition to his own dog food. Is that OK?

Photo: Getty Images.

Congratulations on becoming a new dog parent! Many people such as yourself have become new dog owners in recent weeks as people continue to abide by stay-at-home orders and have sought companionship by welcoming new pets into their homes.

In fact, animal rescue centers and shelters nationwide have reported a spike in adoptions and foster applications since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, including for example, the Franklin County Dog Shelter, which has reported an increase in pet adoptions, according to published reports.

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

Your question is similar to a question addressed in a 2017 Chow Line, which referenced a U.S. Food and Drug Administration notice advising pet owners 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, the FDA says.

The reason?

Even though dogs are omnivores and can eat meat- and plant-based products, an animal’s body processes food much differently than a human’s body, the FDA says.

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, the FDA warns.

Here are some other human foods that the FDA, the American Kennel Club, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals say to avoid feeding to your dog:

  • Raw meat. Just like in humans, any E. coli, salmonella, or other harmful bacteria that might be present in raw meat, can also make your dog sick. It’s also a good idea to wash your hands if you are handling raw meat before giving 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 a dog’s mouth. It can also lower a dog’s blood sugar, thus leading 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 can have delayed symptoms, so if you think your dog might 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 College of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Moldy food. If you throw away moldy cheese rinds or hamburger buns, make sure your dog doesn’t then get into the garbage, where he or she might eat them.
  • Salty snacks. Salty snacks can increase water retention in some dogs. If your dog happens to grab a bag of salty potato chips or pretzels, make sure he or she 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 might be to want to give your dog ice cream on a hot summer day, most dogs don’t digest dairy products well, and many might also have lactose intolerance.

While your dog might look longingly at you while you eat, you might 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 pet.

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 pet.

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

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