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Meat thermometer is the best option to ensure food safety when grilling meat

Why should I use a meat thermometer while barbecuing steak on the grill? Can’t you just look at the steak to determine if it’s done by the color of the meat?

Grilling New York strip steak on outdoor gas grill. Photo: Getty Images.

Although many people use color as an indicator of doneness when grilling meats, to lessen your chance of developing a foodborne illness, it’s best to use a meat thermometer to ensure that your meat is cooked to the correct internal temperature.

Your question is very timely, considering that July is National Grilling Month, with July 4th generally accepted as the most popular U.S. holiday for grilling, surveys have shown. And because your question is very similar to one that was asked in a previous “Chow Line” column, it’s best answered by reissuing that column here.

According to research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, only 34% of the public uses a food thermometer when cooking hamburgers.

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

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

To gauge the most accurate temperature, place the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the food.

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

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

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

Here are some other tips for safe grilling from the USDA and the National Fire Protection Association:

  • When marinating meat or poultry, do so in a tightly sealed container kept in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or colder, or place the meat in an iced cooler if you are transporting the food. It’s important to keep the meat chilled because bacteria that can cause foodborne illness grow rapidly at room temperature.
  • Use propane and charcoal grills outdoors only.
  • Place your grill well away from your home, deck railings, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
  • Keep your grill clean by removing grease and fat buildup from the grills and trays below the grills.
  • Never leave your grill unattended.
  • For charcoal grills, use only lighter fluid designed for grilling. Never use gasoline or other flammable liquids, and never add more lighter fluid once the fire has started.
  • Don’t cover or store your grill until it has cooled. Soak coals with water before throwing them away.

Keeping these safety tips in mind can help you have enjoyable barbecues without the worry of getting sick from eating undercooked meats.

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 Jenny Lobb, educator, family and consumer sciences, Ohio State University Extension.

Avoid hand sanitizers that contain methanol alcohol

I’ve been searching for hand sanitizer and finally found a large bottle at a nearby store. The problem is, when I got home, I found out that it has methanol alcohol in it. Is it safe to use, and is it effective against COVID-19?

Bottle of a hand sanitizer. Photo: Getty Images.

No, it’s not safe to use, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In a series of advisories posted over the past several days, the FDA has issued warnings about several hand sanitizers that contain methanol alcohol, because methanol can cause serious side effects when absorbed through the skin and can cause blindness or death when swallowed.

In fact, the FDA has published a list of hand sanitizers that it is advising consumers not to use because of potential methanol contamination. The federal agency said consumers should “check your hand sanitizer products to see if they are on this list and dispose of them immediately if they are.”

“Most hand sanitizers found to contain methanol do not list it as an ingredient on the label since it is not an acceptable ingredient in the product,” the FDA said in a written statement. “It’s important to check the FDA’s list to see if the company or product is included.”

The FDA said that some of the hand sanitizers on its published list have labels that say the product contains ethanol—also known as ethyl alcohol—but that have instead tested positive for methanol contamination.

Methanol, which is also known as wood alcohol, is not an acceptable active ingredient for hand sanitizers and must not be used due to its toxic effects, the FDA said.

“Consumers who have been exposed to hand sanitizer containing methanol and are experiencing symptoms should seek immediate treatment for potential reversal of toxic effects of methanol poisoning,” the federal agency said.

Substantial methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system, or death, the FDA said.

“Hand sanitizers should contain 60% or more alcohol to be effective against coronavirus,” 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.

“Also, your hands have to already be visibly clean in order for the hand sanitizer to be effective in killing germs, bacteria, and viruses,” she said. “Sanitizer kills on contact, but if your hands are already dirty, the sanitizer will not be effective against bacteria because it’s consumed by the organic matter (or dirt) as soon as it makes contact.”

“That prevents the sanitizer from even making contact with the bacteria you are trying to kill.”

Ilic said it’s best to wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds, but if you don’t have access to soap and water, you can use a hand sanitizer that contains 60% or more alcohol to clean your hands and then reuse it a second time right away to ensure your hands have been sanitized.

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 writer 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.

Don’t bleach your food to protect against COVID-19

I’m really worried about COVID-19 and want to keep my family safe, so lately, I’ve been rinsing my fresh fruits and vegetables with a mixture of bleach and water. That’s safe, right?

Photo: Getty Images.

No, that is not safe. You should NEVER wash or rinse ANY food product with any form of bleach, disinfectant, or any other household cleaning chemicals.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a notice to consumers alerting them to the dangers of rinsing, soaking, or washing any food products with bleach or disinfectant, after a significant number of consumers have been doing just that.

Calls to poison centers around the country regarding exposures to cleaners and disinfectants have increased sharply since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC said.

This comes as 42% of consumers who responded to a May 2020 poll conducted by OnePoll on behalf of HelloFresh, said that they worry about the cleanliness of the products they buy and the overall environment while grocery shopping, according to published reports. The survey of 2,000 Americans polled how consumer views on grocery shopping have changed in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

And in a May 2020 online survey of 502 U.S. adults conducted by the CDC, 39% of respondents reported they engaged in at least one of the following high-risk practices with the intent of preventing COVID-19 transmission:

  • Intentionally inhaling or ingesting cleaners and disinfectants
  • Drinking or gargling diluted bleach solutions, soapy water, and other cleaning and disinfectant solutions
  • Using bleach on food products such as fruits and vegetables
  • Applying household cleaning and disinfectant products to hands or skin
  • Misting the body with a cleaning or disinfectant spray

Given the high percentage of individuals engaging in these unsafe practices, the CDC recommends that public messaging should continue to “emphasize evidence-based, safe practices such as hand hygiene and recommended cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in household settings.”

“That messaging should also emphasize avoidance of high-risk practices such as unsafe preparation of cleaning and disinfectant solutions, use of bleach on food products, application of household cleaning and disinfectant products to skin, and inhalation or ingestion of cleaners and disinfectants,” the CDC said in a written statement.

It’s also important to understand that there is currently no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is a foodborne disease, 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 (CFAES), has said.

She said that COVID-19 transmits person-to-person through droplets that are produced when an infected individual, speaks, 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.

The virus can also transmit when a person touches an object or surface with the virus on it and then touches their mouth or eyes before washing their hands, Ilic said.

However, fresh fruits and vegetables can sometimes harbor harmful bacteria, so you should rinse produce under running water before preparing or eating it, according to Barbara Kowalcyk, a food safety expert and an assistant professor at CFAES’ Department of Food Science and Technology.

“The only exception is prewashed produce and raw meat and poultry products,” said Kowalcyk, who is also director of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention (CFI) at CFAES. “Washing those products will actually increase the risk of foodborne illness because it can spread pathogens around.”

Fruits and vegetables that have skin should also be rinsed under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking them, even if you don’t plan to eat the skin, she said.

“That is because peeling or cutting unwashed produce can transfer dirt or other contaminates from the surface of the produce to the portion of the fruit or vegetable you plan to eat,” Kowalcyk said. “Firm produce such as melons, apples, and cucumbers should be scrubbed with a clean produce brush before peeling or cutting into them.

“They should then be dried off with a clean paper towel or cloth to further reduce harmful bacteria that might be present on the skin. Importantly, produce should be washed with water only. Never use soap, a bleach solution, or other sanitizers to wash produce.”

Lastly, don’t forget to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after food preparation and before eating.

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 Barbara Kowalcyk, an assistant professor at CFAES’ Department of Food Science and Technology, and previously reviewed by Sanja Ilic, state specialist in food safety for OSU Extension.

Salad recall prompts questions of parasite

I read something about a salad recall due to cyclospora, but I’ve not really heard about cyclospora before – what is it?

Photo: Getty Images.

Cyclospora cayetanensis is a microscopic parasite that can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, and fatigue. When people eat food or drink water that’s contaminated with cyclospora, they can develop an intestinal illness called cyclosporiasis.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced June 19 that they are investigating a multistate outbreak of cyclospora potentially linked to ALDI Little Salad Bar Brand Garden Salad from ALDI grocery stores, Hy-Vee Brand Garden Salad from Hy-Vee grocery stores, and Signature Farms Brand Garden Salad from Jewel-Osco.

As of now, the recalled salad has not been sold in Ohio, but in stores locations in Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. However, the FDA said, “it is continuing this investigation and there may be additional retailers and products impacted by this outbreak.”

Thus far, at least 122 people across seven states have been sickened after consuming the salad mix, with at least 19 people hospitalized, FDA said.

According to the CDC, cyclospora is generally transmitted when food or water is contaminated by infected feces, noting that the parasite is, “unlikely to be transmitted directly from person to person because it needs several days to weeks after being passed in a bowel movement to become infectious for another person.”

“Some people may experience symptoms that last a few days to a month or longer,” 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).

Cyclosporiasis affects an estimated 15,000 people in the United States each year, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Cyclospora infects the small intestine and usually causes watery diarrhea, with frequent, sometimes explosive, bowel movements. Other common symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps or pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea, and fatigue.

People may also experience vomiting, body aches, headache, low-grade fever, and other flu-like symptoms, according to the CDC. Some people who are infected with the parasite don’t have any symptoms. If needed, treatment can include an antibiotic.

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 Sanja Ilic, state food safety specialist for OSU Extension.

First day of Summer? A look at what fruits and vegetables are in season now

Summer is finally here and I’m craving fresh cherries, sweet corn and delicious ripe tomatoes fresh off the vine. What other fruits and vegetables are in season during the summer?

Photo: Getty Images.

With tomorrow, June 20, being the first day of summer this year, now seems like a good time to revisit what fruits and vegetables are in season now.

As published in a previous “Chow Line,” summer heat and long days make it a good time to indulge in a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables like berries, melons, sweet corn and tomatoes, among a wide range of plentiful produce. Not only are these items extremely fresh and flavorful because they’re in season, they’re also widely discounted because of the abundance of supply based on the time of year.

Improved technology and agricultural innovations mean that consumers can access fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.

But because fruits and vegetables naturally grow in cycles and ripen during a certain season, produce typically is fresher and tastes best when ripe. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are also typically cheaper to buy because they are easier to produce than fruits and vegetables that are grown out of season.

In fact, the top advertised items on sale in local grocery stores this week were fruits and vegetables, accounting for some 94 percent of sale ads, according to the June 12 edition of the National Retail Report, a weekly roundup of advertised retail pricing information compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Apples, avocados, blueberries, grapes, miscellaneous berries, nectarines, peaches, raspberries, strawberries and watermelons were the top 10 fruit items advertised in grocery store sale ads for the week, according to the report. The top 10 veggies on sale in grocery ads for the week included sweet corn, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, bell peppers, potatoes, salad, squash, grape tomatoes and large plant tomatoes.

Summer is also a good time for agritourism, where farmers and producers open their farms to the public for consumers to hand-choose their own produce. Also known as U-Pick farms, these operations not only provide consumers with fresh, locally grown produce but also teach them about the farming industry.

Experts with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University offer a variety of educational programming for producers who want to incorporate agritourism on their farms. CFAES also offers tips for consumers when visiting agritourism operations.

There are several varieties of fruits and vegetables in season now in Ohio.

While this is not an all-inclusive list, generally speaking, the following produce (among others) is in season in Ohio during the summer, according to the Ohio Farm Bureau:

  • Apples
  • Asparagus
  • Lima beans
  • Snap beans
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Collards
  • Sweet Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Currants
  • Dill
  • Eggplant
  • Endive and escarole
  • Gooseberries
  • Grapes
  • Kale
  • Leaf lettuce
  • Leeks
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Green onions
  • Parsley
  • Peaches
  • Sweet peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Black raspberries
  • Red raspberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Summer squash
  • Winter squash
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnip greens

So, now’s the time to enjoy fresh summer produce and, if you are able, to get out there and enjoy learning more about agriculture as you pick some fresh produce yourself.

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 Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension

Vitamin D and COVID-19

My wife heard that vitamin D can help with symptoms of COVID-19. Is that true?

Vitamin D. Photo: Getty Images.

Your question is on the minds of many consumers, as more people have been reaching for vitamin supplements to boost their immune system amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Vitamin D, which plays a wide variety of roles in boosting the immune system, is one of those supplements that has seen increased sales in recent weeks.

It helps the body absorb calcium, which builds strong bones and prevents osteoporosis. Vitamin D’s effect is significant: If you don’t get enough, your body absorbs only 10% to 15% of the calcium you consume. With vitamin D, absorption jumps to 30% to 40%.

In addition, muscles, nerves, the immune system, and many other bodily functions all require vitamin D to do their jobs properly. Vitamin D also offers benefits against a whole range of illnesses and chronic diseases including reducing your risk of developing multiple sclerosis and heart disease, reducing blood pressure, and reducing your likelihood of developing the flu.

Several research studies have been or are currently under way looking at the correlation between vitamin D deficiency and mortality rates from COVID-19.

For example, one such study by led by Northwestern University analyzed data from medical centers in China, France, Germany, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It found that patients from countries with high COVID-19 mortality rates had lower levels of vitamin D compared to patients in countries that were not as severely affected.

Another study done by the University of Chicago Medicine found that people who were vitamin D deficient before the pandemic began were 77% more likely to test positive for COVID-19 compared to people who had normal levels.

However, it’s important to note that many of the studies looking at the relationship between vitamin D levels and COVID-19 are observational studies that do not prove causation, medical experts say.

With that in mind, if you want to start taking a vitamin D supplement, its best that you consult with your doctor to see if you have a vitamin D deficiency and are in need of vitamin D supplements, said Jenny Lobb, a family and consumer sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension.

OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

She said the recommended amount of vitamin D for most people is 600 IU (international units) per day. Infants up to 12 months need less, 400 IU, and adults 71 or older need more, 800 IU.

So, besides a vitamin supplement, what are other sources of vitamin D?

Nearly all milk in the United States is fortified with vitamin D, at a rate of 400 IU per quart, but that equals just 100 IU per cup. Other dairy foods, including cheese and ice cream, are usually made with nonfortified milk, so they often don’t provide any vitamin D. Fish that’s high in fat, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, is a good source. Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks have small amounts. Many breakfast cereals and juice are often fortified with vitamin D.

However, there are factors that can impact your levels of vitamin D, including where you live, your age. your skin color, your weight and the foods you.

For example, people get vitamin D from the sun. One type of ultraviolet radiation converts a chemical in the skin into vitamin D3, which the liver and kidneys transform into active vitamin D. But people with darker skin and older people have more trouble converting the sun’s rays into vitamin D. And most people don’t soak up the same amount of sun in the wintertime or if they are using sunscreen.

Also, certain health conditions can impact your vitamin D levels. People with conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, or cystic fibrosis, among others, may have trouble absorbing vitamin D, which can lead to deficiencies, according to Harvard Medical School.

The best way to know if your vitamin D level is low is to get a blood test. Your doctor can then tell you whether you should take a vitamin D supplement.

Experts caution, however, about taking too much vitamin D, because excess vitamin D is stored in fat tissue. Over time, medical experts say, too much vitamin D can become toxic and lead to hypercalcemia, a condition in which too much calcium builds up in the blood, potentially forming deposits in the arteries or soft tissues.

It’s also important to note, in addition to vitamin D, there are many vitamins and minerals found in a nutritious diet that can help boost your immune system, Lobb said.

“The key takeaway would be that eating a balanced diet goes a long way in promoting immune function,” she said. “Supplements are sometimes needed or recommended, but that is not always the case. Everyone can strive to eat a balanced diet; dietary supplements of any sort should only be used if recommended by a health care provider.”

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 Jenny Lobb, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

A tiny worm in your strawberry won’t hurt you

I just saw a viral video that shows little tiny worms coming out of a strawberry soaking in salt water. Is that real or a prank? Can I get sick from eating strawberries if they do have worms?

Tiny white larvae in a strawberry caused by spotted wing drosophila. Photo courtesy of Hannah Burrack, North Carolina State University, Bugwood.org.

Tiny white larvae in a strawberry caused by spotted wing drosophila. Photo courtesy of Hannah Burrack, North Carolina State University, Bugwood.org.

Many people in recent weeks have been surprised to learn that yes, sometimes fresh produce can contain small pest infestations that, while may sound gross to some, really aren’t harmful for consumers.

In fact, there is a strong likelihood that you’ve already unknowingly consumed a tiny worm or insect or two during your lifetime.

The Food and Drug Administration has guidelines for how many bugs or how much mold is allowed in each type of food. Using what the FDA calls food defects standards, the agency sets the maximum levels of natural or unavoidable defects that present no health hazards in foods for human use.

This is because, “it is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of nonhazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects,” the FDA says.

For example, berries are allowed to have an average of four or more larvae per 500 grams, the standards say. And 14 ounces of tomato juice is allowed to have up to four larvae and 20 or more fruit fly eggs, while even a chocolate candy bar is allowed to have 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams when six 100-gram subsamples are examined, the FDA guidelines say.

Even though that may sound gross for some, the tiny white larvae that can sometimes be found inside strawberries are harmless to consumers. They are actually the larvae of a fly, commonly known as the spotted-wing drosophila, an invasive species of pest from East Asia that infests berry crops and was first seen in the United States in 2008, said Celeste Welty, an Ohio State University Extension entomologist and associate professor of entomology.

OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

The pest, which has been found in Ohio since 2011, can be a problem for berry growers because it can cause significant crop damage. But, if spotted early, it can be managed to avoid losses, Welty said.

Spotted-wing drosophila targets fruit crops, including raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, peaches, and plums, and sometimes cherries, strawberries, pears, apples, and cherry tomatoes. The pest causes damage through larval feeding on ripening fruit. Damage starts as a tiny scar on the skin of the fruit, with the skin collapsing in two or three days and mold developing.

“The consensus is that they almost never infest traditional June-bearing strawberries, but they often attack ever-bearing strawberries later in the summer, both in field plantings and in high tunnels,” she said.

Thanks to training offered by OSU Extension on spotted-wing drosophila, more fruit growers now know how to manage the fly to lessen the potential for it to infest fruit crops, Welty said. That often includes spraying a weekly insecticide on the crops through the end of harvest and monitoring when the insect comes onto their farm and preventing females laying eggs in the fruit, or enclosing the crop under fine-mesh netting.

Consumers can determine if the fly larvae are in a piece of fruit by putting the fruit in a plastic zippered storage bag or a one-quart container filled with warm, salty water and waiting 15 minutes, Welty said.

“The bags or container with infested fruit will show little larvae floating to the top of the salt water,” she said, noting that if any appear, they are harmless.

“For those who may be squeamish about larvae, locally grown berries harvested in June are less likely to have larvae,” Welty said. “This is because the spotted-wing drosophila typically does not become active until July.”

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 Celeste Welty, an OSU Extension entomologist and associate professor of entomology.

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.