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Posts Tagged ‘food’

Healthy and Homemade Meals in Fairfield County

Healthy and homemade meals and seasonal vegetables were part of nutrition education outreach conducted by Extension educator Heather Peracchio in September. Heather works with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) and is based in the Fairfield County Extension Center. She reports on her programming for September:

SNAP-Ed programs:

Nutrition outreach at the mobile pantry in Bethel on September 27th reached a record high 220 families. United Way suspects the great increase in numbers this month might be due to families being sent flyers home in school backpacks.

nutrition education healthy homemade mealA two-part series of nutrition classes were presented at the Veterans Affairs office in Bridgeport on September 6th and 13th. One class focused on sugar sweetened drinks and how to make healthier choices, participants taste tested a fresh fruit smoothie. The other class focused on budget-saving tips like making simple cook ahead meals. All participants received a 2018 calendar and taste tested a salad with homemade honey mustard dressing and a tamale pie, both recipes were featured in the Healthy and Homemade calendar from Iowa State Extension. Dietetic intern, Anna VanderLeest, assisted with both of these classes.

Eat Smart Live Strong at Elmwood Senior Center on Wednesday, September 20th reached 42 seniors; and New Hope church in Danbury on September 27th reached 28 seniors. Each class had the opportunity to taste test a kale salad with homemade honey mustard dressing. Each senior was encouraged to continue to follow the two key healthy behaviors from the series, eating at least 3.5 cups of fruits and vegetables each day and participating in at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Each participant was given a 2018 Healthy and Homemade calendar as well.

SNAP-Ed participated in the Danbury Farmers market Saturday September 23rd. Participants learned all about seasonal vegetables including kale and apples. Extension educators Heather Peracchio and Juliana Restrepo-Marin offered an in-person food demonstration of a kale apple slaw. 30 participants attended the class offered on-site at the market. The next class is planned for Saturday October 14th.

This month Fairfield County Extension nutrition programs partnered with Western Connecticut Health Networks Dietetic Internship. Three dietetic interns from Danbury and Norwalk Hospital, Candido Gonzalez, Christian Aguilar and Angelina Campbell accompanied Heather to shadow and assist with programming on September 20th and September 27th.

EFNEP:

A new program combining fitness and nutrition with Extension educator German Cutz’s current 4-H soccer teams had a third class on Thursday, September 14th. Participants included 46 parents and children, where they learned about label reading and how to identify fat and sugar in common snack foods as part of the Choose Health: Fun, Food and Fitness curricula. There was a hands-on demonstration of an apple cinnamon yogurt tortilla snack where parents participated, and everyone taste tested. They also held a class Friday, October 6th.

Heather continues to coordinate with Danbury’s Morris Street School Family Resource Staff and a new EFNEP program at Morris Street School is planned Monday evenings beginning October 16th. Interested participants can contact Morris Street Family Resource Center to sign up.

Extension is a nationwide effort to give the public access to research-based information, scientific expertise, and educational programs they can use to enhance their everyday lives. UConn Extension, a program of the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) works in all 169 towns of Connecticut with a network of over 100 educators and scientists. Over 2,900 volunteers leverage the ability of Extension to work in every community.

Extension Internship Leads to Career Path

group photo

Heather Peracchio, Juliana Restrepo-Marin, Cheng Li – a Ph.D. student from Rutgers, and Julia Cobuzzi at a nutrition outreach event.

When Julia Cobuzzi of Monroe transferred to UConn from Stonehill College in Massachusetts at the beginning of her sophomore year, she was not sure what she could do with a major in Allied Health Sciences.

“I took Introduction to Nutrition with Stacey Mobley, and it has been my favorite course by far in my college experience,” Julia says thoughtfully. Then, she met Paul Gagnon at the Center for Career Development, and he encouraged her to apply for an Extension internship. Julia spent the summer of 2016 working with Heather Peracchio in the UConn Extension office in Bethel. Heather is an Extension Educator for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education) program.

The community nutrition education intern teaches small and large groups, works with adults and children, conducts cooking demonstrations, and assists in developing materials for programs. During her first year interning, Julia had only taken one nutrition class and did not have much experience teaching. Working with Heather, she developed her skills, and a greater understanding of nutrition.

“I taught a 4-H program to 2nd-6th graders at a summer school at Shelter Rock Elementary School in Danbury. I also taught the same program to 1st-4th graders at a summer 4-H program in Bridgeport, that also included a gardening component. Over the weeks the kids came in, and were making better food choices at home, and eating the rainbow. I knew they were understanding what I was telling them,” Julia recalls. “I was sad at the end of the first summer. I learned so much from Heather, taught a lot of classes for youth, and it was a lot of fun to see that I could make a difference.” She switched her major to nutritional sciences, and then re-applied for the internship. Julia was selected to serve as the Community Nutrition Programming Intern in Bethel for the summer of 2017.

“The EFNEP program works in the community to help income-challenged parents learn how to shop for and make nutritious meals and snacks, all for better health and quality of life,” Heather says. “Julia assisted with preparing and implementing a 10-week gardening and nutrition program with parents and children in Norwalk, and a four week 4-H summer afterschool program with teens in Bridgeport, and farmers’ market nutrition education with the general public in Danbury.”

During her second summer of interning, Julia led a grocery store tour at ShopRite and talked to participants about budgeting, and purchasing food in season. The group of 16 moms was split into three groups, one led by Julia, one by the ShopRite dietitian, and one led by Heather. At the end of the program, each participant was given a $10 gift card from the grocery store, and they were challenged to purchase one meal that has all five food groups with the $10. Participants were competing amongst each other to see whom could create the healthiest meal for the least amount of money.

“How a community processes nutrition information is something you could not learn in a classroom – you have to see it in person to understand it,” Julia adds.

From a personal perspective, Julia enhanced her proficiencies in teaching in terms of figuring out how to write a lesson plan, and creatively teach to keep the audience engaged. She improved her public speaking skills, and ability to teach large groups of people. Julia also led classes at the Danbury Farmers’ Market, where she taught adults.

Julia began her senior year this fall, and is graduating in 2018. “My goal is to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. The internship helped me immensely in figuring out what I want to do.”

Article By Stacey Stearns

How Clean is That Refrigerator of Yours?

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

healthy foodThe invention of mechanical refrigeration was one of the most important developments in the history of keeping food safe (others include the pasteurization of milk and commercial canning).  Ask anyone who has suffered through the aftermath of a hurricane or ice storm without the benefit of electricity to keep their food cold. But even a plugged-in fridge, humming along and doing its job, can be a place that harbors pathogens that cause foodborne illness or spoilage organisms that result in food waste.

A little microbiology lesson might be helpful before we go on. When talking about food, food safety and safe food storage, we often discuss the microbes that can cause foodborne illness. Especially we talk about how to prevent or eliminate them from our food or food preparation areas. The foodborne microorganisms that cause illness are called pathogens. Certain strains of bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and Staphylococcus are pathogens—they can cause foodborne illness. Some viruses and parasites can be the source of foodborne illness as well.

Other microorganisms may cause food to spoil. Spoilage organisms are generally not pathogenic.  Spoilage makes food unappetizing, so we are unlikely to eat it. But the slimy, discolored, smelly, or fermented foods that result from the action of spoilage organisms are not as apt to make us sick, though some molds produce toxins that do have serious health effects.

The “good” thing about spoilage organisms is that they tell us that they are there. They make food smell funny or look weird. They turn food odd colors (cottage cheese that looks pink) or make things fizzy (juice that is fermented). We know it is best not to eat them. Spoilage organisms, will grow or multiply quite well at colder temperatures. This is why milk can spoil, juice can ferment and cheese or fruit can get moldy in your refrigerator.

On the other hand, pathogens are quiet, invisible. We never know for sure if they are lurking in the lettuce or hanging out on the chicken. Therefore we must take special care to prevent their growth or their spread to other foods or food-contact surfaces. We must assume that they are always there and do our best to control them.

Generally speaking, pathogens do not grow well in refrigerator temperatures. They prefer what we call the “danger zone” of approximately 41 degrees F to 135 degrees F. This is why it is recommended that you keep your refrigerator temperature at no more than 40 degrees F. If E. coli, Salmonella or other pathogens contaminate your food before you refrigerate it, these microbes will remain on the food. Refrigeration does not kill them, though it does limit their growth. One exception to this is Listeria. This bacteria actually likes the cold and can grow in temperatures as low as 32-45 degrees F.

Clean your fridge regularly

The best way to keep your refrigerator from being the source of a bout with foodborne illness is to keep it clean. A 2013 study of home kitchen environments conducted by the NSF, an organization that sets standards for cleanability of commercial food equipment, found that two of the “germiest” areas in the kitchen were the meat and vegetable bins in the home refrigerator.  They found Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, yeast, and mold.

Prevention of messes is the first step to a clean refrigerator. When storing raw meat, poultry, or fish, be sure to separate them from other foods. Store them in a way that prevents juices from contaminating other foods or refrigerator shelves—place them on a plate or tray. Store fresh raw fruits or vegetables loosely in plastic bags or storage containers. Often it makes sense not to wash fresh produce until you are ready to use it, so it is especially important to keep fresh produce in the fruit and vegetable bin if possible. Keep eggs in their original carton. Leftovers should be refrigerated in closed containers, date labeled, so that they are used before spoilage organisms set up shop. If you have a leaky milk carton, put a plate under it.

If spills do occur, wipe them up immediately. If meat, poultry or fish juices contaminate a ready to eat food (lettuce, cut fruit, cheese), it is best to toss it.

A least weekly—maybe the night before garbage pickup–go through your fridge and throw out any perishable foods that are past their prime. Check dates on milk, yogurt and soft cheeses. They generally are best if used by 5-7 days after the “use by” date. Toss anything that is moldy, slimy, or just looks or smells spoiled. Take a look at your leftovers: generally, leftovers should be kept no longer than 3-5 days. Throw out those that have been there too long.

A thorough, deep cleaning should be done monthly.

  • Empty the food out of the refrigerator. In summer months, it may make sense to put some things in a cooler with ice—especially raw meat, fish, cut fruits or vegetables, and leftovers.
  • Take out shelving, drawers, and any other removable parts.
  • Wash shelving, drawers, and any other removable parts by hand with warm, soapy water. Dry with a CLEAN towel. (Air drying is preferable, but you want to get this job done quickly and get food back into the refrigerator within an hour or so.)
  • Wipe the inside of the empty refrigerator with warm, soapy water, then wipe with clean water to rinse off soap. Dry with a clean towel.
  • If you want to, mix one tablespoon of liquid household bleach (unscented) with a gallon of water and wipe the interior and any shelving with this sanitizing solution. Always clean first, then sanitize. Allow to air dry. Sanitizing alone will not be effective.
  • Finally, as you place items back in the refrigerator, take time to wipe off container surfaces.
  • Wipe off door handles and be sure, if you have a water/ice dispenser on the outside of your fridge, to clean that as well.

For more information about safe food preparation and storage check out our website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at www.ladybug.uconn.edu.

Storage Times For Refrigerated Foods (www.fsis.usda.gov)
NOTE: These short but safe time limits will help keep home-refrigerated food from spoiling.

food storage times

Super Tracker App

tomato-wheel

Did you know that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has an app to help you track your food, fitness, and health? Download SuperTracker. With it you receive a personalized nutrition and physical activity plan, can track your food and physical activity; and receive tips and support to help you make healthier choices and plan ahead.

Will Food Label Confusion Go Away?

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

 

use by label

Photo: USDA

When teaching consumers and those who prepare food for day care centers, food pantries, shelters, and senior lunch programs, I always spend a bit of time talking about food labels. Not the nutrition labels, which can also be confusing to the average consumer, but the “safety and quality” labels.

At this time, there are several phrases used by food manufacturers and retailers to help consumers and food preparers to know about the food they are about to purchase or prepare. These phrases include:

  • Sell by
  • Use by
  • Expires
  • Best if used by
  • Best before

These are all examples of open dating, a calendar date that the manufacturer or retailer applies to a food product. The calendar date provides consumers with information on the estimated period of time for which the product will be of best quality and/or to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. Some manufactures also use a closed dating code that is usually for the purposes of record keeping or tracking products in case of a recall. Often these dates or codes are a series of numbers and letters that the consumer may or may not be able to decipher.

When these dates are used on perishable foods, such as dairy products, eggs or meat, fish or poultry, consumers might think that once the date is reached, it is time to toss to food in the garbage. But that is not the case.

Safety vs Quality

First of all, keep in mind that none of these dates are required by Federal law. The one exception is for infant formula. Because formula is basically the sole source of nutrition for infants up to a certain age, and the essential nutrients (vitamins, especially) can break down, so that the formula is no longer providing what the baby needs for healthy growth and development. Some states do require such labels. Connecticut requires that dairy products including milk, cheese and raw milk, have a “sell by” or “last date of sale” label.

The purpose of these dates is to help consumers and retailers decide when food is of best quality—not necessarily safety.

Perishable foods, obviously, do not last forever. However, they are generally (if handled properly prior to eating), perfectly safe well past the sell by date on the container. Again, if safely handled (refrigerated properly during storage and transportation), eggs are safe as many as 4-6 weeks after the sell by date; dairy products 3-7 days after the sell by date, ground meat or fresh fish (1-2 days), deli cold cuts, 3-5 days and steaks, chops or roasts, 3-5 days. Again, these time ranges are guidelines. If there are signs of spoilage—odor, color change, sliminess—then toss the food, no matter the date! Unfortunately, the bugs that cause illness will not tell you they are there—they don’t make food smell bad or taste funny. Personally, I would throw out any foods beyond the time limits in this paragraph, if the sell by date is past or once I have opened them.

In addition, if you freeze any of these foods, you can extend the shelf life. While quality can suffer in the freezer (dehydration or freezer burn, rancidity in high fat foods), it is unlikely that the food will become dangerous to eat if frozen too long. Use by and sell by dates become meaningless if freezer storage is involved. But, consider the same time frames for using up these foods once defrosted: use ground meat in 1-2 days, fish in 1-2 days, cold cuts in 3-5 days and dairy products within 3-7 dates after defrosting.

Other foods present little or no food safety issues, no matter how long they are kept. Quality is the problem here. Chips, crackers, cereals and snack foods, especially if made from whole grains, can go stale and/or rancid over time. The exact length of time will depend on storage conditions. If it is warm or humid or if the food is exposed to sunlight where you store these foods, they are likely to suffer quality losses faster. But it will not hurt you to taste these foods yourself to see if they are still edible. While bread is similar, its moisture content may make it more prone to mold growth. If you see any mold growth, the bread should go. Mold can develop toxins that may cause illness or may be cancer causing. Don’t eat food that isn’t supposed to have mold on it.

New guidelines

In order to further reduce the wasting of perfectly good, but “out dated” food, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) are advising their members to rethink their safety and quality labels. They are proposing that only two labels be used. “Best if Used By” would be on most foods—indicating a loss of quality over time. But, for those that potentially pose a food safety risk, becoming less safe over time, the “Use By” label would be more appropriate.

People have been clamoring for simplification of these labels for a very long time. But concerns about food waste – whether for environmental, economic, or other reasons—have driven this most recent attempt to make quality and safety labels easier to understand.

For more information on food labels and food storage, go to foodsafety.uconn.edu or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

Conversations Around Food

EFNEPImagine running out of food, with small children to feed, and no food stamps for another week. Friday’s paycheck has to pay your utility bill, or they will cut off your electricity. Feeling panicked yet? Picture what it was like, over 40 years ago, to have someone from UConn Extension knock on your door and ask if you need help learning how to feed your family for less.

Since 1969, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) educators have been helping thousands of families and youth in some of the most challenged neighborhoods in Connecticut.

While parts of Connecticut are affluent, our state has deep pockets of poverty that can lead to food insecurity and hunger. Some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country are in urban areas of our state. Food deserts, or areas that lack access to grocery stores and fresh food, contribute to the problem. This includes urban centers as well as more remote rural areas where transportation is a major hurdle for accessing healthy foods. Coupled with the challenging economy, the state has seen an increase in the number of families with children using soup kitchens and food assistance.

During the 1960’s, there was increasing awareness of the health problems associated with poverty. Hunger and poor nutrition were identified through several government studies. Cooperative Extension leaders recognized that programming was not reaching low-income populations as well as it could. In 1962, several states conducted pilot projects focusing on the best way to reach this audience with food and nutrition information. Throughout the mid 1960’s, effective land-grant university projects helped to build administrative support for establishing a program within Cooperative Extension.

EFNEP is the oldest federal nutrition education program for low-income families, being formally established in 1969. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) administers EFNEP at land-grant universities in all U.S. states and territories, and the District of Columbia. The program provides practical, hands-on food and nutrition education to tackle societal challenges such as hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and obesity.

UConn Extension has eleven EFNEP educators in communities throughout the state. EFNEP is active in cities such as Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Willimantic, Bridgeport, and Danbury. Bilingual programs and materials, cooking classes, and educational trips to the grocery store are a few offerings.

When the program first began, EFNEP educators did knock on doors to recruit participants. Today, EFNEP staff develop relationships with community-based organizations and agencies who work with low-income families and youth. One of the first pilot projects, in the 1960’s, was conducted in a Bridgeport housing project. Dr. Janina Czajkowski-Esselen directed this pilot project. She was one of the visionary thinkers who helped develop the concepts behind the EFNEP program.

There is a unique peer educator component in EFNEP, which has since been used in communities around the world. The program considers the situation of each participant, and tries to help them identify and determine solutions to their issues around food choices, shopping, feeding families, food safety, and food insecurity.

The program meets clients where they are, and considers economics, culture, and literacy in programs and materials. Educators use interactive, hands-on teaching methods through conversations, not lectures.

Participants develop skills that can help them improve their food and nutrition practices for better health and quality of life. Depending on the situation of the family, this may mean just having enough food at home to last from payday to payday.

UConn EFNEP educators serve as a link between program participants and other local agencies, including federal programs such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp program) that participants may qualify for.

In 2015, EFNEP reached 1,850 participants, and 2,089 family members. Since the program’s inception, over 48,000 families with more than 150,000 family members, and close to 200,000 youth have learned from educators about improving health and quality of life. For more information about EFNEP, visit the NIFA website:nifa.usda.gov/program/expanded-food-and-nutrition-education-program-efnep

Be A Scientist for a Day

UConn Extension is hosting a large-scale statewide science project on May 8th

 

ext_top_p_289On May 8, 2014, UConn Extension is asking the public to join our faculty, staff, 4-H volunteers, and master gardeners in a vast science project across the state, in recognition of the 100th anniversary of UConn Extension. One hundred years ago on that date, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act to serve as a conduit for scientific advances in agriculture, nutrition, and natural resources from the nation’s public, land-grant universities to its farmers, youth, and communities.

“UConn Extension ties research to real life for Connecticut communities, citizens, and businesses,” said Mike O’Neill, Associate Dean and Associate Director of UConn Extension. “To celebrate the anniversary of Cooperative Extension, we are asking citizens to be scientists for a day so that all of us will better understand our natural, agricultural, and urban communities.”

“Our programs create practical, science-based tools and technologies to help solve complex problems,” O’Neill continues. “Extension provides outreach, knowledge, and expertise to the public in areas such as: economic viability, business and industry, community development, agriculture, and natural resources.”

Background:

To participate in the UConn Extension Celebration of Science and Service on May 8, people just need to answer any or all of the following three questions:

What do you do for your health?

UConn Extension knows that sometimes it isn’t motivation; it’s just finding the time. On May 8th – we challenge you to fifteen minutes of fitness. Go for a walk, run, bike ride, play basketball, or garden. Be creative. In our 4-H youth development program, healthy living is a holistic approach that addresses eating a healthy diet, engaging in physical activity, recognizing and directing emotions, and developing and maintaining positive social interactions.

Spend fifteen minutes on May 8th focusing on healthy living. Then fill out the form on our blog, or post your name, your town, and what you did on our Facebook page, email this information to extension@uconn.edu or call us with your results: 860-486-9228.

How do you conserve water?

Do you conserve water in your garden, landscape, household, or farm? UConn Extension encourages all residents to sign up for the 40 Gallon Challenge. Sign up today, and then fill out the form on our blog, or post your name, your town and how you plan to conserve water to our Facebook page, email this information to extension@uconn.edu, or call us: 860-486-9228.

“Connecticut is a water rich state,” O’Neill notes. “But drought conditions out west, population growth, and increasing water demands are adding stress to the water supply locally and nationally. Reducing water usage at home will also help homeowners keep more money in their wallets.”

barnum vegetablesWhere is food grown in your community?

Do you grow your own food or get homegrown food from a neighbor who gardens? Is there a community farm nearby, a farmer’s market or farm stand? This project encourages you to discover exactly where food is grown in your community, and at the same time contribute to a statewide understanding of how widespread local food production is throughout Connecticut.

Sign up for UConn Extension’s 10% Local Campaign and then fill out the form on our blog, or post your name, your town and how you plan to buy 10% local to our Facebook page, email the details to extension@uconn.edu, or call us: 860-486-9228.

UConn Extension will be tracking the results of our May 8th science project on our website, blog and Facebook page.

About UConn Extension

This year, during our 100th Anniversary, UConn Extension celebrates the millions of youth, adults, families, farmers, community leaders and others who engage in our learning opportunities designed to extend knowledge and change lives.  UConn Extension will continue to serve as the premier provider of educational services to all Connecticut residents outside of traditional classroom settings.