Author: UConn Extension

Who Keeps Our Food Supply Safe?

Who keeps our food supply safe?

Rules, regulations, jurisdiction

 By Diane Wright Hirsch

Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

 

I am often asked who to contact when someone has a concern about the regulation of our food supply. It might be a budding entrepreneur who needs to know which agency they need to contact to figure out which regulations they need to comply with. A consumer might want to report that they found something in a food product that shouldn’t be there (a piece of plastic, a rodent part) or they may suspect that an allergen is not properly labeled. A farmer might want to build a packing facility or commercial kitchen on their farm to increase the value of their food product with further processing. Processors may want me to act as a go-between in order to retain their anonymity while finding the answer to a question about regulation of their operation.  Sometimes these questions relate to a Federal rule or regulation. There are many layers that can be tough to wade through.

Connecticut is rather unique in the food regulation department: we actually have three agencies that have primary responsibility or “jurisdiction over” food. Most states have one or two.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) Food Protection Program oversees regulations relating to foodservice operations: restaurants, department of public health logocaterers, temporary food events (fairs, community dinners), food trucks, and institutions such as college foodservice. The Program’s overall mission (as stated on their website), “is to reduce the risk of foodborne disease by ensuring reasonable protection from contaminated food and improving the sanitary condition of food establishments.”

The Program develops new and updates existing regulations. Recently, the Federal Model Food Code was adopted as the state’s food code. This allows for standardization with other states who follow that code—making it easier for businesses (i.e. Stop and Shop or Burger King) that have operations in many states to have similar rules to follow from state to state. Food Protection Program personnel train, certify and re-certify sanitarians in each local health district to ensure that foodservice operations in their jurisdictions are complying with the Connecticut food code. The local/city/district health departments carry out the actual inspection and regulation of the operations. All foodservice operations must be licensed. You can go to the website at www.ct.gov/dph, go to the A-Z menu and find both the Food Protection Program (under F) and a listing of all Local Health Department (under L). The phone number is (860) 509-7297.

The Food Protection Program is also responsible for monitoring complaints of foodborne illness and investigating outbreaks in collaboration with local health departments, the DPH Epidemiology Program, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). If you fear that you might have a foodborne illness you should contact either your local or the state health department.

The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) “regulates all persons and businesses that manufacture or sell food products in the State in order to detect and prevent the distribution of adulterated, contaminated, or unsanitary food products,” according to the website.

department of consumer protection logoThe Foods Program employs food inspectors who are responsible for inspecting retail food operations (grocery stores; big box stores that have grocery store operations, such as Costco or Walmart; farm stands and other retail operations). They also inspect food manufacturers and food operations that transport or store food (distributors). Many of these operations are licensed by DCP, who administers licenses for food manufacturing establishments, bakeries, non-alcoholic beverages including cider, wholesale and retail frozen desserts and vending machines. They are involved in food recall implementation. If you have food safety concerns regarding a Connecticut food processor or retailer (including food products they are selling) or if you want to start a food manufacturing business, the DCP is the regulatory agency to contact. The exception to this is meat and poultry processors. All meat and poultry processing is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

DPC’s website is www.ct.gov/dpc. Go to the “Programs and Services” tab and you will find the “Food Program” listed. Or call them at (860) 713-6160.

The third state agency with food safety responsibilities is the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg). Like the federal agency (USDA), the department of agriculture logoDepartment is involved in a variety of regulatory and marketing activities. If you have questions related to the products they regulate, you can give them a call at: 860-713-2500 or go to the website at www.ct.gov/doag.

Recently, the DoAg was given responsibility for implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule in Connecticut. This is an FDA rule addressing the safety of fresh produce grown on Connecticut farms. The agency also provides produce farmers with a voluntary third-party audit program, called GAP (Good Agricultural Practices): sometimes grocery stores or produce distributors will require farms they buy produce from to have a third-party audit. The Agency also addresses animals and animal health, including food animals; milk and cheese producers and processors; retail milk sales; and a programs for small poultry producers who want to process and sell their birds directly to consumers and restaurants. The Bureau of Aquaculture addresses the safety of the Connecticut clam and oyster industries via water testing, regulation and licensing programs.

Sometimes the regulatory jurisdictions of these three agencies cross paths. A grocery store may have DoAg inspectors looking at their dairy case; a local health inspector checking out their rotisserie chicken operation and a DCP inspector conducting a regular whole-store inspection all in one week. A farmer who wants to develop a jam and jelly processing kitchen on the farm may have to contact the local health department to ensure that their commercial kitchen meets town regulatory requirements before the DCP inspects the processing operation. The farm could be visited by a DoAg inspector who is making sure the farm complies with the Produce Safety Rule.  This is why, at times, the regulation of food in Connecticut can be confusing. However, if you contact any of the agencies directly, they are able to direct you to the appropriate agency to handle your questions.

To add to this, there are also two agencies at the federal level who regulate food. The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates all meat, poultry, and processed eggs. A few states have equivalent state inspection programs for these products, but Connecticut is not one of them. Therefore, anyone with questions about how meat and poultry is regulated or, if who wants to obtain a grant of inspection from FSIS (the only way you can legally process meat/poultry in Connecticut), must talk to the folks at FSIS.  The best place to start is the web site at www.fsis.usda.gov. You may also contact the Philadelphia regional office (215) 597-4219.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all foods that are not covered by FSIS. The enormity of the job is tempered by the fact that retail foods and foodservice are regulated by state food or public health agencies. In addition, the FDA may contract with state food and/or health agencies to carry out inspection programs for FDA regulated foods, including seafood, fresh juices, fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, and pretty much anything else. Check for the appropriate contacts on the web site, www.fda.gov. Click on the “Food” tab as FDA is responsible for pharmaceuticals, animal food, and many other health and food related areas. On the food landing page, there is information regarding how to contact the FDA directly.

For more information about regulation and food safety, visit our website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu, check out some of the links in the article, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

SNAP-Ed Programming in Fairfield County

By Rachel Hathaway (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Rachel Hathaway (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Nutrition outreach in January at the Danbury New Hope Church mobile food pantry included an on-site food demonstration with Banana Oatmeal, recipes and information were also distributed to 235 participants while waiting for their number to be called. Nutrition outreach at the Walnut Hill Church mobile food pantry in Bethel was on January 24th and reached 140 families.

Extension educator Heather Peracchio and intern Marianna Orrico, a Health Promotion and Exercise Science student from Western Connecticut State University, attended this month’s Danbury Food Collaborative meeting hosted at United Way on January 17th. Food pantries in attendance were given 200 copies of seasonally appropriate recipes to distribute to clients this month.

Heather also attended the Danbury Coalition for Healthy Kids meeting on January 24th. Danbury area agencies met to plan out a strategy for reducing childhood obesity in the greater Danbury area. Heather shared EFNEP and SNAP-Ed resources with community partners in attendance.

Join Us at the CT Flower & Garden Show

garden show image

FREE Soil Testing and Gardening Advice at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show, February 22 – 25, 2018 at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. The University of Connecticut Soil Testing Laboratory will offer free soil pH testing each day of the show. Bring in ½ cup of soil and we will test it and let you know how much, if any, limestone you need to add for optimal plant growth. Master Gardeners and staff horticulturists from the UConn Home & Garden Education Center will be on hand to answer all of your gardening questions. Free gardening handouts will help you make the most of your lawn and gardens this year!

Lifelong Learning in March

string group

CLIR, a lifelong learning program offered in collaboration with UConn Extension, will hold the following classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in March, all in Vernon Cottage on UConn’s Depot Campus, from 1:15 to 2:45, except for the Memoir Club.

Memoir Club                 Thursdays     10:15 – 11:45

Mar 1 UConn’s Osiris Quartet
Mar 7 What are Stem Cells and Why Should We Care?  
Mar 14 Slavery in America and the Underground Railroad  
Mar 15 Have the Irish Lost Their Sense of Humor?  
Mar 20 Why Europe Went to War in 1914?  
Mar 21 A Two Part Class on the Food Waste Epidemic

Part I: Implications of Food Safety Quality as they Impact Food Waste

 
Mar 27 A Poetry Discussion  
Mar 28 Part 2: Environmental Impacts of Food Waste and the Global/National Perspective

My 4-H Story

MY 4-H STORY

By Mia Herrera

Mia Herrera and goat at show in KentuckyIt is safe to say that 4-H has more than just impacted my life. It has given me opportunities that would enhance my leadership and citizenship skills, and it has also shaped me into the person I have become. 4-H has provided life skill s and given me the confidence to take responsibility in preparation for a successful future, in both my career and helping others.

My 4-H experience started in 2006, when I was very young, at the age of 7. Our family had decided to purchase land to have chickens and dairy animals in order to produce homemade products for heal their living. I started out wanting to show the chickens because of how cute and cuddly I found them. Quickly my interest in showing chickens soon initiated my desire to show dairy goats as well at our local 4-H county fair.  For my first year showing a goat, I bought a doeling from a fellow 4-H member. I groomed that doeling, fed her, and cared for her as if she were my child. When it was time to bring her to the show ring, it was an event I could never forget. It was not about winning a ribbon (although my eyes lit up with such enthusiasm when the judge handed me that maroon ribbon with gold script for: “Participation”

written on the bottom of it). It was the thought of taking an animal that I had raised, taken responsibility for, and presented to the public eye. It was such a prideful moment for me! I was hooked. My desi re for more experience grew fast, and I began spreading across the map (you know like when Indiana Jones tracks his excursions in red on the map? That is how it felt anyway.) I was exhibiting at as many fairs as I could, determined to strengthen m y goat showing skills.

My first time entering the huge show ring at the State Fair, I was 8 years old. I inspected every comer, every animal, and the face of every showman. Every exhibitor in the ring had the same look of determination – ready to execute anyone who stepped in their path of winning the competition. Here I came with my little doeling, with her dainty little prance, and me, clueless of what the competition had in store for me. I learned what it truly meant to be in the State Fair. I showed my heart out, and I think the judge realized this. He pulled me aside after the show was over and sort-of interviewed me about where I bought my goats and m y experience so far. He was surprised to see that an exhibitor of my age was

attempting to show in such a tough competition, with adults on top of it. He took me around to some of the big breeders at the fair and introduced me to them. I spent the rest of the weekend at the State fair receiving advice from Dairy Goat Celebrities. Enhancing my showing skills was daunting at first. I began competing with not only youth, but also in the Open Shows, which consisted of 4-H Youth and various breeders that had been in the business for quite some time. Years passed from my first time showing a goat, and the more I practiced the more determined I became to make myself the best exhibitor.

After that time the State Fair Judge introduced me to some of the major dairy goat breeders, I became acquainted with some of the representatives and chairmen of the State Fair. They told me they were so impressed by my accomplishments as such a young youth exhibitor, that they chose me to conduct the Dairy Goat Showmanship Class and hands-on training portion of the State Fair Annual Pre­

Fair Seminar and Ethics Training! My task was to schedule and build a curriculum that would allow me to teach everything I had learned about showing a dairy goat, to over 100 youth exhibitors (and their parents). The pressure was on, but I grabbed that microphone and I showed every exhibitor how to tum, walk, set up, and groom their animals, even down to how to answer the judge when he wanted to evaluate your knowledge on the ADGA Scorecard and the conformation of the animal you were exhibiting.

Standing up in front of that many people, and presenting something I had learned so much about was difficult for me. Not because I was not prepared to present my knowledge on dairy animals, but because I was never a good public speaker, and I wasn’t sure how to go about explaining it all to them. Before 4-H, I was always shy. My development as a public speaker from County Events presentations of Public Speaking, and providing these annual seminars seemed to peak quickly.  That first time I just went for it, and after much improvement, I was able to give public speeches in various setting effortlessly. Between teaching other youth my knowledge and speaking out in school and other settings, I was confident I could do anything if I put my mind to it!

After my 6th year in 4-H, at 13 years old, I was invited to go to the American Dairy Goat National Show in Loveland, CO, with one of the Oberhasli Dairy Goat Breeders I met at the State Fair, who had seen me giving seminars on my knowledge of dairy animals. Never in my life had I seen so many lovely animal s I Walking into the show ring when it was time for Showmanship was nerve-wracking. Compared to prior experiences, this was not the type of pressure I felt when I had to stand up in front of 100 youth and give a seminar. THIS was not showing my first time at the State Fair. It was more than that. I was being live-streamed across Amen ca. My family, friends, everyone was sharing this moment with me. It was talking my breath away. Before I stepped into the ring, however, I heard a familiar voice behind me say “you can do this!”. It was the judge from the State Fair! My confidence came back, and I was ready to go. There were 54 other youth competitors in my division, and after 2 bloodcurdling hours, I walked out of that show ring 3rd place in my division, in all of the U.S. What an emotional life experience.Mia at her graduation from Woodstock Academy

As my confidence grew after having exhibited at so many fairs, I began conducting other seminars and showmanship clinics with other 4-H and FFA groups that were implementing Dairy Goats into their curriculums. I found it satisfying and refreshing to help other youth be prepared for the State Fair competitions as well as National Competitions. I felt it would be a nice gesture to not only share all the knowledge I had obtained throughout my experience as a youth exhibitor, but it would be something that would help me grow as an individual. My life experiences with 4-H also enhanced my academic standing and improved my overall achievement in many aspects of my life. For both 4-H, and during homeschooling / my High School years, I served many community service hours monthly, if not weekly. These hours included cleaning up local historical sites to singing Christmas Carols at retirement homes There were times when I would supervise Petting Zoos for rehabilitation centers and schedule Summer Camp clinics on how to mil k, raise, and make dairy products from goats. Organizing my time as well as my knowledge in 4-H has helped me establish who I am, and grow as a person. I realized after many years in 4-H that even my career goals were set to help others. 4-H just makes you a better person! I plan on incorporating my knowledge of the Spanish language along with my knowledge on agriculture and husbandry to conduct classes as a professor here and in other countries giving lectures on how to rai se dairy animals for homesteading purposes. In all, 4-H is the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I look forward to staying involved in it, making a difference in my community, and passing on my knowledge in the future.

Growing Gardens, Growing Health in Norwalk

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) helps families learn about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, cooking and physical activity. EFNEP staff strive to empower participants, providing knowledge and skills to improve the health of all family members. Participants learn through doing, with cooking, physical activity and supportive discussions about nutrition and healthy habits.

EFNEP classes will help you to prepare delicious, low-cost, healthy meals for you and your family. Some of our past classes are highlighted in this series. Contact the office near you for more information. 

student in Norwalk with strawberry in the garden
Photo: Heather Peracchio

Growing Gardens, Growing Health connects low income parents and their children to instruction, hands-on practice, and resources for gardening, nutrition, and cooking in order to encourage healthier food choices for the whole family. Over the course of the past 6 summers, participants worked with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist from EFNEP and certified master gardeners from Extension to plant and grow fresh vegetables and herbs. Over ten weeks, families received practical, family- and budget-friendly information about nutrition and built essential skills by making fun, healthy recipes. Each week children of the families learned about MyPlate and the food groups through fun and interactive games and activities with the help of EFNEP volunteers and an Extension summer intern.

Economically disadvantaged families were recruited to participate in a 10-week, hands-on, nutrition and gardening education program (n=35). Program goals were to enhance participants’ knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy associated with purchasing, preparing and consuming produce; incorporating physical activity into everyday life; and gardening and growing produce for personal use. Childhood obesity rates are higher than national average, 39% in this city. The Growing Gardens, Growing Health program helps families work together to grow fruits and vegetables on a community farm, learn about nutrition and how to prepare healthy foods in the on-premises, fully equipped kitchen classroom, and enjoy the freshly prepared fruit/vegetable-based meals as a group seated around the table. Local health department educators partnered with University Extension educators including a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), bilingual program aide, Master Gardener (MG) volunteers and student volunteers to implement this program. Data collection included a pre-post survey (n=21), and participants demonstrated increased readiness to change physical activity behaviors (47%), cooking behaviors with vegetables/fruits (40%) and consumption of 5 servings vegetables/fruits daily (31%). A family shares, “I am so glad we committed to this. We are eating better, with more nutrition, using less of a budget.” In summary, garden-based nutrition education that is family-focused may improve physical activity, vegetable/fruit consumption and self-efficacy associated with purchasing, preparing, and consuming produce; such improvements may decrease risk of obesity.

Sustainable Landscape News

UConn turfgrass field day - Vickie Wallace presenting Vickie Wallace is an Extension Educator and Program Director of UConn’s Sustainable Turf and Landscape Program. Ms. Wallace is part of a team of Extension specialists that provides Integrated Pest Management (IPM) education for CT landscape professionals and homeowners. One focus of Ms. Wallace’s program is the training of municipal and school grounds managers who maintain safe athletic fields and grounds without the use of pesticides, which are banned on school grounds in CT. In June, 75 turf managers and landscaping professionals took part in a 2-day Municipal Turf and School Grounds Managers Academy.

Ms. Wallace has also co-organized several other Extension programs, including both a School IPM and a Native Plants & Pollinators workshop. She has written and disseminated numerous educational articles on many topics, including Water Conservation in CT Landscapes, Deer Resistant Plants, Sustainable Landscaping, Designing and Maintaining Meadows, and Using Weather Stations for Athletic Field Maintenance. She has spoken at multiple regional and national conferences, including at this month’s New England Grows conference in Boston, MA. Additionally, she is developing a new UConn Extension website focused on Sustainable Landscaping.
Ms. Wallace is also co-leader on a research project, funded by the Northeast Regional Turfgrass Foundation and Northeast Sports Turf Managers Association, evaluating turfgrass species and overseeding rates as part of an athletic turf care program.

Nutrition & Wellness in New London County

fruit and vegetables in shopping basketErica Benvenuti, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) dietitian, provides workshops, presentations, and food demonstrations for low-income families and individuals in Southeastern Connecticut. The interactive, educational classes are designed to help people make healthy food choices on a limited budget. 

The EFNEP program’s nutrition and cooking classes teach practical, easily applicable skills, such as simple dishes to make with foods that are easy to have on hand. Participants learn life skills, smart shopping, and how to prepare easy, nutritious meals and snacks. The program serves a wide range of constituents, including middle school, high school, and college students; pregnant women and new moms; special education classes; refugees and recently arrived immigrants; and residents of transitional living facilities. Participants have the opportunity to taste the items prepared, and, in some classes, help prepare the food.

Erica also participates in New London County food policy planning and educates agency staff in order to broaden the impact of the program and regularly reach new clients. Program partners include Ledge Light health District, New London Mayor’s Fitness Initiative, Norwich Free Academy, United Way of Southeast CT, and Catholic Charities. EFNEP workshops have helped motivate and empower participants to make healthier food choices and become more physically active. 

The newly renovated gardens at River-front Childrens’ Center. 

4-H Mentoring Program Continues

corn

Extension Educator Edith Valiquette leads the 4-H Mentoring program. In November, the group started their community service projects and gifts for their family. Each school had a Family Night Out (FNO) in November. At this FNO, family pictures were taken for distribution at the December FNO. This is a popular activity with our families. It is often the first and only family picture they have received. The purpose of FNO is to strengthen the bonds between parent and child. Each FNO has a small meal, fun activity and an educational component.

UConn Extension received funding for this program for year eight, to start on February 1, 2018.

Locally Sourced Food – Even in Mid-Winter

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator, Food Safety

 

vegetablesAfter a not-so-local food-filled holiday season (including, I must confess, raspberries, grown somewhere in South America, in a fruit salad), it might be a good time to get back on track. Though it can be more difficult in the winter, eating locally sourced foods is far from impossible in these mid-late winter months.

Eating seasonally can get a bit tedious over the long hard winter if your supply is limited by either amount or variety. But, many farmers are now extending their growing seasons with greenhouses, high tunnels and other production methods. You may find the fruits of their winter labor at a winter farmers’ market near you. Actually, there are at least 9 of these markets in the state—one is likely not far from you. Included are the Fairfield Winter Market; the Litchfield Hills Farmers’ Market in Litchfield; the New Milford Farmers’ Market; CitySeed’s indoor farmers’ market in New Haven; Stonington Winter Farmers’ Market; Coventry, Ellington, and Storrs Winter Farmers’ Markets in Tolland County; and Stonington Farmers’ Market. Check with the local market near you for hours, days and times: they are easily searchable on the internet. Some meet only once or twice a month, others continue to be open weekly.

Keep in mind that shopping at the farmers’ market in the winter is different than in the summer—or than in a super market in the winter. The food choices will be different. You might find beets, carrots, celeriac/celery root, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, salsify, sweet potatoes, turnips, and winter squash. If you are not familiar with, let’s say, kohlrabi or rutabaga, type the name into your favorite search engine (or leaf through a good general cookbook) and you will be sure to find a tasty recipe or two.

You might also discover Belgian endive, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chicories, curly endive (frisée), escarole, kale, radicchio, and spinach or other greens that are being produced in high tunnels or greenhouses.

Hearty leafies like escarole, chicories, endive and radicchio make a great base for a winter salad.  Because they have stronger flavors than the usual romaine or ice berg, they make a great base for other seasonal foods. Try escarole or arugula with pears and walnuts. Or try making a coleslaw with red cabbage and shredded kale—it is really delicious with dried cranberries or chunks of fresh apple added.

Flavor your winter veggies with leeks, onions and shallots. They can pretty much all be used interchangeably, but there are subtle flavor and pungency differences that may lead the eater to favor one over another. Try them raw, in salads; cooked, in just about any soup, stew, stir fry or casserole; or roasted, alone or mixed with other winter vegetables.

Winter fruits and vegetables are not the only edibles to be found at the winter markets.  Connecticut producers of beef, lamb, pork, chicken and even, in one market, duck, are found at all of the winter markets. Pick up potatoes, carrots, onions and beef or lamb for a Connecticut grown stew! Connecticut shoreline sourced seafood, including clams and lobster, is sold at several markets. Eggs, milk, yogurt and a wide array of artisan/farmstead cheeses are available as well. Locally produced animal protein foods can be a bit more pricey than the supermarket variety, but one taste and you will know that is was worth it. Give them a try and you will be hooked.

Finally, you might be lucky enough to find maple syrup, honey, locally produced cornmeal, dried beans, or pasta sauces made from Connecticut grown tomatoes, pickles and relishes made from a variety of vegetables from local farms.

And, keep in mind that the mid-winter diet calls for some seasonal vitamin C. While not grown locally, citrus fruits are certainly a seasonal food. It makes sense to add them to your grocery list at this time of year-even if you know they won’t be found at your local farmers’ market. First of all they provide vitamin C and other nutrients that might be difficult to find in a limited seasonal diet. Look for those grown in the US, including Texas, Florida, Arizona, and California, if that will make you feel better (local can be defined as you see fit, here!). Sliced oranges are great in winter salads made of a mixture of radicchio, escarole and endive. The sweetness of the oranges offsets the bitterness of the greens. Finish with some balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil. You can also use dried cherries or cranberries in this salad along with some walnuts or pecans.

Sprinkle orange juice over cooked beets or carrots, or use the rind in cranberry bread. Limes and their juice are often used in recipes that are Indian, Central American or Caribbean in origin. A bit of lime juice along with a handful of cilantro will make a black bean soup even better.

For more information on eating locally and seasonally, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271 for more information.