Health

Solid Ground Farmer Trainings Continue

modeling pesticide safety outfit solid ground farmer training models pesticide safety outfit

UConn Extension’s Solid Ground Training class for beginner farmers on the “Safe and Effective Use of Pesticides For Organic and Non-Organic Producers”, held in Bethel on April 10 and taught by Mary Concklin. A part of the class was devoted to learning about personal protective equipment (PPE) with Chelsey Hahn modeling several different PPE items.

Put Local On Your Tray (Or Plate) In April

Put Local on Your Tray is a farm-to-school program helping Connecticut schools serve and celebrate regionally grown food. Even if you’re not a school, they have some advice for getting local onto your plate this season.

spinach and greens being grown in greenhouse
Photo: Molly Deegan

Days are getting slightly warmer and longer, the breeze is sharp, and the land is both awakened and nourished by fresh spring rain. Farmers are in a busy period of transition, from indoor planning and preparing for the height of summer – to the beginning stages of planting outdoors – making sure everything is ready to go. While there may not be an abundance of produce to choose from this month, there still are some special products to take advantage of for their especially sweet and distinct flavors of spring that they offer. For instance, mixed greens!

Spinach is our suggested local item to look out for – according to our Tray team Farmer Liaison, Shannon. After a long winter, the sugars stored in it’s leaves give it flavor hard to find any other time of year. Seen below, are rows of sweet greens growing at Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge.

Poop In The Garden

By: Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Extension Educator/Food Safety

 

insect on tomato in garden
Photo: Wes Kline, Rutgers University

Over the weekend, before the most recent snow, I looked out my kitchen window to see my dog squatting over the chive patch in our vegetable garden. It was too late to stop him.

I spend a lot of time with Connecticut farmers, talking about producing safe fruits and vegetables. We always talk about how animal feces can affect food safety. Animals and birds are often the source human pathogens or microorganisms that can make us sick. Some examples of those pathogens include E. coli O157:H7 (associated with many outbreaks tied to meat, poultry and fresh produce, most recently lettuce); Salmonella (eggs, poultry, pork, sprouts, cucumbers and cantaloupe); and Listeria monocytogenes (all types of foods, including processed meats, cheese, cantaloupe, apples, and frozen vegetables).

Wildlife can spread human pathogens by depositing feces in fields or water sources and spreading fecal contamination as they move. This is very difficult to control. Complete exclusion may not be possible, depending on the species of wildlife. It can be a tough job for farmers to exert any kind of control over geese, other birds, deer, or rodents.

Generally speaking, a home garden is a more manageable space. There are things you can do to discourage the presence of wildlife, though nothing is fail-proof. The first thing you may have to do is to identify the pest. Once you know which animal is eating the lettuce or leaving droppings around, knowledge of their habits and food needs can help you choose the best method to deter them. The University of Connecticut www.ladybug.uconn.edu site has fact sheets that give advice regarding control of wildlife in your yard. In addition, take a look at http://npic.orst.edu/pest/wildyard.html for additional suggestions on specific species.

Here are some suggestions that may help:

  • Fence your garden. Fences can make for good neighbors, they say, and this is certainly true of fences that keep animals away from your tomatoes. The fence can be as simple as a strong wire mesh. You may have to bury the fence several inches into the ground to prevent creatures from burrowing under the fence. Some animals are perfectly capable of climbing the fence to get to the other side (did someone say, “squirrel”?). A metal shield at the top of the fence might be useful.
  • Be careful where you hang your bird feeders/houses/bird baths. If birds are feeding or nesting at the bird feeders or houses you have purposely added to your yard, they will be more than happy to poop on your plants as they fly back and forth. This is a lesson easily learned as our birdhouse attracts lots of birds and their droppings on our patio furniture and patio tomatoes alike.

In addition, do not let garden trash build up—dropped fruit and pulled weeds can feed and shelter small animals. Cover trashcans, compost bins and other potential sources of food.  Remove pet food or birdseed from the yard.

  • Use decoys or other deterrents. While these can be effective on a variety of wildlife, it is important to move the decoys every few days. Deer, birds and rodents may be smarter than the average bear: they can figure out when a fake coyote is fake.

One of the most difficult “pests” in the backyard vegetable garden can be Fido or Fluffy—resident dogs and cats. Fencing is most likely to help keep the dog away. Of course, you need to remember to close the gate. An open gate turned out to be how my dog got into the chive patch.

Cats love the soft soil of a garden and WILL use it as a litter box. Of course, the best course of action is not to let your cat out at all. There are too many ways they can get injured, sick, or worse whether you live in a city, suburb, or on acres of land.

If the dog gets through the gate or over the fence and poops on your edibles, there is little you can do. If it is early in the season and the plant has no edible parts, you can wait 120 days to harvest, treating the feces like raw manure—feces from another species. If harvestable or close to harvestable produce is affected, it is best to leave it on the plant. Do not harvest, do not eat; do not harvest, wash and eat. It is just too risky.

This would be true if you see signs that indicate the presence of other wildlife as well. Bird poop on the tomatoes or lettuce leaves; mouse droppings in the herb bed; or evidence that rabbits have been gnawing on the cucumbers. You really should not eat any fruits or vegetables that have been pooped upon. Washing is not necessarily going to totally eliminate any risk from human pathogens that might have been left behind. Do not toss affected produce in the compost bin either. Animal feces should never be added to compost that will be used on edible plants.

This advice is especially important if you have kids, seniors or others in your family who might have a compromised immune system. It is just not worth the risk.

For more information about food safety and controlling wildlife in your back yard, 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.

Salmonella Awareness is Key to Good Health

CVMDL staff member Jennifer Sale works on equine serum samples for Lyme disease testing.
CVMDL staff member Jennifer Sale works in the lab. Photo: Naturally.UConn.edu

Salmonella are bacteria that can live in the intestinal tracts of animals. There are many different types of salmonellae, some are found solely in animals and others can cause disease in both animals and people. Salmonellosis in humans can occur if they consume foods contaminated with Salmonella or have contact with animals or their environment. Animals commonly found with salmonella include reptiles, amphibians, poultry, wild birds, rodents, pocket pets, farm animals, dogs, cats, and horses.

Animals may carry certain types of Salmonella bacteria without showing any clinical signs of disease. When the Salmonella type does present with clinical signs, septicemia or typhoid, and enteritis (diarrhea) are seen. In some cases, abortion, arthritis, respiratory disease, necrosis of extremities (gangrene), or meningitis may develop. In these severe clinical infections veterinary management of Salmonella infection in an animal or herd may include isolation of the sick animal to recover, and limit any spread within the herd, or to humans. The presence of Salmonella in animals (i.e. Salmonella pullorum-typhoid or Salmonella enteritidis), is reportable to the state veterinarian and actively monitored for through surveillance testing of poultry going to fairs and requiring imported poultry to come from disease-free breeder flocks.

Salmonella is a major public health concern. There are approximately 40,000 human cases of salmonellosis reported in the United States every year, however the number could be thirty or more times greater, as milder cases may not be diagnosed by physicians or reported by the public.

People can become infected with Salmonella by:

  • Eating foods contaminated with the bacteria, such as beef, poultry, unpasteurized milk, eggs, or vegetables that are not properly handled, prepared and cooked.
  • Food contaminated by an unsanitary food handler during preparation.
  • Direct contact with farm animals or pets (including reptiles, baby chicks, and ducklings), animal feces, or animal environments.
  • Touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching their mouth or putting a contaminated object into their mouth.
  • Not washing hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers or touching animals or their environments prior to eating or drinking.
  • Drinking unpasteurized milk or contaminated water.

The Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) at UConn offers a number of diagnostic procedures and tests to assist veterinarians and animal owners in diagnosing Salmonellosis or other possible diseases. Services available are whole dead animal necropsy evaluations, sample culturing for pathogen identification and antimicrobial sensitivity testing, and screening blood samples for export movement or flock certification.

CVMDL is the only laboratory in New England accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians. The laboratory is located on the UConn-Storrs campus and provides diagnostic services, professional expertise, research, and detection of newly emerging diseases. CVMDL collaborates with federal, state, and local agencies to detect and monitor diseases important to animal and human health.

CVMDL is part of the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science (PVS) in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) at UConn. For more information, visit cvmdl.uconn.edu or contact 860-486-3738 or CVMDL@uconn.edu. Dr. Mary Jane Lis, the State Veterinarian at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture may be contacted with regard to voluntary and mandated testing requirements at 860-713-2505.

Basic Food Safety Practices at Home

What made you sick? Is it food you cooked at home?

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

 

bar graph showing thoughts of consumers on food borne illness causes
Source: FDA

As winter wanes and we begin to eat more seasonally—perhaps eat more salads, raw fruits and veggies, using the barbecue—it may be a good time to take stock of our safe food preparation skills.

Many Americans believe that the food that they prepare at home is unlikely to be the source of a foodborne illness. In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration surveyed over 4,000 adults regarding the source of food “poisoning” in the U.S. According to the data, 53 percent of respondents believed that food poisoning from foods prepared at home is “not very common.” Only 12 percent thought it was “very common.”

I recently read an article that addressed European Food Safety Authority (an agency that addresses foodborne illness and food safety policy for the European Union [EU]) concerns about safe food handling in the home. The agency reported that 40 percent of foodborne outbreaks in the EU were traced to food prepared in private homes. There, the major sources were identified as meat, meat products; mixed food and buffet meals, eggs, fish and milk. Vegetables and fruits were further down the list, but not considered to be insignificant.

In the United States, the news is not quite so bad for the consumer. A 2014 report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest indicated that Americans are twice as likely to get food poisoning from food prepared at a restaurant than from food we cook at home. But that still equates to about 30% of outbreaks being tied to home food preparation.

Why are these figures different? Maybe food is prepared in the home more consistently in Europe? Americans go out for breakfast, lunch or dinner more frequently? Is it possible that those with more health care options are more likely to report their illnesses? The outbreaks that go unreported, especially sporadic incidents that affect low numbers of consumers, is a number we don’t have a great handle on.

The bottom line is that while we continue to blame farmers, processors, foodservice and restaurants for making the food that makes us sick, the fact is that home cooks are quite likely to handle food in a way that results in a foodborne illness. Each part of the food system from the farmer or producer all the way to the home cook has some responsibility to prepare, serve and store food so that risks for foodborne illness are minimized.

So, how can you lower your risk of contributing to the statistics of home-sourced food borne illness? It really is not all that difficult. We are often so busy with our lives that we just don’t think about how we handle food at home—or consumers just don’t know the risks, because no one told them. It can be really scary when you are attending a pot luck or bringing a dish to soup kitchen or elementary school event where kids are sharing their favorite cultural foods.

Did that person clean up before they cooked? How long did was that casserole at room temperature after it was cooked? Was a food thermometer used to make sure the food was cooked long enough to be safe? What does their refrigerator look like? Kitchens in most homes are used for many different activities: feeding the dog; creating the latest art project; counters become a resting place for cats when you are not at home; sinks are used for washing hands and cleaning fresh lettuce; cleaning the cutting board after boning a chicken; washing your hair. So many opportunities for cross-contamination of perfectly clean and healthy food with those pesky pathogens that make us sick.

I have tried to distill all of the food safety rules down to an easy five points. Copy, paste, and pin this on your fridge for a few days and see if you can make these habits part of your everyday food prep routine.

  • Keep your kitchen, utensils, and hands clean. At the very least, clean surfaces before cooking and use clean utensils. Wash your hands before food preparation—no matter what. Even if you just went to the bathroom and washed your hands. Wash out your sink regularly, especially after washing knives used on raw meat or cleaning freshly harvested garden tomatoes or cucumbers.
  • Handle raw and cooked foods with care—do not let them cross paths. If you are making a salad for dinner, time it so that you can do that BEFORE you prepare the chicken or the fish. Then revisit #1—wash every surface and utensil before using it on another food. If you do prepare raw foods (i.e. cracking eggs) before the cooked or ready to eat foods (slicing bread or chopping washed lettuce), preventing cross contamination is essential to reduce risks.
  • Use a food thermometer. No matter what you have been told by anyone (including the chef who insists they know meat is done by pressing it with his or her finger), you CANNOT tell the temperature of a food without a thermometer. This is especially important when checking if a meat, poultry, fish or egg dish is fully cooked. Or, if leftovers are heated to the proper temperature (165 degrees F). Once I purchased a good digital thermometer, I actually found that I was actually less likely to over cook meat and chicken.
  • Use a refrigerator thermometer. While refrigeration can slow the growth of bacteria, it does not totally stop it. For example, Listeria is a bacteria that loves a cold, wet environment. So, keep your fridge clean, wipe up spills quickly, do not let lettuce, herbs, and other perishables melt into a wet mush in the veggie drawer. Remove outdated or old foods when you are collecting the household trash for weekly collection. If your refrigerator does not have a built-in temperature gauge, buy one and place it near the door, the warmest part of the fridge. It should read between 38 and 40 degrees F. Also, look at that thermometer or temperature gauge periodically to ensure that the fridge is maintaining that safe temperature range.
  • Get leftovers into the refrigerator ASAP after eating. Many consumers are under the mistaken impression that once you clean a food (fruits and veggies) or cook a food (chicken, fish) to the safe end temperature, your food safety worries are over. Not so. Washing alone will never totally remove all risk of pathogens. Get that leftover salad back into the refrigerator ASAP. Once cooked, soups, stews, steaks and mac and cheese need to be sent back to the fridge as soon as they are cool enough to handle. No reason to let them cool to room temperature. Modern fridges can handle reasonable amounts of warm food—break the food down to smaller amounts, about no more than three inches deep. They will cool faster. Don’t leave leftovers on the counter for long. It is too easy to forget them!

 

For more information about food safety at home, visit our website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

EFNEP in New Britain

Extension educator Heather Pease from our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program was recently at the YWCA in New Britain for a program. Heather said of the program, “Learning about portions, measurements and recommended serving sizes! Playing with our food!”

EFNEP New Britain EFNEP New Britain portions and sizing with food EFNEP New Britain EFNEP New Britain participants

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! Contact the office near you for more information!

Tick Alert!

Headed outdoors? The recent warm weather has brought the ticks back out. Make sure you take precautions against ticks in October and November. Adult ticks are more active during this time of the year, creating a problem for both humans and animals.

These disease-carrying arachnids reside in moist areas, long grass and the leaf litter and will latch onto humans and animals alike. Although there are many different species of ticks, people generally think of one tick species in particular when worrying about illness: the deer tick. While the Deer tick is predominantly known for transmitting Lyme disease (caused by the corkscrew-shaped bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi) it can also carry other disease causing agents such as Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Babesia microti and Borrelia miyamotoi. These are the causative agents of Granulocytic Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis and Borrelia miyamotoi respectively. A single tick has the potential to transmit one, two, or even all four of these illnesses simultaneously! Other species of ticks found in the Northeast such as the Dog tick (Dermacentor variablis), Brown Dog tick (Rhiphcephalus sanguineus) and Lonestar tick (Amblyomma americanum) can also be tested for different pathogens known to cause illness in humans and/or animals.

ticks
Photo: CVMDL
ticks being tested for Lyme disease at UConn lab
Photo: Heather Haycock

If you find a tick on yourself, your child, or your pet, remove it immediately but do not make any attempt to destroy it. The Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) at UConn can test the tick for all those pathogens. Ticks received at the CVMDL are first examined and identified by trained technicians using a dissection microscope. This identification process determines the species of tick, life stage, and degree of blood engorgement, all of which are factors that may impact transmission of pathogens to the person or animal (the host). Ticks may then be tested for the DNA of pathogens that are known to be transmitted by that tick species. Results are reported within 3-5 business days of receiving the sample. Next business day RUSH testing is available for an additional fee. The information obtained from testing your tick at UConn is very useful when consulting with your physician or veterinarian about further actions you may need to take.

Compared to 2016, this year, the CVMDL has seen a significant increase in the numbers of tick submissions to the laboratory. In the month of April the number of submissions increased 92% relative to the same month in 2016. The increases for other warm weather months were 104% in May, 70% in June and 60% in July. CVMDL speculates that changes in weather patterns this year may have affected changes in tick populations and with that, increased number of tick submissions to the lab.

CVMDL is the only laboratory in New England accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians. The laboratory is located on the UConn-Storrs campus and provides diagnostic services, professional expertise, research and detection of newly emerging diseases, and collaborates with federal, state, and local agencies to detect and monitor diseases important to animal and human health.

How to send in ticks: Please send ticks in sealed, double zip lock bags accompanied by a small square of moist paper towel. The submission form and the “Do’s and Don’ts of tick testing” can be found on our website at http://s.uconn.edu/tickform. You can also watch a video produced by UConn Communications for the Science in Seconds series here.

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.

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.

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.