Health

Extension & Bike Walk CT promote nutrition, fitness, & bike safety

three children in helmets on bikesUConn Extension, part of UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, Bike Walk Connecticut, and the Meriden Farmers Market will promote healthy living at the Get Out- Get Active-Get Healthy Bike and Back to School Rally on Saturday, September 7th from 8:30 am to 12 noon on the Meriden Green. This fun event will feature bicycle and helmet safety demonstrations, games, helmet decorating, a bicycle raffle, as well as nutrition education. Youth and families are encouraged to bring their own bikes or borrow a bike from Bike Walk Connecticut’s fleet, sized for ages 9-12 with a few for ages 5-8. Join us to practice bicycle safety and agility skills taught by certified League Cycling Instructors (LCIs). Under Connecticut State Law, anyone under the age of 16 is required to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, so families are encouraged to bring helmets if they have them and wear closed-toed shoes. New bicycle helmets will be available for free, first come, first served. Healthy food demonstrations will be provided by the UConn Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and Chef Kashia Cave, founder of My City Kitchen. This event is made possible by a grant and funding from the David and Nancy Bull Extension Innovation Fund at UConn, UConn Extension PATHS (People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability) Team, Bike Walk Connecticut, the Meriden Farmers Market, Community Health Center of Meriden and Meriden Public Schools. The free rally is open to the public on Saturday, September 7th from 8:30 am to 12 pm at the Meriden Green Amphitheater on State and Mill Street in Meriden. We look forward to seeing you there! For more information contact Laura Brown at 203-407-3161 or laura.brown@uconn.edu.

Download the flyer: Back to School Bash- Meriden-2019

August is National Sandwich Month

national sandwich month infoAugust is National Sandwich month! With school around the corner, it’s a great time to learn to make the PERFECT sandwich. Sandwiches are a quick, easy and an affordable way to pack in nutrition when hiking or biking too!

Start with a whole grain base and go from there! Next, add a protein source such as lean meats or plant proteins, like peanut butter or tofu. Then load up the fruits and veggies from lettuce and tomato to apples and cucumbers – the options are endless! Finish your sandwich with a spread or low-fat dressing. 

This message is brought to you by the UConn Extension PATHS team – People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability. We are an interdisciplinary team of University of Connecticut extension educators, faculty, and staff committed to understanding and promoting the benefits of trails and natural resources for health, community & economic development and implementing a social ecological approach to health education.

Equine Owners Should Vaccinate For EEE, Warns CVMDL at UConn

horses in early morning light at UConn
An early morning view of horses along Horse Barn Hill Road. Photo: UConn

Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) is a disease caused by a virus that mosquitos transmit. The name of the disease is misleading in that this virus can infect and cause disease in humans and a wide variety of animal species, including birds as well as horses and other equids. Horses that have not been vaccinated for EEE die within days of being infected as there is no treatment. There is an effective equine vaccine for EEE, however not for other species. Researchers and veterinarians at UConn’s Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) encourage equine owners to consider vaccinating their animals, and other animal owners to implement measures to reduce mosquito habitats and thereby potential contact with mosquitos.

Mosquitos that feed on infected wild birds transmit EEE to horses and humans. Once infected, the virus attacks the central nervous system of the host. For horses, disease signs usually appear within five days and the clinical signs include fever, a dull or sleepy appearance, muscle twitches, and a weak staggering gait. Fatality in horses is 90% or higher as horses often go down and are unable to stand again, and those that do survive may have permanent brain damage.

EEE is transmitted by two main types of mosquito vectors; the primary vector and the bridging vector.Culiseta melanura, the primary vector which feeds almost exclusively on birds, serves to amplify and maintain the virus within wild bird populations. Other mosquito species, which indiscriminatingly feed on birds, horses, and humans, serve as the bridging vector capable of transmitting EEE from wildlife to horses and humans.

With the location of horse barns and pastures in rural areas the animals have increased exposure to mosquitos. Horses cannot pass EEE to humans, or to other horses, and are therefore referred to as a dead-end host. If an infected mosquito bites a human, that person can be infected and may develop disease. According to the Center for Disease Control, illness in humans due to EEE is rare, but when disease develops, it is serious.

Proactive steps can be taken to prevent EEE virus infection in humans and horses. A vaccine is available for horses, talk to your veterinarian about vaccinating annually for EEE. Mosquito control techniques include eliminating standing water, cleaning water troughs weekly, avoiding mosquito-infested areas, and using insect repellent.

CVMDL, part of the Department of Pathobiology in UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, is on the frontlines of research and testing to keep humans and animals safe. For more information visit http://cvmdl.uconn.edu or call 860-486-3738.

References:

LSU Ag Center Research and Extension: http://www.lmca.us/PDF/pub2834eee.pdf

GMO 2.0 Overview

GMO 2.0 Overview 

By Quamyia Foye

Quamyia Foye is an undergraduate at UConn and attended GMO 2.0: Science, Society and the Future and wrote the following summary of the event, along with her perceptions.

 

Overview of Risks and Benefits of Genetically Engineered Crops

Dr. Paul Vincelli, extension professor and provost distinguished service professor from the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Kentucky, presented a presentation touching on the benefits and risks of genetically engineered crops. In the first part of Dr. Vincelli’s presentation, he discussed non-GMO breeding/ conventional breeding which is a less precise, controlled and more disruptive form of growing agronomic and horticultural crops. Since conventional breeding leans more to the traditional side some people prefer this method over genetic engineering. However, Dr. Vincelli made a very strong point, that when it comes to genetic change what matters is not how it is made but what it does. Genetically engineered crops, crops whose DNA has been modified using genetic engineering methods, are typically seen in a negative light due to it being ‘man-made’ even though there is no current scientific evidence that shows any negative effects. The greatest concern when it comes to genetically engineered crops is transgene flow. A transgene is a gene or genetic material that was genetically engineered from one organism to another. ‘The introduction of a transgene (called “transgenesis”) has the potential to change the phenotype of an organism (A. J. Clark 2011)”. Based off of this information it can be seen that when it comes to transgene flow an individual’s main fear and concern is that a different gene from completely different organisms can be passed along to an unrelated crop which is viewed as unnatural and unsafe by some people. However, that is not the case. Two examples of crops being genetically engineered and having positive benefits are aflatoxins and tomatoes. Aflatoxins in its natural state are one of the most potent carcinogens but due to gene splicing its carcinogenesis traits was reduced making it a safe substance and a disease resistant tomato was created with a single gene from a pepper. Just by simply modifying/inserting a gene these two crops were improved which in turn can be beneficial for farming and human consumption. At the end of this presentation, Dr. Vincelli stated that there is no umbrella GMO and that there are different applications for each type of plant. When it comes to genetically engineering crops it should be taken on a case by case basis therefore, nothing should be excluded since everything is unique in its own way.

GMO Plant Technologies

Dr. Yi Li, a professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture at UConn CAHNR, discussed GMO plant technologies and its positive benefits. At the beginning of the presentation, he explained the process of transferring specific genes to crop plants. An example Dr. Li gave was how drought tolerant low yield corn plant was ‘combined’ with a drought sensitive high yield plant which created a drought tolerant high yield corn plant. This process first begins when plant p1, drought tolerant but low yield, drought gene is isolated and then precisely inserted into plant p2, which is drought sensitive but high yield which then produced the drought tolerant and high seed yield corn variety. Dr. Li then goes on to discuss how GMO plants are not monsters and that transgenic plants can occur naturally. For example, in the genome of a cultivated sweet potato, there is Agrobacterium T-DNAs with expressed genes. Since 1997 we have been consuming GMOs, and since then, there has been an increase in the production of genetically modified soybeans, cotton, and corn. Nearly 100 percent of these crops planted in the US are GMOs and up to 80 percent of packaged foods contain GMO ingredients. When some individuals see such high percentages, they often question what is being modified in the food that they are consuming. Typically, the mass majority of food that is modified has beneficial properties. For example, genetically modified apples have a longer time span of freshness. Golden rice is modified to prevent blindness, cotton is modified to resist certain insects, and there are genetically modified papayas that are virus resistant. There are also studies that show and prove that planting Bt corn, a type of transgenic corn that “produce the insecticidal proteins that occur naturally in Bt” (Bacillus thuringiensis), reduces the use of insecticide. Even with there being scientific proof that there are beneficial properties in genetically modified organisms some individuals will still try to discredit it and state that since it is man made there is bound to negative side effects. However, what many people do not understand is that GMO and traditional methods of crop production are fundamentally the same. Both traditional and GMO breeding methods are involved in gene transfer. The only difference is that with traditional breeding the first plant, which has the desired gene, and second plant create a new plant type that has a combination of both of the plant genes which includes the specific desired gene. When it comes to GMO breeding methods only the desired gene from the selected plant is inserted into the second plant. This results in a new plant species that has an almost identical genetic makeup of the second plant except it has the specific desired gene now apart of its DNA. Overall, there are three major plant breeding technologies which are, gene editing, traditional breeding, and genetically modified organisms. When it comes to public acceptance and effectiveness GMO is the most effective yet least accepted, gene editing is in the middle with both effectiveness and acceptance and traditional breeding is the least effective yet the most accepted. Based off of these results it can be seen that when it comes down to what is actually beneficial the public tend to lean towards their belief than the actual veracity. We need to use all possible tools to improve crop yield in order to feed the current population because based on the data presented it shows that as the world population increases the area which crops are grown decreases which can cause significant problems pertaining to the demand of food and the population.

GMOs and Big Agriculture in the US

Gerry Berkowitz, a professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, at the University of Connecticut CAHNR program presented both his work and that of Robert C Bird, professor of Business Law and Eversource Energy Chair Business Ethics, at the UConn school of business. Dr. Berkowitz touched upon the effect of GMO’s on agriculture and how we need to question what is being presented to us. He stated that we need to be aware that what we consider the ‘truth’ is based on the best evidence available, but that is not always, or often not, the final story. When it comes to certain issues, the public’s perception will usually conflate, which is to combine several issues into one. For example, there was a case where a groundkeeper sued Monsanto after he developed Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after using Roundup various times throughout the day at extended periods. Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is a known carcinogen which Monsanto, its manufacturer, failed to provide warning and appropriate information regarding the potential danger of the product. The judge, in this case, allowed evidence from internal emails and experts warnings, as well as a 2015 WHO-IARC classification of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. The groundkeeper went on to win the lawsuit. When it came down to it, there was not even solid scientific evidence that Roundup is actually carcinogenic. As mentioned previously, in 2015 the WHO-IARC stated that Roundup was ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. The US EPA concluded that Roundup was ‘not likely to be carcinogenic’. Since there is no solid conclusive evidence the judge based his decision on Monsanto’s failure to provide information on the possible carcinogen. Due to the public perception of companies such as Monsanto and the misconstruing of what the case was about, after and during the case there was a lot of backlash concerning Monsanto GMOs, and its agrichemicals when in actuality this case did not pertain to GMOs or the toxicity of agrichemicals. Mr. Berkowitz also brought up the controversial topic of GMO labeling. He asked do consumers have a right to know where they are spending their money towards food and to link this to their value system? In simpler terms, do individuals have the right to know exactly what is in their food and should they be able to associate this with their beliefs and or the worth of the food? In the US, nearly 80 percent of consumers prefer to have GMO labeling laws, yet many companies oppose it. One viewpoint was that if GMO labeling did happen there would be an increase in non-GMO food prices. Mr. Berkowitz disagrees. Since we already have certified organic labeling, he believes that the real reason is that if products with GMO were labeled, there would be a reduction in purchases. Currently, when it comes to GMO labeling, Congress has passed national labeling law preempting state standards which were directed by the USDA to establish a labeling standard which can vary from an actual label to a QR scan.

My perception of the event

In conclusion, this event exhibited various perceptions and methods of GMO and overall did a splendid job. All the panelists were passionate about what they were discussing and were able to explain their topic in a clear and concise manner. I also enjoyed the crowd’s participation and engagement with the panelists and how they did not stray from asking tough questions. For example, one participant asked in terms of labeling would they prefer if a product simply stated it was genetically engineered or it stated which type of genetic engineering was done. Dr. Vincelli said he was in favor of labeling genetically engineered foods for social reasons and not scientific. He stated that he really did not have a good answer to completely explain his reasoning and also commented that he would not be in favor of the product stating what type of genetic engineering was used because it would be too complicated for individuals. Dr. Berkowitz explained that he supports labeling simply because the public supports labeling however he does not believe that it should be for genetic engineering types because people have problems with the technology and not the type of engineering. Dr. Li then stated that he prefers to eat GMOs than conventional produce, so he supports both types of labeling. This type of engagement provided extra insight into GMOs and the panelist viewpoints as well as gave the audience time to process new information and be able to process and put everything together. Ultimately, this event was a great experience and provided much insight into GMOs and how people perceive them.

For more information visit https://gmo.uconn.edu/

Ewe Nutrition Leads to Lamb Health

lambs in the barn at UConn
Photo: UConn

Lambing season rolls around every spring, and with it comes night lamb checks, fuzzy little faces bleating for mama, and hopefully, healthy ewes and lambs. But ensuring that those lambs and ewes are healthy at birth starts long before lambing occurs.

Our research group focuses on how the ewe’s diet while she is pregnant affects the growth and development of her lambs. When a ewe is provided excess or restricted nutrition during pregnancy, it affects her ability to support the proper development of her lambs. This is compounded when ewes carry larger litter sizes (2 or more lambs). Development of the lambs during gestation prepares those animals for growth after lambing. Ewes that are over- or under-fed during pregnancy produce lambs that ultimately end up with more fat and less muscle. This is undesirable because there is less meat produced and the animals are less healthy due to increased body fat. Further, lambs from poorly nourished ewes tend to have more connective tissue, resulting in tougher cuts of meat. But there are strategies that producers can easily employ to improve the health and productivity of their flocks.

Transabdominal ultrasound during early pregnancy (around day 30) can be performed with the ewe in the standing position, with little stress to the animal, and in less than 5 minutes per animal by a skilled technician. Ultrasound can provide critical information, such as how many lambs a ewe is carrying and, when appropriate fetal measurements (such as the length from the crown to the rump) are taken, an estimated due date can be calculated. Ewes with larger litter sizes require additional feed, but are also at greater risk for ketosis in late gestation. Identifying the number of offspring early will allow farmers to prevent complications during and after pregnancy.

Once litter size and estimated lambing date are known, flock managers can appropriately feed their ewes according to litter size and stage of gestation. Best practice suggests that ewes should be separated by litter size so that those carrying larger litters can be fed greater quantities of food. This prevents over-feeding ewes that are pregnant with singletons and under-feeding ewes that are pregnant with multiples. Ewes should be fed based on their stage of gestation (early-, mid-, late-), and the number of lambs they are carrying. Importantly, body condition should be monitored throughout gestation to ensure that ewes are carrying sufficient condition into lactation, so that they will be able to support their lambs after parturition. To ensure that the feed provided is appropriate, hay and grain analyses can provide flock managers with the nutrient content of their feedstuffs. Nutritional value can vary widely so it is recommended that each load of feed is analyzed. Feed analysis can be easily completed at several labs at relatively low cost. Determining how much feed to provide is based on nutrient requirements published by the National Research Council (https://www.nap.edu/read/11654/). There are also many online feed calculators available for sheep (https://www.sheepandgoat.com/rationsoftware).

Separating ewes by litter size also allows for closer monitoring of ewes with larger litter sizes that are predisposed to ketosis in late gestation. Ketosis is a common metabolic disorder that occurs during periods of extreme energy demands coupled with an inability to meet those demands. In ewes, this occurs most frequently during late gestation when lamb growth is the greatest. At-risk ewes can be monitored during the last four weeks of gestation for ketosis using a hand-held beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHBA) meter. Concentrations between 0.8 to 1.5 mmol/L are considered subclinical and indicate the need for close monitoring until parturition. Blood concentrations of BHBA greater than 1.6 mmol/L are considered indicative of clinical ketosis and would require veterinary attention.

Beyond understanding the effects of poor maternal nutrition during gestation on lambs, our research helps us understand how human babies who are born to over- or under-nourished mothers may be affected. Sheep are excellent models for human health research, as they have similar numbers of offspring and lambs are approximately the same weight at birth as babies. While there are certainly differences in human and sheep physiology, understanding how a mother’s diet influences her offspring’s growth and metabolism benefits both species. By improving ewe health and nutrition during pregnancy, producers will have better growing lambs with improved carcass characteristics. Improving mom’s health and nutrition during pregnancy will decrease the risk of her baby developing metabolic diseases such as diabetes later in life.

For more information on our research, please visit the Fetal Programming Research Group’s website: https://fprg.research.uconn.edu/.

Article by Sarah Reed, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Animal Science

Extreme Heat Reminders and Local Cooling Centers

person drinking water backlit by sun
Drink water the day before and during physical activity or if heat is going to become a factor. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol, especially before strenuous exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Rhett Isbell)

The National Weather Service has issued an Excessive Heat Watch for the entire state. Connecticut residents should prepare for extreme heat over the next several days.

In a recent press release, Governor Lamont offered residents some tips to beat the heat and reminded those in need to call 2-1-1 to locate a cooling center in their community.

Many Connecticut cities and towns open cooling centers or shelters during heat waves and extreme hot weather. 2-1-1 maintains an up-to-date listing of active cooling centers, including location information, hours of operation, and other pertinent details.

To locate a cooling center near you click HERE or dial 2-1-1 to speak with a contact specialist.

Stay safe and beat the heat:

  • Slow down, and avoid strenuous activity.
  • Check on those most at-risk several times a day (infants, young children and older adults).
  • Never leave children or pets alone in a closed vehicle.
  • Drink plenty of water regularly and often, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
  • Take cool showers or baths.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Avoid direct sunlight.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Find an air-conditioned shelter. (Dial 2-1-1 or click HERE for a list of cooling centers).

Additional safety tips and extreme heat related information can be found on 211ct.org’s Extreme Hot Weather Page or in 2-1-1’s Extreme Heath Precautions and Safety Tips eLibrary paper.

Dial 2-1-1 or visit www.211ct.org for access to services and to stay informed during any extreme weather episode.

Meet Indu Upadhyaya: Food Safety Specialist

This article was originally published on Naturally.UConn.edu

Indu
Photo: Kevin Noonan

Where did you get your degrees? I received a bachelor of veterinary science and animal husbandry (equivalent to DVM) and a master’s degree in veterinary biochemistry from Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Veterinary Education and Research in Pondicherry. I completed my PhD from UConn in animal science with a focus on food safety and microbiology. (Editor’s note: Her graduate student profile is on this blog.)

What did you do before you came to UConn? Before I joined UConn, I worked as an Assistant Professor in the School of Agriculture at Tennessee Tech University for one year. I was involved with developing a research program on poultry and fresh produce safety, including writing grants and collaborating with other faculty from various disciplines. I also taught two upper level undergraduate courses and worked on several food safety outreach and recruitment activities in Tennessee.

What will your work here at UConn focus on? I plan to work with Connecticut poultry processors and fresh produce growers to promote food safety through dissemination of relevant research findings and associated trainings. I have visited various extension offices in Connecticut and the UConn campuses to begin to learn about food safety education requirements in the state.

For the first six months, I will concentrate on training Connecticut’s growers and producers to comply with the new Produce Safety Rule (PSR), which is part of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

I will conduct other trainings, such as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) training for meat and poultry producers. Connecticut does most of its training sessions in early spring and late fall, but other New England states do their trainings at different times. This provides plenty of options for growers and producers who can attend training anywhere in the region.

In addition, I understand and appreciate that this is a New England effort, therefore, I will be meeting and working alongside extension educators in the region from other states to introduce myself.

Moreover, I enjoy writing grants and would focus on applying to agencies that promote food safety outreach. I believe this would add to a strong food safety research program here at UConn.

Name one aspect of your work that you really like. I love meeting new people, talking to them and making connections. I believe its important to learn about the challenges that poultry processors, fresh produce growers, stakeholders, farmers and workers face to comply with food safety regulations.  I want to know their concerns and help find solutions to their food safety issues. I think this aspect of my role blends well with my personality.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I have a 2-year-old daughter, and I love spending time with her. Also, I am a die-hard tennis fan, and I am glad that Flushing Meadows, NY (venue for the US Open Grand Slam) is nearby.

Tips from the National Institute on Aging

Tips From the National Institute on Aging

faucet with running water
Photo: Kara Bonsack

The bladder can change with age. Follow these 13 tips from the National Institute on Aging to keep your bladder healthy.

  1. Drink enough fluids, especially water. Most healthy people should try to drink six to eight, 8-ounce glasses of fluid each day. Water is the best fluid for bladder health. Ask your healthcare provider how much fluid is healthy for you.
  2. Limit alcohol and caffeine. Cutting down on alcohol and caffeinated foods and drinks—such as coffee, tea, chocolate, and most sodas—may help.
  3. Quit smoking. If you smoke, take steps to quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
  4. Avoid constipation. Eating plenty of high-fiber foods (like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits), drinking enough water, and being physically active can help prevent constipation.
  5. Keep a healthy weight. Making healthy food choices and being physically active can help you keep a healthy weight.
  6. Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help prevent bladder problems, as well as constipation. It can also help you keep a healthy weight.
  7. Do pelvic floor muscle exercises, also known as Kegel exercises, to help hold urine in the bladder. Daily exercises can strengthen these muscles, which can help keep urine from leaking when you sneeze, cough, lift, laugh, or have a sudden urge to urinate.
  8. Use the bathroom often and when needed. Try to urinate at least every 3 to 4 hours. Holding urine in your bladder for too long can weaken your bladder muscles and make a bladder infection more likely.
  9. Take enough time to fully empty the bladder when urinating. Rushing when you urinate may not allow you to fully empty the bladder. If urine stays in the bladder too long, it can make a bladder infection more likely.
  10. Be in a relaxed position while urinating to make it easier to empty the bladder.
  11. Wipe from front to back after using the toilet. Women should wipe from front to back to keep bacteria from getting into the urethra. This step is most important after a bowel movement.
  12. Urinate after sex. Both women and men should urinate shortly after sex to flush away bacteria that may have entered the urethra during sex.
  13. Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes. Wearing loose, cotton clothing will allow air to keep the area around the urethra dry. Tight-fitting jeans and nylon underwear can trap moisture and help bacteria grow.

Say Cheese

cheese productionSmall-scale dairy operations in Connecticut and throughout the country offer cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products direct to consumers and through wholesale distribution. The popularity of local food has increased interest in these operations, and led to a greater need for food safety education and training.

Dennis D’Amico is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Science who focuses on food technology, quality, and safety. His applied research is integrated with his Extension work. D’Amico works closely with the dairy industry to develop risk reduction interventions and technical outreach programs. When he first started at UConn he worked directly with several Connecticut producers, learn- ing the unique issues they face.

D’Amico takes small-scale producers’ challenges back to his laboratory to test and develop interventions to see if they will actually work. He defines an actionable intervention as something a producer can implement without significant expense. A team of undergraduate and graduate students work in his laboratory researching each aspect of a problem.

“My work with Extension is rewarding, there’s nothing better than hearing about a problem, and then making someone’s day by helping them solve their problem. Having that immediate impact is what makes me smile,” D’Amico says. “Extension provides diversity to my day, I meet with different people with various needs and it makes me think about dairy food science and safety from new angles.”

In-person trainings are limited to time and geography in some cases. D’Amico and his colleagues are using technology to address the limitations. An online food safety course for artisan chessemakers was created first, and launched in 2017. A website of resources was built to accompany the course in partnership with the American Cheese Society, and is available to anyone at www.safecheesemaking.org. Feedback for the course is positive, and has led to additional projects.

“We’re building a repertoire of dairy food safety resources,” D’Amico concludes. “Many of the next steps in my research and Extension program build off of previous work. Producers need solutions they can implement now, but there is a gap in education and interventions available, and that’s what we’re trying to fill. We don’t want producers operating blindly.”

D’Amico is currently working with another group of colleagues to build an online course for small- scale ice cream producers. “Recent foodborne illness outbreaks have shown that ice cream is not the safe haven some thought it was,” he says. “There are food safety issues specific to ice cream that need to be addressed.” An accompanying website is also under development for ice cream food safety resources.

Team members know that training people to identify environmental pathogens in a dairy plant is best done in person. However, time and geography constraints still exist. D’Amico is collaborating with his colleagues at North Carolina State University on a virtual reality simulator that will provide this training. The simulation includes case studies to further enhance learning.

A Food Safety Plan Coaching Workshop for small-scale dairy producers helps producers comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The three- year project funded by USDA offers six workshops per year. “We’re focusing the workshop on underserved regions where there aren’t dairy foods specialists avail- able,” D’Amico says.

A core group of trainers, including D’Amico, serve as national coaches and travel to each region, collaborating with regional resources and connecting producers. There is one regional coach for each six participants. At the workshop, participants form groups based on their stage in the FSMA process, and leave the work- shop having made measurable progress on their written food safety plan.

Best Practices guides are another project undergoing a digital transformation. “We first published the Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers in 2015, and it’s updated every two years,” D’Amico says. “However, the next version will be click- able and user friendly. Instead of a 300-page PDF, the user can click directly on the section they need. We are also developing a similar toolkit for retailers. This is another collaboration with the American Cheese Society.”

Consumer demand will continue to drive consumption of dairy products and local food. Even in best case scenarios, food safety issues will arise. Small-scale dairy producers and consumers can be confident that D’Amico and his team of students are searching for solutions and developing tools to share new actionable interventions.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Red, White & Blueberries

Celebrate our Nation’s Independence with Connecticut Grown Food

Connecticut grown strawberries, cheese, and blueberriesAs you celebrate our nation’s independence this Fourth of July, choose Connecticut Grown foods for your holiday gatherings. “Farmers are the backbone of our nation and we are fortunate to have a diverse array of agriculture in Connecticut,” said Bryan P. Hurlburt, Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner. “Stop by your local farm store or farmers’ market as you prepare for the holiday weekend. Your purchase will support a local family business and nothing tastes as good as fresh, local, Connecticut Grown food on your picnic table.”

Berries are in full swing with blueberries and raspberries just starting and strawberries finishing up. Combine all three to create delicious desserts, salads and even breakfast casseroles. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite recipes from triple berry trifles to spinach berry salad on our Connecticut Grown Pinterest page with a “4th of July Treats” board featuring an array of red, white and blue dishes.

This holiday weekend also heralds the availability of sweet corn. While the early spring weather has put sweet corn a few days behind schedule, some farmers started picking this past weekend in anticipation of the upcoming holiday to stock farm stands. Others, like Dave Burnham of Burnham Farms in East Hartford, CT, will have it available this weekend. “Starting Saturday we will have sweet corn available,” he said. Stop by a farm stand or farmers’ market to pick up early butter and sugar sweet corn.

For the grill masters, Connecticut farmers offer a range of meats including chicken, lamb, and beef, as well as, bison and turkey. Whether you prefer wings, steak, burgers or sausage, rest assured there is something for everyone.

Use local honey or maple syrup to make your own marinade and toss together a salad using fresh Connecticut Grown greens as a healthy side. Find a meat, vegetable, honey and maple syrup producer near you at www.ctgrown.gov.

If a clambake is more your style, Connecticut’s coastline is home to an abundance of seafood, including oysters and clams. Shellfishing is an important component of Connecticut’s economy along with recreation and tourism industries. When selecting shellfish look for names such as Copps Island, Stella Mar, Mystics, and Ram Island or places including Fishers Island Sound, Noank, Norwalk and Thimble Islands.

Complete your appetizer trays with an award-winning Connecticut cheese and include ice cream, yogurt or milk from a Connecticut dairy farm family in your desserts.  Don’t forget to visit a Connecticut farm winery or brewery for your favorite adult beverage to enjoy responsibly with friends and family.

From all of us at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, we wish you a happy and safe Fourth of July celebration.

Article and photo: Connecticut Department of Agriculture