Health

CT Food Justice VISTA Project is Recruiting

VISTA flyer recruiting services members for 2018-19 for food justice projectsThe CT-Food Justice VISTA Project is recruiting for the 2018-2019 year, and we are also seeking a VISTA Leader to help manage the project with our Project Assistant. Our project is sponsored by UConn Extension, in partnership with some of the most effective and innovative nonprofit organizations in low-income communities in Connecticut, is leading a multi-site project with 16 VISTA members in 2018-2019. This project is designed to strengthen programming and improve coordination among similar food security programs seeking to empower communities to create positive change in their food environment and improve access to healthy food.
VISTA Members help to build the capacity of their host site organization. Together, we strive for a multi-generational, racially and economically diverse group of leaders with the skills to move communities across Connecticut towards a just food system. With VISTA Member support, host sites commit to empowering their communities to have impact on food-related programs and services, and the food system in Connecticut as a whole.
 
Please see the links to the sites we are looking for both VISTAs and VISTA Leader:
 
For the VISTA Leader the applicant has to have served as an AmeriCorps Service Member or Peace Corps here is the listing for the VISTA Leader. The VISTA Leader will serve out of the UConn Extension office of Tolland County and need a car to travel to our partner organizations for site visits and member support.
 
Below you will find the listing to the sites we have across the state that are recruiting for VISTA Service Members:
 
Visit our website for more information on our project: https://sustainablefood.uconn.edu/ctfoodjustice/

2017 Highlights of Extension

Highlights report thumbnail image
UConn Extension is on a collaborative journey. We co-create knowledge with farmers, families, communities, and businesses. We educate. We convene groups to help solve problems. Connecticut is a small, diverse state with urban and rural spaces. We understand that because we live and work here. Extension educators are ready to connect you with our knowledge and help you to improve your community.
As part of a nationwide network through the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, Extension professionals and trained volunteers engage the state’s diverse population to make informed choices and better decisions. The partnerships enrich our lives and our environment. The report highlights program achievements from the past year.
Originating from eight Connecticut Extension Centers, the Sea Grant program at Avery Point and the UConn Storrs campus, programs use various educational methods to reach individuals and groups. UConn Extension partners with nonprofit organizations and state agencies, training volunteers and staff. This magnifies the scope and impact of Extension’s outreach. We have no fewer than seven programs in every town in Connecticut, with some towns having over twenty-two Extension programs. Thank you for your support in helping to make these programs possible. To see UConn Extension’s latest updates, read the Highlights of Extension or visit the web site at www.extension.uconn.edu.

Testing Ticks is Vital to Safety

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

The warmer weather has people and our animals headed outdoors. Unfortunately, this same weather has also brought ticks out in abundance. Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have cited increased numbers of ticks, and tick-borne diseases. UConn’s Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL), part of the Department of Pathobiology in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, is on the frontlines of research and tick testing to keep humans and animals safe.

Ticks are disease-carrying arachnids that 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 (Ixodes scapularis). 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. A single tick can transmit more than one infectious agent.

In the Northeast, we see the Deer tick, the Dog tick (Dermacentor variablis), Brown Dog tick (Rhiphcephalus sanguineus) and Lonestar tick (Amblyomma americanum). Each of these can be tested for different pathogens known to cause illness in humans and/or animals.

Tick testing at CVMDL serves multiple purposes. It helps the person or veterinarian who submitted the tick understand the potential exposure of the subject that the tick was found on. Our researchers are also using the results from tick testing to track current and emerging disease producing agents carried by ticks. The data can be used in setting priority areas for prevention and vaccine development.

CVMDL has been busy testing ticks this spring. We received 33 ticks for testing in April. Of these specimens, 25 of them were received in the last two weeks of the month. Two of the ticks were found on dogs. Overaal, the results showed that the Lyme disease agent was detected in 8 specimens, B. burgdorferi and Babesia microti (Babesiosis) were detected in one specimen whereas 4 ticks were positive for both B. burgdorferiand Anaplasma phagocytophilum(Anaplasmosis).

UConn researchers are not just testing for diseases transmitted by ticks. Researchers at PVS are also working to develop vaccines and preventative control measures to combat tick-borne illnesses.

If you find a tick on yourself, your child, or your pet, remove it immediately! CVMDL can test the tick for pathogens. Ticks received at the CVMDL are first examined under a microscope by trained technicians to determine 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. Ticks may then be tested for the DNA of pathogens that are common to that tick species. Results are normally reported within 3-5 business days of receiving the sample, but next day testing is available for an additional fee.

Please send ticks together with a small square of moist paper towel, in sealed zip lock bags. The submission form, pricing and the “Do’s and Don’ts of tick testing” can be found on our website at http://s.uconn.edu/468.

For more information, read the article from UConn Magazinethat includes tips to prevent tick bites, or watch the UConn Science in Seconds video. You can also contact the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at cvmdl@uconn.edu or 860-486-3738 or visit the tick testing page on our website http://cvmdl.uconn.edu/service/tick.php.

Laura Brown Recognized for Trail Census Work

Laura Brown receiving award for CT Trail Census work
Laura Brown receives her award from Bruce Donald of the CT Greenways Council.

The Governor’s Greenways Council on Friday commended eight individuals, and a volunteer committee of the Last Green Valley, that have made significant contributions to the promotion, development and enhancement of Greenways – linear open space in Connecticut – and designated three new State greenways at a ceremony at the Nathan Lester House, in Ledyard.

Laura E. Brown, MS, CEcD, Community & Economic Development Educator, University of Connecticut – Department of Extension, Fairfield County Extension Center – received the CT Greenways Council’s Education Award for development of the CT Trail Census (https://cttrailcensus.uconn.edu/ )
“Our State Designated Greenways provide great opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, whether you want to commute to work, exercise or shop using a bicycle, or simply go for a walk on a beautiful day,” said. Susan Whalen, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP). “Greenways and trails provide opportunities to local residents and visitors alike to enjoy the fresh air, while helping to boost the economy throughout Connecticut by visiting local restaurants and shops along the way.”
Bruce Donald, Chair of the CT Greenways Council, and Tri-State Coordinator for the East Coast Greenway Alliance stated: “Trails reinvigorate our souls. They strengthen our bodies. They build our communities in myriad ways we didn’t comprehend even ten years ago. They are a part of the fabric of Connecticut.”
Greenways in Connecticut cover thousands of acres throughout every county in the state and may include paved or unpaved trail systems, ridgelines, or linked parcels of open space. Many communities around Connecticut have chosen, through greenway designation, to also recognize the importance of river corridors for natural resource protection, recreational opportunities, and scenic values. The CT Greenways Council website contains details on how to get designations, assistance and a map of our State Greenways.  www.ct.gov/deep/greenways

Controlling Ticks

deer tickThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends creating a tick-safe zone. Ticks feed on blood of animals including humans. Tactics to reduce the attractiveness of animals traveling into your yard will keep the number of ticks dropping off of them reduced. Do not feed the birds as chipmunks, squirrels and many other animals visit to eat fallen seeds. Remove leaf litter as a hiding place for small animals and ticks. Clear tall grass and brush from edges of turf and around home. Keep lawn mowed. Keep any wood piles dry and neatly stacked to discourage rodents from using it as a home. Do not place patio or play areas near wooded areas where animals and ticks will be living. Use fencing to keep out deer and larger animals from the yard. Create a 3-foot wide barrier of gravel or wood chips between lawns and woods to stop ticks from entering the lawn. Ticks do not like to cross hot, dry expanses.

Chemical control includes the active ingredient bifenthrin or carbaryl or permethrin or pyrethrin. These are best applied when the ticks are in their small nymphal stage during the month of May and early June. See the CT Tick Management Handbook written by the CT Agricultural Experiment Station for much more detailed information.

Written by Carol Quish

Originally posted by UConn Extension in 2014.

Patriotic Smoothies

serving smoothies in Meriden schools

In Meriden schools, they served Red, White, & Blue Smoothies in honor of the winter Olympics and local dairy in February. What a cool idea! And one that you can replicate at home in honor of Memorial Day. It’s a fun and delicious smoothie. The layers were strawberry, banana, and blueberry served at breakfast with graham crackers. 

Put Local on Your Tray is a farm-to-school program helping Connecticut schools serve and celebrate regionally grown food.

Can I Water Vegetables with my Rain Barrel Water?

By Joan Allen

Originally published by the UConn Home & Garden Education Center

rain barrel against side of house in with shrubs
Photo credit: CT DEEP

Collection of rain water from roofs using rain barrels is growing in popularity because of its many environmental and practical benefits. It can help the environment by diverting water that might contain contaminants away from storm drains and the natural bodies of water that those empty into.  Depletion of well water can be a benefit when this non-potable water is used instead of the tap for things like washing cars, irrigation of plants, and flushing toilets. If you’re on a city/public water system, it can save money to use rain water where you can, too. But is using rain water to irrigate vegetables and fruits safe? Are there contaminants in it that could make people sick? Let’s take a look at what’s been studied.

A few universities in the U.S and abroad have done some work to look at potential contaminants in roof run-off water including heavy metals like zinc, copper, lead and others as well as bacteria such as E. coli and other pathogens. Testing done so far has shown low risk from these, but there is some. And of course, it depends on the type of roofing material, the environment (ie acid rain, urban vs. rural, etc) and possibly other factors. In one study, most of the metals tested the same in rain barrel water as in rain water before it hit the roofs, so little to no concern there. One exception was zinc, and elevated levels could lead to build up of this element in soils. At high enough levels, this can cause injury to plants and those plants should not be consumed (1). Monitor for this by having the soil tested.

While risk appears to be low, there were a few samples in studies (1, 2) where E. coli or total coliform bacterial levels exceeded official standards for some uses. Rain barrel water should NEVER be used for potable purposes such as drinking water, cooking or washing. Where do the bacteria in run-off come from? The main sources would be fecal matter from animals such as squirrels and birds that land and move around on the roof.

But if you’d like to water your vegetable garden with rain barrel water, are there ways to do it safely?

Dr. Mike Dietz, Assistant Extension Educator at UConn with expertise in water management recommends “not using roof water on anything leafy that you are going to eat directly. It would be OK to water soil/plants where there is no direct contact”. This is consistent with recommendations from other experts who suggest applying the water directly to the soil and avoiding contact with above-ground plant parts. An ideal set-up would be to hook up a drip irrigation system to your rain barrel(s). Pressure will be improved when they are full and if they are elevated. A full rain barrel can be pretty heavy, at about 500 lbs. for a 55 gallon unit, so make sure they are on a solid and stable base such as concrete blocks.

If possible, and this is done in larger collection systems automatically, don’t collect the ‘first flush’ of water off the roof. This would be the first few gallons. In a ¼” rainfall as much as 150 gallons can be collected from a 1000 ft2 roof surface (3). The first water to run off tends to have higher concentrations of any contaminants because of them building up on the roof since the previous rainfall event.

Another more practical way to minimize risk of pathogen/bacterial contamination is to treat the collected water with bleach. Rutgers University recommends treating 55 gallons of water by adding one ounce of unscented household chlorine bleach to the barrel once a month (or more often if rain is frequent). Allow this to stand for 24 hours before using the water for irrigation so the bleach can dissipate.

Apply collected water in the morning. Wait until leaves dry in the sun before harvesting. Ultraviolet light from the sun will have some disinfecting effect.

It is recommended to have the rain barrel water tested for E. coli. Be sure to follow the testing lab’s instructions for collection, storage and time sensitivity of the samples.

Thoroughly wash all harvested produce. In addition, you should always thoroughly wash your hands with warm, soapy water after they are in contact with collected water.

In summary, there are risks to using collected rain water for irrigation of food crops. In most cases, the risk appears to be low, and using the above sanitation practices can reduce risk.

References:

  1. DeBusk, K., W. Hunt, D. Osmond and G. Cope. 2009. Water quality of rooftop runoff: implications for residential water harvesting systems. North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.
  2. Bakacs, M., M. Haberland and S. Yergeau. 2017. Rain barrels part IV: testing and applying harvested water to irrigate a vegetable garden. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. Fact Sheet FS1218.
  3. Rainfall as a resource. A resident’s guide to rain barrels in Connecticut. CT DEEP.

Lettuce Learn a Bit About E. Coli

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

 

romaine lettuce
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Recent news reports regarding the romaine lettuce outbreak have, yet again, raised concern about pathogens in our food supply. In particular, leafy greens continue to show up as a source for outbreaks. Two outbreaks since late fall have implicated romaine and/or leafy greens. In both outbreaks, E. coli O157:H7 was the culprit.

What exactly is E. coli?

Escherichia colior E. coliis a group of bacteria, some of which are harmless, and some of which are pathogenic, or disease causing. These bacteria are ubiquitous in the environment: they can survive in water, soil, on plants, and in the intestinal tracts of people and animals. Some types of E. colicause diarrhea, some cause urinary tract infections, and other may cause pneumonia or other diseases.

If you have a well, you are likely familiar with the term “generic E. coli.”  Generic E. coli(sometimes referred to as Biotype I), is found in the intestinal tracts of animals. Therefore, the public health and regulatory community use the presence of generic E. coliis an indicator that some type of fecal contamination (poop) is present. A test for generic E. colican determine if well water is drinkable, if food processing environments are clean, if meat is potentially contaminated with fecal matter or if irrigation water is safe to use on crops.

Generic E. coli, because it is found in fecal matter, may also indicate the potential for the presence of other pathogens that can be found in feces: bacteria such as Salmonellaand pathogenic types of E. coli; viruses such as hepatitis A or norovirus; and parasitic protozoa including Cryptosporidium parvum. All of these microorganisms have been associated with foodborne disease outbreaks.

While there are a number of pathogenic strains, it is Shiga toxin-producing E. coli(STEC) or enterohemorrhagic E. coli(EHEC) that is identified most often as a cause of foodborne illness. O157:H7 is one of several STEC strains. Hamburger, spinach, lettuce, sprouts, unpasteurized or “raw” milk and cheeses, unpasteurized fruit juice including cider, and  flour have all been identified as food sources in O157:H7 outbreaks.

This can be an awful disease. This type of E. coliproduces a Shiga toxin, which can be associated with more severe disease, including bloody diarrhea and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure. The experience of an STEC infection can be different for each person. Contributing factors might include the age of the patient (very young or older people may have more severe infections due to compromised or undeveloped immune systems) and the general health of the person (again, if the immune system is already compromised, the disease may be more severe). However, a healthy adult can also experience more severe disease. Often, the symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Again, the CDC states, “If there is fever, it usually is not very high (less than 101˚F/less than 38.5˚C). Most people get better within 5–7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.”

Life threatening complications can occur when the Shiga toxin latches onto specific organs, such as the kidney. HUS can result in short term kidney failure or may result in long term disability, or even death.

How does E. coli get into our food?

We have been aware of the risk of E. coliin animal products for years. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “STEC live in the guts of ruminant animals, including cattle, goats, sheep, deer, and elk. The major source for human illnesses is cattle. STEC that cause human illness generally do not make animals sick. Other kinds of animals, including pigs and birds, sometimes pick up STEC from the environment and may spread it.”

It was likely the Jack in the Box hamburger related outbreak in 1993 that increased the awareness of both the public and the public health community of the relationship. After that outbreak, Rhode Island passed a law that does not allow restaurants to serve undercooked hamburgers to kids under 12 – a population that is at risk for the worst consequences of an E. coliinfection. At the same time, the recommended safe end-cooking temperature of hamburger was increased to 160 degrees F and sweeping regulation was passed that required meat and poultry processors, to develop food safety plans and be part of a food safety regulation program that included testing for generic E. coli,as well as pathogenic strains of the bacteria.

That makes sense to consumers. After all, if these pathogens are found in the intestinal tracts of animals and in fecal matter, then animal foods are most likely at risk for contamination.

So, how are fruits and vegetables contaminated with E. coli? As stated earlier, E. colican live in ruminants, including deer. Other wildlife may carry the bacteria after picking it up from the environment—the soil, dead animals, or contaminated water. The great outdoors is also the great toilet for these animals. Their feces end up in the soil and water or on the feed of birds or insects. Fruits and vegetables are grown in this soil. There is some risk of contamination as a result. Birds poop on tomatoes, apples fall on deer poop, etc.

Newer regulation target produce growers in an effort to reduce the risk for foodborne illness from fresh fruits and veggies. The Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule includes requirements to test irrigation water, keep records of sanitation practices in the packing house, and employee training concerning personal hygiene and safe handling of produce.

Leafy greens continue to be associated with more outbreaks than other types of vegetables, with the exception of fresh sprouts. First, we eat them raw. There is no kill step to destroy pathogens. Second, they are leafy and grow close to the soil. If contaminated, those leaves can harbor and protect the bacteria. If lettuces are cut and then washed, the contamination can spread to greens that have not been contaminated, making the problem bigger. Once cut or chopped, the greens have even more open surface area that may allow the bacteria to internalize.

Like meat and poultry, any food product that is grown in the field will never be 100% risk free. The industry is hard at work doing what they can to reduce your risk.

So what should a consumer do?

First, do not stop eating greens, tomatoes, or other fresh fruits and vegetables. The benefits of a diet high in fresh produce far outweigh the risk of contracting a foodborne disease from them. Learn how to choose, store, prepare and handle them safely.

Purchase your produce from a farmer that has instituted good agricultural practices and good produce handling practices. If you buy from a local farmer at the farm or at a farmers’ market, ask the farmer if they have attended a food safety course or if they have a food safety program on their farm.

When buying fresh produce, avoid those that are bruised or cut if you are going to eat them raw.  Openings in the skin or bruises may increase the ability of bacteria or other microorganisms to reach the flesh of the fruit or vegetable. Refrigerate produce that should be refrigerated (leafy greens, scallions, broccoli, cucumbers) to minimize growth of microorganisms. In addition, refrigerate all cut produce.

Other food safety tips:

  • Wash all produce prior to eating.
  • Use clean knives, cutting boards, hands and other utensils when preparing raw lettuce for a salad or cutting a melon for breakfast.
  • Don’t cross contaminate ready-to-eat fresh produce with raw meat or poultry. I always prepare the salad first, then the meat for my meal.
  • Store raw, ready-to-eat produce to protect it from raw meat, poultry or fish.
  • Place the meat on a plate if it must be stored above the veggies. (I can never understand why produce drawers are under all other shelves in the fridge, making it a bit easier for meat juices to drip down onto the fresh produce.)

Some folks may want to consider purchasing heads of lettuce rather than chopped greens, though even whole heads of romaine were implicated in the most recent outbreak. If you do purchase pre-cut greens, make sure they are of good quality without a lot of browning or slimy leaves in the bag. If they are washed it is best not to rewash as you risk contamination during the process. However, if there are beginning signs of wilting or mushy leaves, I would wash, dry and store the remaining greens in the refrigerator, wrapped in a clean paper towel.

Continue to enjoy salads, fresh fruit and other veggies on a daily basis. It is an important part of a healthy diet. Just be sure to pay attention good safe food handling practices as you prepare to enjoy your meal.

For more information about 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.

Statewide Multi-Use Trail Data Available

Data Collection Program Releases 2017 Data Shedding Light on Statewide Multi-use Trail Use

 

Naugatuck Greenway
Naugatuck Greenway

The Connecticut Trail Census (CTTC), a program tracking use on multi-use trails statewide, has released publically available data for the 2017 calendar year on their website http://www.cttrailcensus.uconn.edu/.  The CTTC collects data regarding trail use patterns including who is using these trails, when people are using them, how, and why at multi-use trails across Connecticut. The Census currently includes 15 trail locations on 11 multi-use trails. Trail use is tracked with infrared counters and by trail user intercept surveys deployed by volunteers. In 2017, the program recorded 1.4 million trips taken on trail segments where counts are being conducted, and analyzed 1,003 trail user surveys collected by over 63 volunteers from trail advocacy groups around the state. The trails with the highest volumes were the Naugatuck River Greenway in Derby (303,550 uses), the Still River Greenway in Brookfield (197,945 uses) and the Hop River Trail in Vernon (133,016 uses).

“We hope this data will be used by communities and trail advocacy groups, researchers, and funding organizations to show the impacts of multi-use trails on public health, transportation systems, and local communities,” said Kristina Kelly, the Statewide Coordinator of the Census.

The program is funded by a 2016 Recreational Trails Grant received from the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and is overseen by the Connecticut Greenways Council. It is being undertaken in a partnership between UConn Extension, The Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, and the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Outreach (CLEAR).

The infrared counters record hourly totals of trail use year-round, and show use patterns seasonally, by time of day, and day of week. The heaviest use occurred between

volunteers collect CT Trail Census data in 2017 on a multi-use trail
Volunteers collect data in 2017. Photo: Aaron Budris

the months of April and October when approximately 76% of trail uses across all sites were recorded. Because all trails involved in the program are of similar typology (multi-use, two-directional, and either paved or stone dust), the trail use data can be utilized to explore variables that may affect trail use. For example, trails that offer connection between towns and cities such as the New Britain Fastrak and the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, seem to show less difference in the number of users between weekday and weekend. The counters are installed semi-permanently, which also will allow trails to measure the effects of future trail improvements.

The 2017 intercept survey data showed trail users who completed the survey tended to be older than the general population of Connecticut with 63% of trail users being over the age of 45 versus only 44% of the general population. While the majority of users got to the trail by car or motorcycle alone (49%), an encouraging 31% traveled in a car with someone else. Demonstrating the potential economic value of trails, 61.5% of all respondents reported spending $277 annually related to their trail use.

The 2018 Trail Census Program will launch the second week of May at trail sites across the state. Trails with an interest in participating should contact the Census Coordinator Kristina Kelly at cttrailcensus@gmail.com. Existing data including infrared counter and survey data reports, and recording of a recent webinar with in-depth discussion of the available data are on the Connecticut Trail Census website at http://www.cttrailcensus.uconn.edu/. All data collected is free and available to explore and download.

Be Aware of Ticks and Know the Warning Signs of Lyme Disease

Originally published by United Way of Connecticut
ticks
Photo: CVMDL

As the weather starts to warm, an increased awareness of ticks and the symptoms associated with Lyme disease is important.

Tips for preventing Lyme disease:
  • Avoid tall grass and over-grown, brushy areas.
  • Stay in the middle of trails when hiking in the woods.
  • Wear light-colored clothing to allow ticks to be more  easily seen.
  • Examine yourself, your children, and pets for ticks when returning indoors.
  • Remove found ticks as soon as possible.
It takes approximately 24 hours for a tick to infect a person with Lyme disease. The longer an infected tick stays on your skin the greater the chance it will pass the Lyme bacteria on to you. If you find a tick remove it immediately and be on the lookout for Lyme disease symptoms such as rash (sometimes in the shape of a bulls-eye) fever, muscle aches or fatigue.
Contact your doctor if any of these symptoms occurs and visit the Department of Public Health Lyme Disease page or download 2-1-1’s Lyme Disease eLibrary Paper for more information.  Tick testing is available at UConn.