Our Healthy Homes program offers the following tips on keeping your home free of chemicals. You can download the document or print it for easy reference.
On July 17, UConn Extension and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture hosted a meeting in Storrs for operations (distributors, schools, institutions, restaurants, grocery stores, and foodservice operations) that buy fresh produce from farms in southern New England. A team of regulators and produce safety educators from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island conceived and developed the program to raise awareness and answer questions about how the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Produce Safety Rule (PSR), Preventive Controls for Human Food, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audits and state produce inspection programs will affect regional farmers and their customers. More than 50 retailers, regulators, distributors, school and university foodservice personnel and farmers from across New England came to learn.
FSMA is the regulation implemented in 2011 to improve the safety of the US food supply. The regulation includes two rules that specifically impact those who grow, distribute and sell fresh fruits and vegetables. Included are the Produce Safety Rule (PSR), the Preventive Controls Rule (PC). “While many believe that meat or eggs or poultry are likely the source of most foodborne illnesses in the US, in fact it is fruits and vegetables that top the list. We need to work to reduce these numbers,” said Diane Wright Hirsch, Food Safety Educator with UConn Extension. “It is important that anyone preparing fruits and vegetables for a restaurant or school or selling them at a grocery store be familiar with the regulations that affect the industry.”
The Preventive Controls Rule regulates those who warehouse and distribute produce. It outlines Good Manufacturing Practices including procedures that impact the safety of the food they are holding: worker hygiene, worker food safety training, sanitation and pest control are some of the practices outlined in the Rule. The Produce Safety Rule requires growers of fresh fruits and vegetables to implement practices that reduce risks for contamination of fresh produce with microorganisms that cause foodborne illness.
Mark Zotti is an Agriculture Marketing/Inspection Representative with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, and says, “Every
farmer should educate themselves on what the FSMA Produce Safety Rule says and how it relates to them. The Rule makes science-based standards for the growing and harvesting and holding/packing of fresh fruits and vegetables. Never before were there laws related to those activities, so it’s important that farms regardless of size, know what the PSR says.”
“There’s been a documented increase in foodborne illnesses related to produce,” Mark states. “A lot of that can be correlated to the increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and the regions and practices used during the production of produce. Nationwide we’ve seen the produce industry require that farms who grow for them implement practices aimed at reducing the risk of microbial contamination during the growing, harvesting, holding, and packing of fresh fruits and vegetables. We hope the information provided today benefits the participants and the farmers they work with.”
Sean Stolarik is the Produce Sales Manager for Big Y Foods, Inc, and he attended the July training on behalf of his organization. “This is very relevant to my day to day life. When it comes to food safety and where our growers have to be in terms of regulations, this is very important.”
“Today’s training will help Big Y Foods, Inc. with transparency with customers, knowing that the farms we are buying produce from are using safe agricultural practices. It will help me to know what questions to ask the growers and know what requirements that growers must meet,” Sean continues. “My biggest takeaway is that the rules are complex, with many different parts and some allowed exceptions. We are trying to understand the laws because they can be confusing sometimes.”
To help Connecticut farmers comply with the PSR, the Department of Agriculture and UConn Extension are providing nationally accredited Produce Safety Alliance Grower training to fresh fruit and vegetable growers in the state. Growers can attend training, learn the specifics of the regulation, find out about resources available to them, and go back to the farm with the tools needed to make changes in their food safety practices, including making their facilities easier to clean and taking steps to comply with the regulation.
Produce buyers can have access to the curriculum through the Produce Safety Alliance website as well. Downloading and reviewing the grower training materials will help them to determine what practices or procedures they may want to see implemented by the farmers they buy from.
“Everyone needs to take responsibility for their piece of the food system,” Diane concludes. “Farmers need to produce a safe product, distributors need to take that product and keep it safe for consumers that eat it. Produce is a risky food because you are not cooking it for the most part. It’s important to know how to safely grow, harvest, distribute and prepare fresh fruits and vegetable so that we can reduce the risks for consumers.”
Article by Eshan Sonpal
Angie Tovar of Danbury was a teen mentor in our CT FANs IM 4-H program. She is entering her junior year of college at Western Connecticut State University where she majors in Elementary Education. Angie currently works as a translator for St. Peter Church in Danbury and Student Worker for Pre-Collegiate and Access Programs in Danbury. We caught up with her to learn more about how her experience with the 4-H FANs program impacted her life.
4-H taught me to….. not be afraid to put myself out there. At first, a lot of the activities we conducted made me nervous, but I learned to push myself and try new things.
4-H taught me to stop…. Doubting myself. It really helped me believe that I can do anything if I really set my mind to it. It sounds a little cliché, but it’s the truth. The staff and the way this program is set up makes everyone truly believe that.
Because of 4-H….. I decided to become a teacher. I loved the experience of being in front of children and getting to pass on my knowledge of a subject onto them. I realized that teaching is what I truly love to do.
If I hadn’t been in 4-H…. I would have probably been in college, pursuing another career, and pretty miserable because it is not what I truly wanted to do.
How do you keep the 4-H motto – “To Make the Best Better” – now? I always keep this in mind, reminding me that there is always room for improvement. After every day of the program, we would reflect on what we did and how we could improve for next time. I still do this a lot after I finish anything. I truly believe that no matter how good something I did was, there is always a way for me to do better.
How did 4-H contribute to your leadership skills? 4-H helped me to be a better public speaker and think about what you want the outcome of a lesson to be. Since I want to become an Elementary School teacher I have to be comfortable speaking in front of others. 4-H provided me with the opportunity to practice this. The staff helped coach me and give me constructive criticism to better my public speaking. Also, it made me realize that when planning for activities, you have to think about others and what you want them to get out of this. It is the most important thing when prepping for lessons.
What do you wish people knew about 4-H? There are so many programs with 4-H! I feel that in our area very few people know about 4-H and all the wonderful things they do to better the lives of young people. I wish people knew that 4-H has just about everything.
Why should young people join 4-H? These programs provide youth with so many skills that they will continue to use for the rest of their lives. Each program works on bettering a child’s life in different ways. Also, each program makes families feel part of a community. They bring parents together and make them realize that they are not alone.
Our Hartford County Extension Center is moving. As of Friday, August 3rd, please use the following address and new phone numbers:
Exchange Building – Suite 262
270 Farmington Ave
Farmington, CT, 06032
Fax (860) 409-9080
Please be patient with our faculty and staff over the next week as it may take a bit longer than usual to respond to any requests. All educators phone numbers have been updated at extension.uconn.edu.
If you find a tick on yourself, your child, or your pet, remove it immediately! The Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) can test the tick for pathogens. Ticks received at the CVMDL are first examinedunder 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 reported within 3-5 business days of receiving the sample, and next day testing is available for an additional fee.
How to send in ticks: Please send ticks in sealed zip lock bags accompanied by a small square of moist paper towel. 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 contact the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at cvmdl.uconn.edu or 860-486-3738.
The Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) at UConn safeguards animal and human health. Faculty and staff fulfill their mission through veterinary diagnostic laboratory services, professional expertise, and collaboration with state and federal agencies to detect and monitor diseases important to animal and human health, as well as detecting newly emerging diseases.
CVMDL is committed to providing current, timely, and personalized expert service to our client veterinarians, animal owners, producers, academic collaborators, and partner agencies. The laboratory is housed within the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science, and develops new approaches to disease identification, investigation, and prevention while educating students, including veterinarians, seeking advanced training in disease related studies.
CVMDL incorporates the land grant university mission of service, teaching, and research in its daily practices, and is the only laboratory in New England accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians. Services offered include: histology, immunohistochemistry, mastitis, microbiology, molecular diagnostics, pathology, parasitology, serology, and virology.
“We send a lot of our clients to CVMDL for the necropsy service,” says Dr. Scott Morey ’06 (CAHNR) of Fenton River Veterinary Hospital in Tolland. “We want a necropsy done in the proper environment, where better diagnostic samples can be obtained and processed, as opposed to what we can collect in a field necropsy. Most of the time we’re mainly looking for infectious disease so we can change what happens for the other animals left on a farm.”
Necropsy services can also be used for small animals. Dr. Heidi Morey ’05 (CAHNR) handles the small animal end of the veterinary practice, while Scott primarily works with large animals. “We had one young dog die suddenly on a client, and CVMDL helped determine it was most likely a heart attack,” Heidi mentions.
“We do a surprising amount of chicken work,” Scott continues. “CVMDL completes efficient and timely necropsies on chickens. We also utilize them for rabies testing, and Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE) test for small ruminants. Clients who own sheep and goats want their animals to be CAE negative, and need proof of that. We send the samples to CVMDL.”
Tick testing is part of the molecular diagnostics section. A single infected deer tick can transmit anywhere from one to four illnesses simultaneously. CVMDL is the only laboratory in the state that will test a deer tick off humans or animals. CVMDL also tests other common species of ticks. The lab tests deer ticks for Borrelia burgdorferi, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Babesia microti, and Borrelia miyamotoi. Dog ticks are tested for Francisella tularensis, Rickettsia rickettsia, Ehrlichiaspecies. Lonestar ticks are tested for Ehrlichiaspecies, Francisella tularensis, and Borrelia lonestari. Brown dog ticks are tested for Rickettsia rickettsiaand Ehrlichia species.
Residents, doctors, veterinarians, and public health officials utilize tick testing services to make proactive and informed decisions regarding human and animal health. In 2017, 397 ticks were tested.
Connecticut is home to a number of large dairy farms, and CVMDL provides mastitis testing and environmental pathogen testing, in addition to Brucellosis, Johnne’s, and other diseases. Rabies tests on animals that may have come in contact with a human are also sent to the Department of Public Health for confirmation testing. All other rabies testing in Connecticut is done at CVMDL.
The laboratory is on the frontlines of safeguarding animal and human health in Connecticut. Each case that arrives in Storrs is different, and provides the team at CVMDL with another opportunity to teach students and clients, develop new tests and procedures, and monitor disease and health issues.
Article by Stacey Stearns
Since, 1969, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) has helped families in Connecticut learn about healthy eating, physical activity, cooking, and shopping on a budget. Despite being an affluent state, nearly 1 in 5 families with children in Connecticut is food insecure, or does not have adequate access to healthy food. Many urban areas in Connecticut are amongst the poorest in the country. Additionally, access to healthy food is a challenge in rural areas where transportation is a barrier. EFNEP staff work in these areas of greatest need in Connecticut, striving 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.
Heather Peracchio and Juliana Restrepo-Marin from UConn Extension EFNEP in Fairfield County teamed up with Danbury’s Morris Street School Family Resource Center to provide a series of classes on healthy eating, exercise, cooking and food safety to new mothers. The classes covered topics such asportion sizes, recommended servings for different age groups, and how to use MyPlate Daily Checklists. Access to vital emergency food resources, like food pantries and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were also discussed. Participants learned how to make smart drink and breakfast choices, how to read nutrition labels and compare nutritional facts, and how to shop smart and find the best value. The educators completed hands-on cooking demonstrations with the group, using healthy, affordable and easy-to-prepare recipes from the Cooking With EFNEP cookbook. The class also discussed how to incorporate more physical activity into the day, with a Zumba class that was led by a participant that was a certified instructor.
Upon lesson completion, participants were given the opportunity to comment on the course and what they learned. Overall, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Here’s what some participants had to say: “I learned many things, such as: how to control sugar portions, I learned about oil, food prices and how to incorporate seasonal fruit in my recipes.”
“I loved this class very much. I learned how to eat healthier, buy better food, check the products’ labels and how to add fruit in my meals.”
“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to learn in this nutrition course. Thanks to Viviane for organizing this class and making it possible. I would also like to thank Miss Heather and Miss Juliana for teaching us how to cook healthy meals for our daily lives. I learned a lot from you and I hope this is not the last time you teach us.”
“I would like to thank teacher Heather, Juliana, the translator and Viviane for this great effort and support to all of us with the nutrition classes. This has been very helpful. We learned how to eat healthy.”
For more information on how you can become involved in UConn Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, or to see our recipes, and other information, go to efnep.uconn.edu or find us on Facebook at UConn Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program- EFNEP or Twitter at @UConnEFNEP!
Article by Madelyn Zanini
By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH
Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety
Even though some may feel home canning has gone the way of the dinosaurs, I regularly get questions posed to me by newbie and experience canners alike. Some want to know how to can tomatoes without potentially killing a loved one. Others want to know if there is anything new in the canning pipeline.
It seems as if more people are gardening these days so that they can have more control over their produce supply—they can grow what they like and minimize the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. A happy consequence of a successful garden is a bountiful supply of zucchini, tomatoes and peppers—maybe too bountiful! As a result, the gardener must now become a food processor. Home canning is not difficult, but, it IS important to do it right. Here are ten rules for canning to help you in your pursuit of a safe home canned food supply—whether you have been canning for years or this is your first time.
1) Make sure your jars/lids are in good shape.
Use (or re-use) canning jars manufactured for home canning. Check for cracks or chips and throw out or recycle any jars that are not in good shape.
Be sure the jar rings are not dented or rusty.
Buy new jar lids. The sealing compound can disintegrate over time, especially in damp basements, so make sure that your supply is new or no more than one year old. Do not reuse old lids. (If you still use rubber jar rings, these CAN be reused unless they are dry and/or cracked, though these jars may be more prone to failed seals.)
2) Use up to date canning guidelines. With the exception of jams and jellies, recipes that are older than 1996 should be relegated to the family album. A great resource for up to date guidelines and recipes is the National Center for Home Food Preservation at: www.uga.edu/nchfp. This site is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved site for home food preservation information. Go there and check out the latest recommendations. They are also great about addressing some questionable practices that are introduced over the years, such as canning food in the oven or canning bread in a jar.
3) Choose the right canner for the job.
Water bath canners are for jams, jellies, relishes, pickles, fruits such as apples, apple sauce, peaches and tomatoes.
Pressure canners are for all other vegetables, soups, meats, fish, and some tomato products, especially if they contain large amounts of low acid vegetables such as peppers, celery or onions. Some folks like to can tomatoes in a pressure canner because it takes much less time and uses less fuel/energy.
4) If using a pressure canner with a dial gauge, have it checked annually to make sure it is reading properly. Check with the manufacturer regarding gauge testing or call the Home and Garden Education Center.
5) If you are pressure canning, be sure that the gasket is still soft and pliable. If dry and/or cracked, you need to replace it.
6) Use high quality, just-ripe produce for canning. You will never end up with canned tomatoes (or any other produce) better than those you started with. Overripe strawberries can lead to a runny jam. Overripe, mushy or decayed tomatoes (often sold in baskets labeled “canning tomatoes” when they are really “tomatoes that we can’t sell for slicing because they are past their prime”) may have a lower acid level or higher pH, making the processing time inadequate for safety.
7) Make sure everything is clean before your start. Be sure to clean:
Canners (often stored in a cobwebby corner of the basement)
Jars, jar lifter, screw bands, etc.
Counter tops or other work surfaces
Your produce (wash with cold running water—no soap or bleach please)
8) Follow approved recipes to the letter. When you change the amount or type of ingredient, you risk upsetting the balance that would result in a safe, high quality product. Too little sugar will make jams too soft; cutting out the salt may make a pickle recipe unsafe; and throwing additional onions and peppers into a tomato sauce can increase the risk for botulism.
9) Adhere to processing times—even if they seem long. Processing canned foods in a water bath or pressure canner is what makes these products safe for on-the-shelf storage. Each product is assigned the processing time needed to destroy the spoilage organisms and/or pathogens (the kind of bugs that make us sick) that are most likely to be a problem in THAT product.
The short processing times for jams and jellies destroy yeasts and mold spores that used to be common place when these products were not water-bathed, but covered in paraffin.
The long processing times for tomatoes are needed because modern tomato varieties are often lower in acid than those in the past. If 45 minutes seems way to long to you (especially when you watch the electric meter ticking away), you might want to consider pressure canning them for 15 minutes at 6 pounds of pressure or 10 minutes at 11 pounds.
10) Allow your jars to cool naturally, right side up, for 12 hours or more before testing seals. Testing earlier may cause the new seal to break.
Cool jars away from an open window to prevent breakage by cool evening breezes on hot jars.
Remove screw bands, clean and dry them and store several in a convenient place for use later when you open a jar and need to refrigerate leftovers. (Screw bands should not be left on jars when storing. Food residue and moisture may collect and cause rusting or molding that can ruin a good seal.)
Test seals, reprocess if needed.
Follow the rules and you will be well on your way to processing a safe, shelf-stable food supply for your household.
For more information about canning food safely at home, visit our website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu, check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-877-486-6271.
UConn and the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) are asking state residents to be on the lookout for Giant Hogweed, which typically blooms during July. Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is an invasive, non-native plant from Eurasia that was first identified in Connecticut in 2001. This Federal Noxious weed was confirmed in 25 towns in all 8 counties in surveys conducted several years ago, but many of the populations are now under control. The most recent confirmed locations of Giant Hogweed were found in 2011. Numerous reports of suspect giant hogweed plants blooming in Connecticut have recently been received, but to date all of the 2018 reports have been negative. Several plants are sometimes mistaken for giant hogweed, such as the native cow parsnip, which is related to Giant Hogweed but blooms earlier in June.
Giant Hogweed is a biennial or perennial herbaceous plant that can grow up to 15 feet tall with leaves 5 feet long. The hollow stems of the plant are 2 to 4 inches in diameter. The sap of Giant Hogweed may cause skin to be more sensitive to sunlight and produce painful blisters. Large numbers of small white flowers are borne on umbel-shaped inflorescences that can grow to 2.5 feet across. Giant Hogweed seeds are elliptical in shape, and cow parsnip seeds are heart-shaped on one end (this is the most definitive way to identify the two species). Mature Giant Hogweed seeds can survive in the soil for up to seven years and can float on water for several days, further spreading the plants to new areas. Giant Hogweed has invaded natural areas such as riverbanks and woodland edges, where it displaces native plants and upsets the ecological balance of these important habitats, and it has been accidentally introduced into managed landscapes.
UConn and the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) are conducting educational outreach to alert the public about Giant Hogweed and its serious health hazards. The CIPWG website (https://cipwg.uconn.edu/giant-hogweed-in-connecticut/) has information on Giant Hogweed with plant descriptions, photos, control options, and an online reporting form.
To report a Giant Hogweed sighting, we recommend that you first visit the CIPWG website and compare your suspect plant with the photos and descriptions provided. You can then report the plant online via the CIPWG website (click on the link “Report Hogweed Sighting”) or contact Donna Ellis at UConn (email email@example.com; phone 860-486-6448). To control Giant Hogweed, follow control recommendations on the CIPWG website. Always wear protective clothing while handling the plants.