Health

Cook Before Eating

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

eggs
Photo: Iowa Extension

During the holiday season, from Thanksgiving dinner through New Year’s celebrations, people who rarely spend time in the kitchen may be more likely to pick up a cookbook and make some cookies. Or, they may be stuffing their first turkey for Christmas day family dinner. Or possibly trying out a new appetizer for the office party—maybe even ceviche. (For those how may be unfamiliar with the term, “ceviche” it commonly refers to a shrimp or fish dish where citric acid, typically in the form of lemon juice or lime juice, is used to marinate raw fish or shrimp, often giving the appearance that the fish has been cooked.) Ceviche looks opaque and firm. But it is not cooked. The bacteria or viruses that may have been in the raw product have not been cooked away. They are still there. I have seen recipes for “faux ceviche,” that include cooking the shrimp or fish, but traditionally, it is not a cooked product. Consequently, it is risky. Ask your host or hostess if you are not sure of what they are serving.

Here is some guidance regarding foods or ingredients you may consider eating raw, whether you are a new cook or a seasoned cook who has always “done it this way” and “NEVER made anyone sick.” Keep in mind that your family may include very young children, the elderly or a chronically ill family member who may be at greater risk for the more severe consequences of a foodborne illness. So while you, a healthy adult, may be comfortable throwing caution to the winds and eating raw fish, uncooked cookie dough or even a taste of raw stuffing, the higher risk members of your family/friends circle really should not do this.

Be careful with raw eggs.

Raw eggs contain Salmonella. Not every egg. But no use betting on it. If you are choosing a recipe, such as eggnog, which calls for uncooked eggs, there is a safer alternative. Even if everyone is a healthy adult (and do you really know if they are all “healthy”?), it might be best to use a pasteurized egg product. They are often sold by the carton in the refrigerated egg or milk case. Otherwise, you might want to use a recipe for eggnog that preheats the egg to 160 degrees F to ensure that eggs are cooked sufficiently. Here is one from FoodSafety.gov: https://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/eggnog.html. Unfortunately, contrary to some popular cooking shows and magazines, adding alcohol to eggnog does not kill the Salmonella.

Watch out for raw doughs and batters.

We have all heard the warnings to avoid eating raw cookie dough—even though we may have all done it at one time with no apparent ill effects. Raw cookie dough or raw batters containing eggs share the same risk as raw eggnog. This would also be true of raw cookie dough that you might add to homemade ice cream. Commercial makers of cookie ice cream and other foods will use pasteurized eggs in their products.

There is another potential risk to eating raw batters and doughs that you may not even be aware of.  It is the flour.  Yes, the flour.  Flour is considered a raw agricultural product. It has not been treated to kill potential foodborne pathogens (microbes that cause illness). Since 2008, there have been five foodborne disease outbreaks tied to flour, two in Canada, one in New Zealand, and two in the US. So, even if a dough contains no eggs (pastry dough, for example), it is best not to eat it raw.

Think twice before serving raw meat, fish, or shellfish.

Honestly, I like a raw clam now and then. Some of my food safety colleagues look on aghast while others join in. Maybe you prefer raw oysters or sashimi. However, I do this knowing the risks I am taking. I do it rarely and only when I think the purveyor has been meticulous—and I still know there is a risk! Lots of folks do not know or understand the risks. Bacteria, such as Listeria, Salmonella, Vibrio vulnificous and parasites that include tapeworm and Anisakid nematodes may be associated with raw fish and shellfish. Again, if you are healthy, and visit restaurant or seafood retailers who are very careful, your risk may be less than that of an immune compromised adult or young child. However, the risk is never zero. So, during the holidays, choose a faux “ceviche” recipe that involves marinating cooked shrimp or fish. Serve oyster stew or clams casino that have been checked with a food thermometer.

If your holiday recipes include some of these risky ingredients, keep in mind that you can spread the pathogens that cause foodborne illness during the preparation steps. When you are cranking out trays and trays of cookies or appetizers, you need to practice the basic sanitation skills that will keep your food safe. Always use clean hands when handling any raw food and wash them again after handling that food. Use clean surfaces, cutting boards, knives, mixing spoons or other utensils: then wash them thoroughly in hot, soapy water before using them to prepare other foods. If that flour you used to dust the pie shell gets spread around or the raw egg drips onto the counter where you are decorating sugar cookies, it could end up in your salad or on your kid’s hands (which at some point will end up in their mouth).

Check the clock as you are baking and try not to leave doughs (or other raw ingredients, for that matter) out for more than four hours at a time. This allows the pathogens to multiply, increasing the risk for cross-contamination.

Finally, every cook is told to taste their dishes before presenting them to the guests. It’s one of the first questions asked of competing chefs on the cooking shows: “Did you even taste this?”  But, please, do not taste until the risky ingredients are cooked through. I will never forget a Christmas Eve in my childhood when Mom had made the stuffing, containing raw sausage and eggs, the day before. She always liked to taste the raw stuffing. (Right!) She spent Christmas day in bed….and the bathroom.

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

Nutrition Education Outreach in Fairfield County

Nutrition Education Outreach November 2017
Submitted by Heather Peracchio
EFNEP graduates at Morris Street School in Danbury
 
SNAP-Ed programs:
Nutrition outreach at the Danbury mobile pantry reached 265 families on November 8th and the mobile pantry in Bethel on November 29th reached 183 families. 
 
EFNEP:
The Soccer and Nutrition program reached 22 children and adults on Friday November 3.  Adults and children participated in the program which follows the Cornell University Choose Health: Fun, Food and Fitness curricula.  There was a hands-on demonstration of a stir-fry recipe where parents and children participated in cooking and everyone taste tested.  The classes have been scheduled and advertised to parents for the first Friday of the month each month through October 2018.
The EFNEP adult program at Danbury’s Morris Street School Family Resource Staff began on October 16, 2017 with 24 new moms enrolled. In November, participants attended class on November 6 and November 13th, with their graduation ceremony on Monday November 27th. Below is a photo of the graduation ceremony, 16 EFNEP participants completed the program Monday evening with 6 more anticipated to graduate in December.

Handling Food Leftovers

So, you know how to cook a turkey until it is safe to eat; but what about handling the leftovers?

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

 

turkeyEven though many Americans are eating more meals out of the home and some are turning to “meal kits” to make it pretty painless to cook dinner, we still like to celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving. Green bean casserole, maybe some roasted Brussels sprouts, mashed white and/or sweet potatoes (with or without marshmallows), stuffing or dressing, and gravy will share the dinner plate with the main attraction, turkey. And more likely than not, way too much food for one meal.

Whether it’s their very first or they are a poultry seasoned veteran, many cooks know that the important thing is to cook a turkey until it reaches a safe temperature—165 degrees F in the thickest part of the thigh. They would not even think twice about eating an undercooked turkey—fearful of the risk of Salmonella or other foodborne pathogen that may be lurking the raw turkey meat. Home cooks, for the most part, have learned that a food thermometer is an essential tool for ensuring that the turkey and stuffing reach the safe end cooking temperature.

But, in what seems like the blink of an eye, the Thanksgiving meal that took hours or days to prepare is enjoyed by all. The turkey is no longer stuffed. But your guests are. What do you do with the leftovers?

Despite the belief that leftovers are yucky (too often dried out during the recook), most of us love the leftovers from a turkey dinner. Keep in mind that it is important to handle the unserved turkey and all the fixings safely if you want to enjoy them for days or even weeks (if frozen) after the holiday.

Consumers generally are less aware of the risks of turkey or other perishable foods once they have been cooked. They know that proper cooking destroys the bacteria or other microorganisms often found in raw foods. Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli and Campylobacter are bacteria that cause foodborne illness. And they are destroyed by proper cooking. So once the turkey (and other foods) are cooked, we assume that our worries are over. The Salmonella is gone, kaput, right?

Unfortunately, the answer can be misleading. Yes, the Salmonella is gone. But there are other bad guys stalking the cooked turkey, the gravy or even the mashed potatoes.

Once a food is cooked there is the risk that other pathogens can contaminate it. Microorganisms that can affect cooked food include Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens and Bacillus cereus. All of these bacteria cause what is commonly called an intoxication or true food poisoning. Both Staphylococcus and Bacillus cereus can form toxins in a contaminated food product. The food is contaminated by the bacteria that may come from the kitchen environment, pets, soil, dirty hands, or a cook who is sick. The bacteria forms a toxin in the food and then you get sick when you eat the food. Because toxins are already present in the food, illness usually comes quickly—within 4-12 hours or so. You feel really awful for 24-48 hours with vomiting and/or diarrhea, depending on the amount of toxin in the food and characteristics of the pathogen. Generally these illnesses do not kill you—you just wish you were dead! Clostridium perfringens, on the other hand, contaminates the food and once consumed, produces a toxin in your intestines. It is still a toxin forming bacteria, and symptoms still include diarrhea. But, like the other toxin related illnesses listed here, generally, the illness is not terribly severe and you recover within 24-48 hours.

If you are a healthy person, these illnesses are generally self-limiting: once the toxin is expelled from the body, you recover. However, as with all foodborne illness, people who have compromised immune systems (because they have certain other diseases or take medications that weaken the immune system) are much more likely to suffer serious consequences.

The good news is that these illnesses are easily prevented. Handle leftovers safely and you will not have to spend Black Friday (or Saturday or Sunday, for that matter) in the restroom.

Get the remaining appetizers into the fridge before dinner is even served. After enjoying your meal, quickly work on the dinner leftovers. Cut the turkey off the bones, remove all stuffing, storing it separately. The same is true of mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole and any other cooked leftovers. Once vegetables are cut open and made into salads, they, too, are at risk for contamination. Refrigerate any cooked or cut vegetables or fruits, including salads or relish trays right after dinner as well. You want these foods to cool quickly, so place in shallow containers (no more than 3 inches deep). And, don’t forget the condiments. Butter, cranberry sauce, corn relish, while somewhat less risky, should be returned to the refrigerator as soon as possible.

Even if you get those leftovers refrigerated right after dinner, keep in mind that they won’t last forever. If you don’t think you will be able to eat them within 3-4 days, then it is best to freeze them. Place in shallow freezer containers, label with contents and date and freeze for up to 3-6 months for best quality. If not frozen, leftover cooked meats and vegetables will be safe for up to 3-4 days in a refrigerator kept at no more than 40 degrees F.

Once the food is safely tucked away for the night, it’s time to wash the dishes.

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

Nutrition Education in Windham County

By Dianisi Torres

dried apple
Photo: National Center for Home Food Preservation

This has been an exceptionally busy year for Nutrition Education. In addition to the EFNEP (Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program) being held at public schools and libraries including Windham, Moosup, Putnam, North Grosvenor Dale, and Killingly, the SNAP Ed program offers nutrition assistance to millions of low income families in need. The EFNEP educator works in collaboration with non-profit organizations as Cooking Matters offering nutrition and cooking workshops for adults which is taught in Spanish and English. Another non-profit program is CLiCK, Inc. located in Willimantic. EFNEP collaborates every year with CLiCK offering summer programs for children, youth and adult cooking classes using fresh vegetables from the CLiCK community garden that the Willimantic students have grown. We hope to offer even more programs in the coming year. For more information, contact Dianisi Torres at: dianisi.torres@uconn.edu

Building Communities: Brass City Harvest

UConn Extension empowers communities by building a network of awareness and knowledge. One example of this is Brass City Harvest, Inc. in Waterbury. Extension educators in our greenhouse and Master Gardener programs worked with Susan Pronovost to build the capacity of 501(c)3 organization. Susan shared her organization’s work with us

Brass City Harvest, Inc. is also supported by the City of Waterbury, the Waterbury Development Corporation, Waterbury Health Department, and various foundations and cultural groups. For more information visit: https://www.brasscityharvestwtby.org and http://extension.uconn.edu.

Issue:

Brass City Greenhouse
Brass City Greenhouse. Photo: Leslie Alexander

Brass City Harvest in Waterbury develops a local and regional food system that increases access to fresh food, creates urban farmland, speaks to the nutritional and dietary needs of the community, and provides new sales channels for farmers to sell their products.

Chronic disease and obesity rates continue to spiral upwards in Waterbury because there are so many food desert neighborhoods. Waterbury also has a very substantial amount of brownfield or at least lightly contaminated land that stand as testament to our once-proud industrial past. Repurposing this land for agricultural use is critical for public health, fresh food access, and to promoting green space in urban neighborhoods that lack it.

Connecticut’s farmers face many economic challenges; increasing sales channels through robust farmers’ market networks, wholesale opportunities, and other economic development projects that utilize agriculture as an industry and a career path are key components to addressing long term sustainability issues in the farming community and inner city communities such as Waterbury.

What has been done:

The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program gave me the skills to conduct efficient and reliable urban farming in a manner that brings great impact to the community and is reasonable in terms of business model implications. In addition to various urban agriculture programs, this organization regularly conducts trainings (seed starting and container gardening). Brass City Harvest provides consultation for new gardeners, has conducted workshops on greening the municipality and addressing food security, and regularly speaks to leadership groups from various foundations and civic organizations.

Outcomes:

The greatest outcome for Brass City Harvest and the City of Waterbury is that prior to our existence, there was never talk about green space, urban farmland, or sustainable means to address food security. In less than ten years we have developed core programs to address food security by growing and harvesting more than 12,000 lbs. of fresh food, hydroponic crops, and fresh fish that is entirely donated to emergency food providers and senior centers in Waterbury. We have engaged more than 500 individuals and households in our healthy cooking and nutrition classes. We have increased sales of fresh farm food through the utilization of public entitlements by 500%.

Impacts:

The broader social, economic civic and environmental benefits of our program to the community speak to addressing food and environmental justice issues. Much of our population lacks the economic mobility to either become more self-reliant or to leave their current housing – which is often cheaper in poorer neighborhoods – for better living conditions in more middle class neighborhoods that typically provide more services such as access to supermarkets, and also have fewer environmental issues.

As an example, one of our programs teaches emancipated minors in the school system who are either pregnant or who already have children, how to recognize and cook fresh food. Inner city youth who are on their own have no role models. There is no one to teach them the difference between an apple and a beet – they both look red. Brass City Harvest does what it can to assist young parents in making wiser nutritional decisions for themselves and their children and we show them how easy it is to have a small kitchen garden by a window or on a small patio. Understanding the audience is critical to such basic, grassroots outreach.

Intermediate and long term effects will largely be dependent upon the continued expansion of Brass City Harvest’s infrastructure and role within the community that will address some of the needs of the state’s farmers, provide fresh food in some strategic corner stores, expand urban farmland to reclaim and repurpose even more contaminated and blighted land, and establish a true food and nutrition center that combines the concepts of farm-to-table into one package that can be tailored to each specific audience.

Bats and Rabies: How UConn May Help

The Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) within the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science (PVS) in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) at the University of Connecticut routinely tests domestic and wild animals for rabies. Rabies is one of the oldest recognized diseases to mankind. Rabies can affect all warm-blooded animals which plays an important role in transmission of the disease and serve as reservoirs for the rabies virus.

To detect rabies in animals, a set of strict standard operating procedures are followed. The CVMDL performs a Direct Immunofluorescent Assay (DFA) on brain tissue derived from dead animals. These animals, usually with a history of abnormal behavior, are submitted to the laboratory for testing.

The CVMDL tests many domestic and wild animal species on a weekly basis for rabies. Among them, bats are a fairly common submission to CVMDL for rabies testing. For instance, during 2016, a total of 28 bats were submitted to CVMDL, with the majority of the submissions taking place during the months of June, July and August. All of these bats tested negative for rabies.

graph of 2016 rabies tests in bats

Interestingly enough, in 2017, CVMDL has already tested 40 bats for rabies. The virus was detected in the brains of two bats that were submitted to the lab in July and October, respectively. Remember, always be cautious when dealing with wild animals. CVMDL suggests to call your local animal control to help collecting or trapping wild animals.

For more information, visit cvmdl.uconn.edu or contact 860-486-3738 or CVMDL@uconn.edu.

CT Trail Census Update

By Kristina Kelly, Connecticut Trail Census Statewide Coordinator

Naugatuck Greenway
Naugatuck Greenway

Fall is a busy time for the Connecticut Trail Census team as we are nearing the end of our pilot year. We are so excited to have this important data finalized and ready for release in January 2018 so that our local communities can begin to put the data to use improving their local trail systems.

In September, volunteers and trail enthusiasts performed Intercept Surveys at our 15 participating trail sites. These surveys feature multiple choice and open-ended questions such as the user’s age range, motivation for using the trail, frequency of trail use, and whether they planned on spending money on that trip to the trail (such as stopping at a coffee shop in a community along the way). These questions are intended to collect valuable qualitative data that the Infrared (IR) Counters cannot. So far, we have received over 400 surveys from this fall session and the data is currently being compiled into a database for organization and presentation.

In other news, we are looking forward to presenting at the 2nd Annual CT Trails Symposium on October 19th. In addition to speaking about the current progress and planning for the future of the program, we will be unveiling a preview of how and where the survey data will be available to the public in January. Click here for more information on the Symposium and register to join us!

In the public outreach department, we have released a CT Trail Census Facebook page where we post program updates, connections with statewide trail groups, and useful articles regarding trail use! Check us out on Facebook and be sure to click “like” so our posts show up in your newsfeed.

Finally, at the end of this month, we will be collecting another round of quantitative data from the IR counters that are counting trail uses 24/7 on our trail sites! We will then perform preliminary analysis and continue working on calibrating and correcting this data for our final report release in January.

Stay tuned for more updates and feel free to reach out to me or visit our website if you would like more information or to get involved!

Tick Testing Available at UConn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tick testing video

Healthy and Homemade Meals in Fairfield County

Healthy and homemade meals and seasonal vegetables were part of nutrition education outreach conducted by Extension educator Heather Peracchio in September. Heather works with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) and is based in the Fairfield County Extension Center. She reports on her programming for September:

SNAP-Ed programs:

Nutrition outreach at the mobile pantry in Bethel on September 27th reached a record high 220 families. United Way suspects the great increase in numbers this month might be due to families being sent flyers home in school backpacks.

nutrition education healthy homemade mealA two-part series of nutrition classes were presented at the Veterans Affairs office in Bridgeport on September 6th and 13th. One class focused on sugar sweetened drinks and how to make healthier choices, participants taste tested a fresh fruit smoothie. The other class focused on budget-saving tips like making simple cook ahead meals. All participants received a 2018 calendar and taste tested a salad with homemade honey mustard dressing and a tamale pie, both recipes were featured in the Healthy and Homemade calendar from Iowa State Extension. Dietetic intern, Anna VanderLeest, assisted with both of these classes.

Eat Smart Live Strong at Elmwood Senior Center on Wednesday, September 20th reached 42 seniors; and New Hope church in Danbury on September 27th reached 28 seniors. Each class had the opportunity to taste test a kale salad with homemade honey mustard dressing. Each senior was encouraged to continue to follow the two key healthy behaviors from the series, eating at least 3.5 cups of fruits and vegetables each day and participating in at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Each participant was given a 2018 Healthy and Homemade calendar as well.

SNAP-Ed participated in the Danbury Farmers market Saturday September 23rd. Participants learned all about seasonal vegetables including kale and apples. Extension educators Heather Peracchio and Juliana Restrepo-Marin offered an in-person food demonstration of a kale apple slaw. 30 participants attended the class offered on-site at the market. The next class is planned for Saturday October 14th.

This month Fairfield County Extension nutrition programs partnered with Western Connecticut Health Networks Dietetic Internship. Three dietetic interns from Danbury and Norwalk Hospital, Candido Gonzalez, Christian Aguilar and Angelina Campbell accompanied Heather to shadow and assist with programming on September 20th and September 27th.

EFNEP:

A new program combining fitness and nutrition with Extension educator German Cutz’s current 4-H soccer teams had a third class on Thursday, September 14th. Participants included 46 parents and children, where they learned about label reading and how to identify fat and sugar in common snack foods as part of the Choose Health: Fun, Food and Fitness curricula. There was a hands-on demonstration of an apple cinnamon yogurt tortilla snack where parents participated, and everyone taste tested. They also held a class Friday, October 6th.

Heather continues to coordinate with Danbury’s Morris Street School Family Resource Staff and a new EFNEP program at Morris Street School is planned Monday evenings beginning October 16th. Interested participants can contact Morris Street Family Resource Center to sign up.

Extension is a nationwide effort to give the public access to research-based information, scientific expertise, and educational programs they can use to enhance their everyday lives. UConn Extension, a program of the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) works in all 169 towns of Connecticut with a network of over 100 educators and scientists. Over 2,900 volunteers leverage the ability of Extension to work in every community.