Heather Peracchio, one of our Extension educators with the UConn Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, shares tips on how to clean your kitchen, fruits and vegetables.
UConn Extension has collaborated with our partners, communities and stakeholders for over 100 years. We are proud to serve all 169 cities and towns in Connecticut. The worldwide pandemic involving COVID-19 (coronavirus) has produced unprecedented challenges in the UConn community and around the world. Our services continue during this challenging time.
We are still delivering the science-based information you need. We are ready to answer your questions. Consult with us by email or on the phone. All of our educators are working and ready to serve you. Ask us a question online.
We are developing virtual programs to offset canceled in-person learning opportunities. Our educators are writing and updating fact sheets and other information. You have access to educational materials on our YouTube channel. We are growing our suite of online resources every day to meet the needs of our communities and stakeholders.
Resources for all audiences includes:
- Food safety and cooking
- Hand washing and sanitizers
- Infection prevention
- Financial advice
- Listings of open farms/farmers’ markets and school emergency meal distribution
Parents and families with children out of school can use the resources from our UConn 4-H program to provide new educational activities for youth. Activities available will keep youth engaged and learning and are appropriate for a variety of age groups.
A list of resources has been collected for Connecticut businesses. It is a clearinghouse of resources, and not an official site. Business owners can connect to the state resources we provide for official and legal advice.
Agricultural producers are still working on farms, in greenhouses and along the coast in Long Island Sound during the COVID-19 outbreak. Extension educators have developed resources for specific agricultural sectors, including fruit and vegetable farms, aquaculture, and nursery and landscape professionals. Links to important updates from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture also are available.
Our Extension educators are updating and adding resources regularly. Please visit http://bit.ly/COVID-19-Extension.
We are also ready to answer your other questions, including:
- How do I get my water tested?
- What is wrong with my plant?
- Can I eat healthy on a budget?
- How does my son/daughter join 4-H?
UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:
- Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
- Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
- Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
- Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.
Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.
We are here. We are ready to serve you.
March 26, 2020 Update
The following information has been compiled for the general public and for those who come under essential businesses in Connecticut.
- FDA has recently stated that food supply is safe among COVID-19 and there are no current disruptions in the supply chain. Consumers should be confident in the safety of their food. To read more about coronavirus impacting the food industry please visit FDA leaders_food supply is safe.
- If you have questions such as
- How do I maintain social distancing in my food production/processing facility and food retail establishment where employees typically work within close distances?
- A worker in my food production/processing facility/farm has tested positive for COVID-19. What do I need to do to continue operations while protecting my other employees?
or other concerns regarding Food safety and COVID-19, please visit FDA Latest FAQs
- As a consumer if you have questions such as
- Should I mist produce with a very diluted bleach solution (a teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water) and let it air dry before I eat it to avoid contracting COVID-1?
- Does cooking foods kill the virus that causes COVID-19? (Short answer- YES)
Please visit Consumer_FAQs
Since, it is believed that cooking can kill viruses, it is recommended that the high-risk population (especially under current circumstances) such as immunocompromised hosts and seniors, avoid the consumption of RAW produce.
Other food safety resources:
- For questions that food industry in other states (NY and neighboring) may have such as
- How long can COVID-19 remain viable on different surfaces?
- Can animals raised for food and animal products be source of infection with COVID-19?
Please visit FAQs_FoodIndustry
- Food safety_COVID-19_Checklist
- SOP_Actions_to_be taken when worker tests positive for COVID-19
- Attached document for list of frequently touched surfaces and how to clean them
- Under the Connecticut Recovery Bridge Loan program,a qualifying business or nonprofit organization can apply for a loan of up to $75,000 or three months of operating expenses (whichever is lesser). All of the information can be found at CT_Recovery Bridge Loan Program
- The American Farmland Trust’s Farmer Relief Fundwill award farmers with cash grants of up to $1000 each to help them weather the current storm of market disruptions caused by the coronavirus crisis. Initially eligible applicants include any small and mid-sized direct-market producers. For complete information go to the ATF website at Farmer Relief Fund.
As always, if you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me. At UConn extension, we will try to answer your queries as soon as possible and keep you updated as we know more.
Educator: Indu Upadhyaya, DVM, MVSc, PhD,
Assistant Extension Educator, Food Safety
As we understand more about the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 worldwide, we are constantly updating information and resources to help guide the fruit and vegetable farming community in Connecticut. Please use this resource document with links to information relevant to CT farmers.
It can be easier to adapt to a constantly changing scenario if there are studies or examples to follow. Some farmers markets have changed the way they do business to implement some of the best food safety practices. Here is information from what some farmers’ markets and CSAs are doing. The following was adapted from information compiled by Chris Callahan, UVM.
- Carrborro, NC Farmer’s Market Case Study – NC State Extension has posted a summary of what the Carrboro Farmers’ Market has done. Briefly, this included communication with market customers, physical distancing by rearranging the market layout, rounding prices for limited use of coins, running a “tab” for customers to minimize cash transactions, no samples, no tablecloths to ease sanitation, and the addition of a hand washing station among other things.
- Minimize the Number of Touches (CSA) – One CSA has decided to change how they distribute to an urban market. They have previously trucked larger bins of produce to a distribution site where customers would select their own produce to fill their share. They have decided to pack the shares to order at the farm prior to distribution to minimize the number of people touching the produce. Another alternative would be packing shares to order at the market.
- Minimize the Number of Touches (Farmers’ Market) – The Bennington Farmers’ Market in Vermont has shifted to online ordering and pre-bagged orders from each farm that are combined into larger collective orders delivered to each customer via a drive-up system. The biggest decision was deciding that they’d actually continue to have the market. The new approach required the addition of an on-line ordering system (Google Forms for now), coordination among farms and some serious organization at the market. Orders are organized alphabetically; pickups are scheduled with a quarter of the alphabet every 30 minutes. People won’t get out of their cars.
- What are some other farms doing? Some farms have written and implemented specific response plans or taken other measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. For example, Two Farmers Farm in Scarborough, Maine have developed a detailed, yet flexible farm plan available online.
If you would like to share what your operation is doing to ensure food safety and have suggestions for the community to combat COVID-19, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, stay healthy and safe and we will keep you updated with the latest information as we learn more.
Considerations for Fruit and Vegetable Growers Related to Coronavirus & COVID-19
The situation with current COVID-19 pandemic is escalating unpredictably and as we are monitoring the virus spread in CT, here are some tips for farmers to practice safe food production.
This information is adapted from a blog post by Chris Callahan from University of Vermont.
Considerations for Fruit and Vegetable Growers Related to Coronavirus & COVID-19
The current COVID-19 pandemic is a common concern and many are wondering what they can and should do. The information here is intended to help guide the fruit and vegetable farming community. If you have concerns or additional suggestions please email us (email addresses at the end) or the CT Department of Agriculture ProduceSafety@ct.gov
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (“the novel coronavirus”). Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and may appear 2-14 days after exposure. While the majority of COVID-19 illnesses are mild, it can result in severe and fatal illness, particularly in the elderly and among those with severe underlying health conditions. Federal and State agencies are working hard to better understand the virus, how to control its spread, and how to treat those infected. One of the key things we can all do is to limit and slow the spread of COVID-19 to provide time for this understanding to develop and to not overwhelm the medical system. Much more information is available at the CDC Situational Summary page.
What Should Growers Do?
- Stay Away from Produce if Sick – If someone is sick, they should be nowhere near fruit and vegetables that others are going to eat. This is likely already part of your farm’s food safety plan and policies, but this is a good reminder to emphasize and enforce the policy. Make sure employees stay home if they feel sick and send them home if they develop symptoms at work. Consider posting signs asking customers not to shop at your farm stand if they have symptoms.
- Practice Physical Distancing – By putting a bit more space between you and others you can reduce your chances of getting ill. This might mean limiting or prohibiting farm visitors or reducing the number of off-farm meetings you attend in person. Avoid shaking hands and other physical contact. This also reduces the risk of your produce coming into contact with someone who is ill before it heads to market.
- Wash Your Hands – Reinforce the importance of washing hands well when arriving at work, when changing tasks (e.g. moving from office work to wash/pack), before and after eating, after using the bathroom, before putting on gloves when working with produce, and after contact with animals. Soap + water + 20 seconds or more are needed to scrub all surfaces of your hands and fingers thoroughly, then dispose of paper towels in a covered container.
- Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Drying –Viruses can be relatively long-lasting in the environment, and have the potential to be transferred via food or food contact surfaces. In this early stage, there is no indication that this virus has spread via food of any type. However, there’s no better time than the present to review, improve, and reinforce your standard operating procedures for cleaning, sanitizing, and drying any food contact surfaces, food handling equipment, bins, and tools. Remember, cleaning means using soap and water, sanitizing is using a product labeled for sanitizing, and drying means allowing the surfaces to dry completely before use.
- Plan for Change – Many produce farms are lean operations run by one or two managers and a minimal crew. Do you have a plan for if you become severely ill? How do things change if half your workforce is out sick? More business and labor planning guidance is available at the Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development site.
For more information on how to protect yourself, please visit CDC How to prepare for Corona virus
What Should Markets and Farmers Markets Do?
- Everything Above – Growers, retail food market owners, and farmers market managers should do all the things above. Does your market have a hand washing station? More guidance for food and lodging businesses is available from the Vermont Department of Health.
- Communicate with your Customers – Consider reaching out to your customers and recommend they stay home if they are ill. Have you informed your customers about any changes in your hours or policies?
- Consider Alternative Delivery – Some markets are taking this opportunity to launch pre-ordering and electronic payment options to enable social distancing at market. Some markets are moving to a drive-through pickup option.
- Reinforce the Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables – We are fortunate to have so many growers who do a great job with storage crops and winter production. This means our community has access to fresh fruits and vegetables that are important to their immune systems at this time of need. Be sure to promote the nutritional value of your products! But, keep in mind that promotion of your products should be within reason. Avoid making overly broad or unsupported health claims. Fresh produce contains many minerals and nutrients important for immune health which may reduce the severity and duration of an illness. Fun Fact: Pound for pound, that storage cabbage in your cooler has as nearly as much vitamin C as oranges.
What should CSA Farmers do?
- Communicate with your CSA Members – Consider reaching out to your members to let them know of any payment plans you can offer, to help ease the burden for families that are coping with unexpected loss of income or childcare costs. Remind members of your commitment to food safety, but don’t make broad claims about the risk of unsafe produce in grocery stores which most people in our communities still rely upon.
- Consider your CSA pick up – Members this year may be more concerned about the space and flow of their CSA pick up, looking for more distance between each other and their produce bags as they gather their veggies. Customers may prefer pre-bagged greens and appreciate other pre-weighed items for ease of selection. There could even be renewed interest in the CSA box model over the CSA mix & match model. Prepare for the need for modifications in order to ease concerns members may be feeling after weeks or months of social distancing.
Please stay safe and stay tuned for further updates as this is a constantly changing scenario.
UConn Extension Team
(Indu, Mary, Shuresh and Jiff)
Industrywide Food Safety Initiative Focuses on Small/Artisanal Ice Cream Companies
The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy announced that food safety resources for small and artisanal ice cream manufacturers, including an online class and technical support, are now available. Dennis D’Amico, one of our Extension educators was on the team that developed these initiatives.
These initiatives, which are similar to tools created in 2017 for the artisan/farmstead cheese community, are designed to help companies mitigate their food safety risks.
This initiative was led by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, an organization founded by dairy farmers in 2008 to convene the entire industry on common goals and opportunities. Innovation Center experts formed the Artisan Ice Cream Food Safety Advisory Team that includes the National Ice Cream Retailers Association, International Dairy Foods Association, academics, company owners and food safety experts from across the dairy industry.
“We created these tools with input from the owners of small ice cream companies and learned what can most effectively work for them,” said Tim Stubbs, Vice President of Product Research and Food Safety for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. “As a result, we think these resources have been designed in a way that these companies can help assure consumer confidence in their products.”
The resources include an online course offered through North Carolina State University titled “Food Safety Basics for Artisan Ice Cream Makers.” The course includes 10 interactive modules on the importance of food safety, identifying hazards, preventive controls, design, plant practices, sanitation and environmental monitoring. The course is available free through July 31, 2020 (discount code INTRO-FREE). Visit https://foodsafety.ncsu.edu/food-safety-basics-for-ice-cream-makers or www.usdairy.com/artisan for information.
A new website — www.safeicecream.org – is hosted by IDFA and offers self-study resources, guides, templates and tools designed to quickly help manufacturers.
Also available are workshops that provide direct coaching and technical support for small businesses as they write their food safety plans.
Information on the workshops or one-on-one food safety support is available by calling (607) 255-3459 or emailing email@example.com. More information can be found at www.usdairy.com/artisan
Dairy Processors: Are you interested in designing and implementing an environmental monitoring program (EMP) to improve your food safety program? This course may be for you.
In this eight-hour online course, you will learn alongside virtual dairy processors and apply concepts in the context of a dairy facility. This online course is available on-demand and adapts to your understanding of the materials. These features provide you with the flexibility to progress at your own pace with the confidence you will understand the content.
Dennis D’Amico, our Extension educator in the Department of Animal Science at UConn was one of the educators who developed this course. For more information, or to register, please visit NCSU Food Safety.
Often people open up their refrigerators, cupboards and cabinets to find foods that are beyond their sell- buy and use- buy dates. While it is always better to be safe than sorry, the following guidelines and information should help to take the guesswork out of determining whether or not your food is safe to eat.
Dating is not required by US Federal law, with the exception of infant formula and baby foods which must be withdrawn by their expiration date. For all other foods, except dairy products in some states, freshness dating is strictly voluntary on the part of manufacturers. For meat, poultry, and egg products under the jurisdiction of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), dates may be voluntarily applied provided they are not misleading and labeled in a manner that is in compliance with FSIS regulations. Also stores are not legally required to remove outdated products from their shelves. In order to ensure you getting the freshest food, it is necessary to scrutinize packaging and purchase the items with the most recent date. Although most markets are good about rotating their stock, some are not. If a store is properly stocked, the freshest items will be at the back of the shelf or underneath older items.
So what do these terms mean for consumers?
* Expiration Date: If you have a product with an expired expiration date, throw it out. While other dating terms are used as a basic guideline, this one is absolute.
*Best if Used-By and Use-By date:
“Use-By” or: Best if Used By” dates are a suggestion for when the food item will be at its best quality. Food is generally safe if consumed past this date, but may have deteriorated in flavor, texture, or appearance. “Use- By” dates are most often found on canned goods, dry goods, condiments, or other shelf stable items. The Food and Drug Administration is supporting the food industry’s efforts to standardize the use of this on its packaged food labeling.
Many fresh or prepared foods are labeled with a “Sell-By” date as a guide for how long the item should be displayed for sale before quality deteriorates. Items are generally safe for consumption after this date, but may begin to lose flavor or eye appeal. “Sell-By” dates are chosen with the assumption that the buyer may store or eat the item a few days after purchase. To be sure your food is fresh and will keep at home, it is best not to buy items that are past their “ sell by” date.
This date is often used for perishable baked goods. Beyond this date, freshness is no longer guaranteed, although it may still be edible.
This is the date the item was packed, most often used on canned and boxed items. It is usually in the form of a code and not easy to decipher. It may be coded by month(M), day (D) and year (Y) such as YYMMDD or MMDDYY. Or it may be coded using Julian numbers, where January 1 would be 001 and December 31 would be 365. These time stamps are generally a reference to the date, time, and location of the manufacture and not be confused with expiration dates. “Sell-By” or “ Best-By” may also be included on the can code.
So all of this assumes foods are stored at the right temperature. Foods not refrigerated properly – whether at home or at the store – wont keep as long regardless of what the freshness date says. So how long are foods good after the package date? According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service:
- Milk is good for about a week after the “sell by” date
- Eggs can keep for three to five weeks beyond the “sell by” date
- Fresh chicken, turkey and ground meats should be cooked or frozen within two days
- Fresh beef, pork and lamb should be cooked or frozen within three to five days
Cooking or freezing extends the amount of time a food will keep. Use your eyes and nose too, to determine if foods are fresh, regardless of the date on the package.
So here are some food storage hints and tips:
- Once opened, many of the dates become obsolete since the contents now become perishable. It is advisable to use food as quickly as possible after opening them.
- Be sure to refrigerate leftovers in a covered container (not a can) and use within 3 to 5 days.
- Some canned foods (like condiments and pickled foods) will have a longer shelf life if refrigerated. Most condiments will have a warning to refrigerate after opening on the label.
- When buying foods always check the expiration date. Choose the date farthest in the future for optimum shelf life.
- Like the grocery, rotate your stock at home. Rather than trying to determine the codes on cans, use a marker to write the purchase date on cans and packaged goods.
- Whatever the expiration date, do not open or use cans that are bugling or oozing from the seams, or those that are heavily dented.
- Most baking mixes contain fats which will become rancid with time and leaveners that lose their potency. Check the dates.
- The best storage temperature for canned foods is 65 degrees F. Higher storage temperatures can reduce shelf-life up to 50 percent. Most canned goods can be stored up to 1 year under optimal temperatures.
- Canned foods should never be frozen. The freezing expansion can split the seams of the can or break the glass.
- Generally, foods canned in glass have a longer shelf-life, but they must be stored in the dark since light can accelerate some natural chemical reactions.
- Look at cellophane, plastic and box packages at the store to be sure they have not been punctured or torn. Once the seal is penetrated, shelf-life of the contents is drastically shortened.
- Bring food home quickly from the store and store it properly for maximum shelf life.
- Trust your vision and smell- if it looks and/or smells bad throw it out.
- A resource available for consumers online with questions about how to keep perishable foods is: The FoodKeeper App (https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/foodkeeperapp/index.html)
Article by: Sherry Gray, MPH, RD, Extension Educator, UConn EFNEP
Updated: September 30, 2019
UConn Extension is proud to announce our newest team member, Indu Upadhyaya. Indu accepted the position of Food Safety Extension educator. She is based in our Tolland County Extension Center and started with Extension in June.
Indu obtained her 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. She completed her PhD from UConn in Animal Science with a focus on Food safety and Microbiology. She moved to Arkansas as a postdoctoral associate at the University of Arkansas Center of Excellence for Poultry Science, where she worked in collaboration with the USDA Agricultural Research Service Poultry Production and Product Safety Research Unit.
Before coming back to UConn as a faculty, she worked as an Assistant Professor in the School of Agriculture at Tennessee Tech University for one year. She was involved with developing a research program on poultry and fresh produce safety, including writing grants and collaborating with other faculty from various disciplines. She also taught two upper level undergraduate courses and worked on various food safety outreach and recruitment activities in Tennessee.
Indu is excited to serve as UConn’s Food Safety Extension Educator. In her spare time, she likes to read, listen to music and watch tennis. She enjoys trying different cuisines and likes to travel new places.