food

Ask UConn Extension Your Questions

Indu
Indu Upadhyaya, Food Safety Assistant Extension Educator. Photo: Kevin Noonan

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 Abby Beissingeropportunities. 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.

UConn CAHNR Extension educators have curated resources related to COVID-19 for our statewide audiences, including families, businesses, and agricultural producers.

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.

Bruce Hyde presenting at Land Use Academy
Bruce Hyde presenting at Land Use Academy.

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.

 

Litchfield County 4-H to Hold Food Insecurity Awareness Forum

4-H logoLitchfield County 4-H is pleased to announce plans to hold their Food Insecurity Awareness Forum on Wednesday, March 25, at 7 pm, at the Litchfield Community Center in Litchfield. The forum will feature an educational panel discussion including several local and state experts on the subject of food insecurity in Litchfield County and a call to action for community members to learn how they can help make a difference. The cost for admission is to bring a non-perishable food item to be donated to the local food bank for local families in need. This event is being co-sponsored by Litchfield County 4-H and the Litchfield Community Center.

Since community service is a large component of the 4-H experience, the 2020 Litchfield County 4-H Theme is Operation Community Impact, focusing on food insecurity in Litchfield County. “When I first brought this idea to the 4-H members, they were very surprised to learn that over 10% of Litchfield County residents are food insecure. They agreed that there is a lack of awareness of the issue in our county and decided they wanted to help do something about it”, according to Bill Davenport, Litchfield County 4-H Educator, UConn Extension. The Litchfield County 4-H officer team came up with an action plan that begins with holding this forum to increase awareness in the county and engage all thirty 4-H clubs in the county to help in some capacity in this effort with the Litchfield County 4-H Fair Association leadership team coordinating and leading the effort. They also plan to work closely with local food banks, food pantries and any other civic groups or organizations who are willing to become involved with this important issue.

The local and state experts serving on the panel include:

  • Molly Stadnicki, SNAP & Nutrition Outreach Coordinator at End Hunger Connecticut
  • Julie H. Scharnberg, Grants and Program Director, Northwest CT Community Foundation
  • Kathy Minck, Site Director for Food Rescue US NWCT
  • Deirdre DiCara, FISH (Friends in Service to Humanity, local homeless shelter and food pantry)
  • Jaime Foster, Chief Programs Officer, Connecticut Food Bank
  • Michael J. Puglisi, Ph.D. RD, UConn Assistant Extension Professor, Nutritional Sciences

Litchfield County 4-H will provide refreshments at the event and several 4-H members will be in attendance to learn from the experience, make some connections and hopefully gain some more ideas on how to help. “Our goal is to fill the room with community members who walk away with an increased awareness and a renewed energy to help us make a difference in our community with this important but often overlooked need”, according to Davenport.

4-H is a national program with six million youth participating in various project areas who learn life skills, supervised by over 500,000 volunteer leaders. Litchfield County has 26 active 4-H clubs with over 400 active members in those clubs. Project areas include but are not limited to beef cattle, canine, crafts, dairy cattle,

dairy goats, equine, community nutrition, food safety, food preparation skills, horticulture, mechanics, oxen, poultry, robotics, sewing, sheep, small animals, STEM, and swine.

The 4-H program is organized into four program areas including Agriculture, Civic Engagement, Healthy Living and STEM. These themes all overlap throughout the 4-H experience, with emphasis placed on creating well-rounded individuals. 4-H is the youth development program offered through the UConn Extension system. The purpose of UConn as Connecticut’s land grant university is to provide the citizens of Connecticut with educational opportunities through teaching, research and extension programming. For more information about 4-H and how to join, please contact Bill Davenport, Litchfield County Extension 4-H Educator, at william.davenport@uconn.edu or at 860-626-6854.

Vegetable Production Certificate Course

vegetable production flyervegetable production flyer
We’re offering a Vegetable Production Certificate Course, beginning on March 12th. It’s a hybrid format, online and in-person for new and beginning farmers. This year only, we have a special introductory fee of $100 or $150 depending on the course option you choose.

This vegetable production course is designed to benefit beginner vegetable producers who have 0-3 years of vegetable growing experience or no formal training in agriculture. The participants will learn answers to the basic questions about farm business planning, planning and preparing for vegetable farm, warm and cool-season vegetable production techniques, season extension, identification of biotic and abiotic issues, and marketing.

The course description is available at http://bit.ly/Vegetables2020 and online registration is at http://bit.ly/ExtensionStore. Registration is due by 5 PM on March 2nd.
Please contact the course coordinator, Shuresh Ghimire (Shuresh.Ghimire@uconn.edu, 860-870-6933) with any questions about this course.

Industrywide Food Safety Initiative Focuses on Ice Cream

Industrywide Food Safety Initiative Focuses on Small/Artisanal Ice Cream Companies

making ice cream at UConn, purple gloves hold container of ice cream
Chemical engineering majors make a test batch of reduced sugar ice cream at the UConn Creamery on April 8, 2015. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

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 titledFood 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 dairyfoodsafetycoach@cornell.edu. More information can be found at www.usdairy.com/artisan

Where can we get healthy food? #AskUConnExtension

Where can we get healthy food? Dr. German Cutz, one of our Extension educators, discusses urban agriculture as one option as we use innovative technology and new methods to grow food for our families and communities.

vegetables with two hands picking some up and question: Where can we get healthy food?

#AskUConnExtension

Video: Mike Zaritheny

Holiday Eating Survival Guide

a plate of chocolate covered pretzels with festive sprinkles on them
Photo: Air Force Academy

Choose:

  • Lower calorie appetizers- vegetables, or fruit
  • Avoid lots of cheese, and fried foods
  • Smaller plates and tall skinny glasses

Know your limits:

  • Eat before you go to a party or out holiday shopping
  • Make a healthy food for the party
  • Have a plan for healthy eating… 5 small appetizers and 2 drinks
  • 2 mixed drinks can have almost 500 calories and depending on the appetizers, it can run as high as 230 calories per appetizer
  • Indulge in a holiday treat closer to bedtime, you will tend to eat less than if you had it during the day
  • Be mindful of eating – slow down and pay attention
  • Carry hard candy mints to change the flavor of your palate or brush your teeth to signal yourself to stop eating

Start a new tradition:

  • Instead of giving cookies or chocolate try making soup mixes or salsa as gifts
  • Make a non-food craft as a holiday activity
  • Try walking, ice skating or sledding to enjoy the season
  • Try reducing fat and sugar in your holiday baking by substituting with applesauce

Article by Heather Pease, Extension educator, UConn EFNEP

What do labels really mean? Organic, Natural, Cage-Free…

organic food labelWhat do labels really mean? Organic, Natural, Cage-Free, Grass-Fed, Pasture-Raised and Local

You have probably seen these terms on food labels and in the news, but what do they really mean?  And how important is buying organic and natural foods when it comes to healthy eating.  Some terms are helpful and others are misleading. So, let’s look at some of these terms to see what they really mean.

  1. Natural

The term “natural” broadly means minimally processed and free of synthetic dyes, coloring, flavorings and preservatives.  These foods can still contain such ingredients as high fructose corn syrup and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).  Natural is largely unregulated by the USDA for most foods except meat, poultry and egg products. Foods containing meat, poultry, or eggs must be minimally processed and free of artificial ingredients in order to be labeled “natural”. However these animals may be given antibiotics, growth hormone, and fed GMO feed.

  1. Organic

Organic claims on food products are regulated by the USDA.  Organic foods must be produced without the use of most conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering.  These foods are also produced using methods that promote the conservation of our natural resources.

Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones.  These animals also must be raised in living conditions that encourage natural behaviors such as the ability to graze on pastures and are fed 100% organic feed.   This makes it less likely that these animals will carry disease or create antibiotic –resistant strains of bacteria.

Organic crops must be grown in safe soil, have no modifications and must remain separate from conventionally grown crops.  Farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers and sewage sludge –based fertilizers.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization that provides and annual list called the “dirty dozen”.  The list names 12 fruits and vegetables found to be highest in pesticide residues based on laboratory tests from the USDA.  The dirty dozen currently includes apples, celery, tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, imported nectarines, grapes, spinach, kale, pears, cherries, and potatoes. However, 2016 FDA residue findings suggest, particularly for domestically produced foods, that pesticide applications generally demonstrate compliance with legal and established agricultural practices.   The majority of samples tested contained no detectable pesticide residues while any detected residues were typically present at levels far below the tolerance levels.  This testing was conducted on produce that was not labeled organic.

In the United States there are 3 levels of organic claims:

  • 100 –percent Organic. Products that are completely organic or made of only organic ingredients qualify for this claim and a USDA Organic seal.
  • Products in which at least 95 percent of its ingredients are organic qualify for this claim and a USDA Organic seal.
  • Made with Organic ingredients. These are food products in which at least 70 percent of ingredients are certified organic. The USDA Organic seal cannot be used but “made with organic ingredients” may appear on its packaging.
  1. Grass –fed and grass- finished or 100% grass-fed.

If an animal is grass- fed and grass-finished then their feed was composed entirely of grass, legumes, and green vegetation up until the animal was slaughtered.  However, this label does not address the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides.  USDA defines “grass fed” as it applies to labeling but does not regulate it in any way.  So when shopping for meat, you need to make sure you are getting 100% Organic, Grass-Fed meat.  Grass-fed beef is leaner and has been shown to have healthier omega-3 fatty acids.

  1. Cage –Free

This term simply indicates that animals were not kept in cages.  They are still in an enclosed facility, but with unlimited access to food and fresh water.  The facility; however; could be very small and crowded with little room to move about.  This health claim does not mean that animals were free to roam in pastures or that they had access to the outdoors.  Many cage-free claims are not certified, making it a misleading label.

  1. Free- Range

USDA has approved this term for animals that were raised in a sheltered facility with unlimited access to food, water, and access to the outdoors.  It does not indicate that the animal went outside in its lifetime, only that there was a door to the outside.  The term does not specify the outdoor conditions, but pastures are permitted to be fenced and covered in netting.

  1. Pasture – Raised

USDA has not developed a definition for this term yet; however; many farmers use it to distinguish themselves from “free range” farms.  Animals are free to roam outdoors with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and indoor shelter in case of bad weather.  This differs from “free range” in that pasture-raised animals spend more time outdoors than indoors.  This is the most ideal label to look for when choosing chicken and eggs.  Often these animals are not given growth hormone or antibiotics, but you need to ask to be 100% sure.

  1. Locally Grown

What is local food?  Unlike organic standards, there is no specific definition.  Generally local food means food that was grown close to home.  This could be in your own garden, your local community, your state, or your region.  People buy locally for the financial benefits, less transportation of the food and freshness of the food.  Small local farmers often use organic methods, but sometimes cannot afford to become certified organic. Visit a farmers market and talk to the farmers.  Find out how they produce the fruits and vegetables they sell.

In summary, it is important to look at claims on the foods that you buy to be sure you are getting what you want.  Be aware of the differences in labels so that you know what you are buying, particularly if it costs you more than conventional foods.

References

Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) 2019. Interpreting Pesticide Residues in Food. Issue Paper 66. CAST. Ames, Iowa.   www.cast-science.org

http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/food-labeling/organic-foods

http://eatright.org/.

http://www.helpguide.org/life/organic_foods_pesticides

http://eatlocalgrown.com/article/12735  – what do-organic-natural-cage-free

 

Article by Sherry Gray, UConn Extension Educator

Updated: 11/13/19

Growing Food with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and UConn Extension have been collaborating thanks to a U.S.D.A. Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program to enhance agricultural production, food security, and health of tribal community members.

UConn Extension Growing Food With the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation

#AskUConnExtension #UConnImpact

Heart Healthy Cooking Oils

food cooking in a skillet over the fireThis article will review the health and cooking properties of oils available in markets.

With so many cooking oils to choose from, it can be confusing which ones are heart-healthy and which ones are not. Cooking oils include plant, animal or synthetic fats used in frying, baking and other types of cooking. Oils are also used as ingredients in commercially prepared foods, and condiments, such as salad dressings and dips. Although cooking oils are typically liquid, some that contain saturated fat such as coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil are solid at room temperature.

Health and Nutrition

The Food and Drug Administration recommends that 30% or less of calories from the foods you eat daily should be from fat and fewer than 7% from saturated fat. Saturated fat is found in animal and dairy products as well as the tropical oils (coconut, palm and palm kernel oil). The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and World Heart Foundation have recommended that saturated fats be replaced with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Olive and canola oils are good sources of monounsaturated fats while soybean and sunflower oils are rich in polyunsaturated fat. Oils high in unsaturated fats may help to lower ”bad” Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and may raise “good” High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

Omega- 3 and Omega- 6 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 and Omega-6 are essential fatty acids – we cannot make them on our own and must get them from the foods we eat.  Both are polyunsaturated fatty acids that differ from each other in their chemical structure. In modern diets, there are few sources of Omega -3 fatty acids, mainly the fat of cold water fish such as salmon and sardines. Vegetarian sources such as walnuts and flaxseeds contain a precursor of Omega-3 that the body must convert to a useable form. Keep in mind that Omega-3 fats from marine sources, such as fish and shellfish have much more powerful health benefits than Omega-3 fats from plant sources. By contrast, there are abundant sources of Omega-6 fatty acids in our diets. They are found in seeds and nuts and the oils extracted from them. Refined vegetable oils, such as soy oil, are used in most of the snack foods, cookies, crackers and sweets in the American diet as well as in fast food. Most Americans get far too much Omega-6 and not enough Omega-3 so it is recommended to eat more foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids.

Trans Fats

Unlike other dietary fats, trans fats are not essential and they do not promote good health.  Consumption of trans fats increases one’s risk of heart disease by raising levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and lowering levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.  Trans fats are artificially created by the process of hydrogenation that turns liquid oils into solid fats. Trans fat formed naturally is found in small amounts in some animal products, such as meat and dairy products. In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration, took action to significantly reduce the use of partially hydrogenated oils.   Trans fats formed artificially during food processing are often found in commercial baked goods, crackers, and fried foods, as well as shortening and some margarines.  When the label of ingredients says “partially hydrogenated”, it’s probably likely to contain trans fats. The Nutrition Facts label lists trans fats per serving.

Cooking with Oil

Heating oil changes its characteristics so it is important to know the smoke point – the point at which an oil begins to break down structurally, producing unhealthful by-products such as free radicals. Oils that are healthy at room temperature can become unhealthy when heated above certain temperatures. When choosing a cooking oil, it is important to match the oil’s heat tolerance with the cooking method. Generally, the more refined the oil, the higher it’s smoke point.

High Smoke Point (Best for searing, browning and deep frying)

Oil % Mono %Poly % Saturated Notes
Almond 65 28 7 Has a distinctive nutty flavor; don’t use if allergic to nuts
Avocado 65 18 17 Has a sweet aroma
Hazelnut 82 11 7 Bold, strong flavor; don’t use if allergic to nuts
Palm 38 10 52 High in saturated fat; not recommended.
Sunflower

(high oleic)

82 9 9 Look for high oleic versions – higher in mono-unsaturated fat.
Rice Bran 47 33 20 Very clean flavored and palatable
Mustard 60 21 13 Palatable
Tea Seed 60 18 22 Good for frying and stir-frying
“Light”/refined Olive 73 11 14 The more refined the olive oil the better its all-purpose cooking use.  “Light” refers to color.

 

Medium – High Smoke Point (Best suited for baking, oven cooking or stir frying)

Oil %Mono %Poly %Saturated Notes
Canola 62 31 7 Contains good levels of Omega-3;good all-purpose oil
Grapeseed 17 73 10 High in Omega-6
Macadamia nut 84 3 13 Bold flavor, don’t use if allergic to nuts
Extra virgin olive 73 11 14 Good all –purpose oil
Peanut 48 34 18 Great for stir frying, don’t use if allergic to nuts

 

Medium Smoke Point (Best suited for light sautéing, sauces and low-heat baking)

Oil %Mono %Poly % Saturated Notes
Corn 25 62 13 High in Omega-6, high mono-unsaturated versions coming.
Hemp 15 75 10 Good source of Omega-3. Keep refrigerated
Pumpkin Seed 36 57 8 Contains Omega-3
Sesame 41 44 15 Rich nutty flavor, keep refrigerated
Soybean 25 60 15 High in Omega-6
Walnut 23 63 9 Good source of Omega- 3
Coconut 6 2 92 High in saturated fat; use in moderation.

 

No – Heat Oils (Best used for dressings, dips or marinades)

Oil %Mono %Poly %Saturated Notes
Flaxseed

(Linseed oil)

21 68 11 Excellent source of alpha-linoleic acid, a form of Omega -3
Wheat germ 65 18 17 Rich in Omega-6. Keep refrigerated.

Storage/Shelf Life

Different oils stay fresh for different amounts of time, but you must store them all carefully. They should be tightly covered and stored in the dark away from heat. The less access to air, the fresher they will stay. Refrigeration benefits most oils.  If unopened, peanut oil, corn oil, and other vegetable oils will keep for at least a year. Once opened, they are good for 4-6 months. Olive oil will keep for about 6 months in a cool, dark pantry but up to a year in the refrigerator.  Walnut oil and sesame oil are delicate and inclined to turn rancid. Keep in the refrigerator and they will stay fresh for 2-4 months. It is best to purchase smaller bottles of oil if not used extensively.

Proper Disposal of Used Cooking Oil

Proper disposal of used cooking oil is an important waste-management concern. A single gallon of oil can contaminate as much as 1 million gallons of water. Oils can congeal in pipes causing major blockages. Cooking oil should never be dumped in the kitchen sink or in the toilet bowl. The proper way to dispose of oil is to put it in a sealed, non-recyclable container and discard it with regular garbage.

 

Article by: Sherry Gray MPH, RD

Extension Educator, UConn EFNEP

Updated: 10/1/19

 

Sources:

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/InteractiveNutritionFactsLabel/factsheets/Trans_Fat.pdf

https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/InteractiveNutritionFactsLabel/factsheets/Total_Fat.pdf

Wikipedia.org/wiki/cooking-oil

Health.clevelandclinic.org/2012/05/heart-healthy-cooking-oils-101/

www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-fats/

whatscookingamerica.net/information/cookingoiltypes.html

Survey could help efforts to get more seafood eaten in CT

people eating seafood outside at picnic tables
Photo: Judy Benson

If you’re an average Connecticut resident, you probably didn’t eat seafood more than once in the last week.

But you might, if you knew more about how to prepare different types of fish, shellfish and seaweed, and where to buy local seafood. You’d also be inclined to have seafood more often if you knew more about its safety.

Those are some of the key findings of the Connecticut Seafood Survey, a 2½-year project to better understand current eating habits and how best to make of all types of seafood – but especially the shellfish, seaweed and fish from local waters – a more frequent part of state residents’ diets. Half the residents surveyed said they eat seafood just once a week – which is out of sync with the Food & Drug Administration’s recommendations. The FDA says adults should eat two or more servings per week to get all the nutritional benefits their bodies need.

Read more….

Article and photo by Judy Benson