Last year, through the hard work of all, the Allied Health Sciences School and Family SNAP-Ed program reached 5,549 participants and 6,164 contacts via single and multiple sessions. Education focused on: 1) cooking more, economical food shopping, safe food handling; 2) improving consumption of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains and avoiding sweetened beverages; and 3) increasing physical activity to balance calories consumed with energy expended. We also reached 33,032 contacts indirectly with food and nutrition topics based on MyPlate and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Enjoy some of the pictures of the SNAP-Ed events at West Hartford Fellowship Housing (Donna Zigmont and undergraduates Brianne Kondratowicz and Sarah Chau) reaching older adults with tips on economically purchasing and easily adding fruits and vegetables to increase dietary quality. A delicious fresh fruit salsa made on the spot served as a tasting opportunity. At Hockanum Preschool in East Hartford, parents and their preschoolers enjoyed “cooking together” under the guidance of UConn graduate student Samantha Oldman RDN and Lindsey Kent RDN our community partner from Shoprite.
All participants seemed to enjoy the healthy layered yogurt parfaits. Our UConn student educators made us proud with their professionalism, enthusiasm, and ability to engage these SNAP audiences! Is there anything better than kids eating healthy food?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), through the Food Stamp Act of 1977, as amended, provides for the operation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed) in the State of Connecticut. The State of Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) has been designated by the USDA to administer the State’s SNAP-Ed activities and DSS in turn has contracted with UConn and the CT Department of Public Health to design and implement the SNAP-Ed projects. Under this contract, the USDA has authorized the University of Connecticut’s Department of Allied Health Sciences to administer, design, develop implement and evaluate a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed) plan.
The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) helps families learn about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, cooking and physical activity. EFNEP staff strive 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.
EFNEP classes will help you to prepare delicious, low-cost, healthy meals for you and your family. Some of our past classes are highlighted in this series. Contact the office near you for more information.
Child First Groton funded a Cooking Matters Families program open to all school age children and parents. The plan was to improve family relations and learn a skill together. UConn EFNEP worked in collaboration in the planning, marketing and executing this successful program. We were overwhelmed with responses and had to start a waiting list for further programs. The Groton Elementary School supplied a staff member who was an asset to this program in education and facilitation. During our first class we had 13 people attend: 6 parents and 7 children, ranging 4-8 years of age. The children were very involved and one boy said “This is the best day of my life,” setting the stage for the next 5 weeks of out program. The cooking facility was very small to accommodate this large group of 13 with 4-5 staff. But everyone who participated worked together to ensure safety and fun.
At the conclusion of the program the group had really grown and come together. The comments we received from the families were “The kids are helping more in the kitchen,” “We are closer as a family,” “When is the next class, we want to sign up?” ” I never thought they would eat those things.” Hearing these comments help volunteers, teachers and staff motivated to keep doing what they are doing. Watching the children eat their creations each week is a complete success in itself. ” I didn’t think I would like it but I did,” “I have never tried ground turkey before! I will use it at home.” The families were each sent home with ingredients to make the recipe again and the stories were very interesting. “We froze the ingredients so they wouldn’t go bad and made it 2 weeks later,” “We took the ingredients and some extras to make it ours.” Each week seeing the families working together as a team meant we were doing the right thing. One obstacle that occurred included fitting the class into the families’ busy schedules, with conflicts with school, work, and health issues. Working to find times that best fit everyone’s schedules helped the participants, and they felt valued by the adjustments that were made. In conclusion all the participants stated that they would attend another session, they had fun and benefited from getting to know each other better.
By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-877-486-6271.
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: email@example.com
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:
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.
A 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.
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.
When Julia Cobuzzi of Monroe transferred to UConn from Stonehill College in Massachusetts at the beginning of her sophomore year, she was not sure what she could do with a major in Allied Health Sciences.
“I took Introduction to Nutrition with Stacey Mobley, and it has been my favorite course by far in my college experience,” Julia says thoughtfully. Then, she met Paul Gagnon at the Center for Career Development, and he encouraged her to apply for an Extension internship. Julia spent the summer of 2016 working with Heather Peracchio in the UConn Extension office in Bethel. Heather is an Extension Educator for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education) program.
The community nutrition education intern teaches small and large groups, works with adults and children, conducts cooking demonstrations, and assists in developing materials for programs. During her first year interning, Julia had only taken one nutrition class and did not have much experience teaching. Working with Heather, she developed her skills, and a greater understanding of nutrition.
“I taught a 4-H program to 2nd-6th graders at a summer school at Shelter Rock Elementary School in Danbury. I also taught the same program to 1st-4th graders at a summer 4-H program in Bridgeport, that also included a gardening component. Over the weeks the kids came in, and were making better food choices at home, and eating the rainbow. I knew they were understanding what I was telling them,” Julia recalls. “I was sad at the end of the first summer. I learned so much from Heather, taught a lot of classes for youth, and it was a lot of fun to see that I could make a difference.” She switched her major to nutritional sciences, and then re-applied for the internship. Julia was selected to serve as the Community Nutrition Programming Intern in Bethel for the summer of 2017.
“The EFNEP program works in the community to help income-challenged parents learn how to shop for and make nutritious meals and snacks, all for better health and quality of life,” Heather says. “Julia assisted with preparing and implementing a 10-week gardening and nutrition program with parents and children in Norwalk, and a four week 4-H summer afterschool program with teens in Bridgeport, and farmers’ market nutrition education with the general public in Danbury.”
During her second summer of interning, Julia led a grocery store tour at ShopRite and talked to participants about budgeting, and purchasing food in season. The group of 16 moms was split into three groups, one led by Julia, one by the ShopRite dietitian, and one led by Heather. At the end of the program, each participant was given a $10 gift card from the grocery store, and they were challenged to purchase one meal that has all five food groups with the $10. Participants were competing amongst each other to see whom could create the healthiest meal for the least amount of money.
“How a community processes nutrition information is something you could not learn in a classroom – you have to see it in person to understand it,” Julia adds.
From a personal perspective, Julia enhanced her proficiencies in teaching in terms of figuring out how to write a lesson plan, and creatively teach to keep the audience engaged. She improved her public speaking skills, and ability to teach large groups of people. Julia also led classes at the Danbury Farmers’ Market, where she taught adults.
Julia began her senior year this fall, and is graduating in 2018. “My goal is to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. The internship helped me immensely in figuring out what I want to do.”
The invention of mechanical refrigeration was one of the most important developments in the history of keeping food safe (others include the pasteurization of milk and commercial canning). Ask anyone who has suffered through the aftermath of a hurricane or ice storm without the benefit of electricity to keep their food cold. But even a plugged-in fridge, humming along and doing its job, can be a place that harbors pathogens that cause foodborne illness or spoilage organisms that result in food waste.
A little microbiology lesson might be helpful before we go on. When talking about food, food safety and safe food storage, we often discuss the microbes that can cause foodborne illness. Especially we talk about how to prevent or eliminate them from our food or food preparation areas. The foodborne microorganisms that cause illness are called pathogens. Certain strains of bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and Staphylococcus are pathogens—they can cause foodborne illness. Some viruses and parasites can be the source of foodborne illness as well.
Other microorganisms may cause food to spoil. Spoilage organisms are generally not pathogenic. Spoilage makes food unappetizing, so we are unlikely to eat it. But the slimy, discolored, smelly, or fermented foods that result from the action of spoilage organisms are not as apt to make us sick, though some molds produce toxins that do have serious health effects.
The “good” thing about spoilage organisms is that they tell us that they are there. They make food smell funny or look weird. They turn food odd colors (cottage cheese that looks pink) or make things fizzy (juice that is fermented). We know it is best not to eat them. Spoilage organisms, will grow or multiply quite well at colder temperatures. This is why milk can spoil, juice can ferment and cheese or fruit can get moldy in your refrigerator.
On the other hand, pathogens are quiet, invisible. We never know for sure if they are lurking in the lettuce or hanging out on the chicken. Therefore we must take special care to prevent their growth or their spread to other foods or food-contact surfaces. We must assume that they are always there and do our best to control them.
Generally speaking, pathogens do not grow well in refrigerator temperatures. They prefer what we call the “danger zone” of approximately 41 degrees F to 135 degrees F. This is why it is recommended that you keep your refrigerator temperature at no more than 40 degrees F. If E. coli, Salmonella or other pathogens contaminate your food before you refrigerate it, these microbes will remain on the food. Refrigeration does not kill them, though it does limit their growth. One exception to this is Listeria. This bacteria actually likes the cold and can grow in temperatures as low as 32-45 degrees F.
Clean your fridge regularly
The best way to keep your refrigerator from being the source of a bout with foodborne illness is to keep it clean. A 2013 study of home kitchen environments conducted by the NSF, an organization that sets standards for cleanability of commercial food equipment, found that two of the “germiest” areas in the kitchen were the meat and vegetable bins in the home refrigerator. They found Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, yeast, and mold.
Prevention of messes is the first step to a clean refrigerator. When storing raw meat, poultry, or fish, be sure to separate them from other foods. Store them in a way that prevents juices from contaminating other foods or refrigerator shelves—place them on a plate or tray. Store fresh raw fruits or vegetables loosely in plastic bags or storage containers. Often it makes sense not to wash fresh produce until you are ready to use it, so it is especially important to keep fresh produce in the fruit and vegetable bin if possible. Keep eggs in their original carton. Leftovers should be refrigerated in closed containers, date labeled, so that they are used before spoilage organisms set up shop. If you have a leaky milk carton, put a plate under it.
If spills do occur, wipe them up immediately. If meat, poultry or fish juices contaminate a ready to eat food (lettuce, cut fruit, cheese), it is best to toss it.
A least weekly—maybe the night before garbage pickup–go through your fridge and throw out any perishable foods that are past their prime. Check dates on milk, yogurt and soft cheeses. They generally are best if used by 5-7 days after the “use by” date. Toss anything that is moldy, slimy, or just looks or smells spoiled. Take a look at your leftovers: generally, leftovers should be kept no longer than 3-5 days. Throw out those that have been there too long.
A thorough, deep cleaning should be done monthly.
Empty the food out of the refrigerator. In summer months, it may make sense to put some things in a cooler with ice—especially raw meat, fish, cut fruits or vegetables, and leftovers.
Take out shelving, drawers, and any other removable parts.
Wash shelving, drawers, and any other removable parts by hand with warm, soapy water. Dry with a CLEAN towel. (Air drying is preferable, but you want to get this job done quickly and get food back into the refrigerator within an hour or so.)
Wipe the inside of the empty refrigerator with warm, soapy water, then wipe with clean water to rinse off soap. Dry with a clean towel.
If you want to, mix one tablespoon of liquid household bleach (unscented) with a gallon of water and wipe the interior and any shelving with this sanitizing solution. Always clean first, then sanitize. Allow to air dry. Sanitizing alone will not be effective.
Finally, as you place items back in the refrigerator, take time to wipe off container surfaces.
Wipe off door handles and be sure, if you have a water/ice dispenser on the outside of your fridge, to clean that as well.
For more information about safe food preparation and storage check out our website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at www.ladybug.uconn.edu.
Storage Times For Refrigerated Foods (www.fsis.usda.gov)
NOTE: These short but safe time limits will help keep home-refrigerated food from spoiling.
Did you know that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has an app to help you track your food, fitness, and health? Download SuperTracker. With it you receive a personalized nutrition and physical activity plan, can track your food and physical activity; and receive tips and support to help you make healthier choices and plan ahead.
When teaching consumers and those who prepare food for day care centers, food pantries, shelters, and senior lunch programs, I always spend a bit of time talking about food labels. Not the nutrition labels, which can also be confusing to the average consumer, but the “safety and quality” labels.
At this time, there are several phrases used by food manufacturers and retailers to help consumers and food preparers to know about the food they are about to purchase or prepare. These phrases include:
Best if used by
These are all examples of open dating, a calendar date that the manufacturer or retailer applies to a food product. The calendar date provides consumers with information on the estimated period of time for which the product will be of best quality and/or to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. Some manufactures also use a closed dating code that is usually for the purposes of record keeping or tracking products in case of a recall. Often these dates or codes are a series of numbers and letters that the consumer may or may not be able to decipher.
When these dates are used on perishable foods, such as dairy products, eggs or meat, fish or poultry, consumers might think that once the date is reached, it is time to toss to food in the garbage. But that is not the case.
Safety vs Quality
First of all, keep in mind that none of these dates are required by Federal law. The one exception is for infant formula. Because formula is basically the sole source of nutrition for infants up to a certain age, and the essential nutrients (vitamins, especially) can break down, so that the formula is no longer providing what the baby needs for healthy growth and development. Some states do require such labels. Connecticut requires that dairy products including milk, cheese and raw milk, have a “sell by” or “last date of sale” label.
The purpose of these dates is to help consumers and retailers decide when food is of best quality—not necessarily safety.
Perishable foods, obviously, do not last forever. However, they are generally (if handled properly prior to eating), perfectly safe well past the sell by date on the container. Again, if safely handled (refrigerated properly during storage and transportation), eggs are safe as many as 4-6 weeks after the sell by date; dairy products 3-7 days after the sell by date, ground meat or fresh fish (1-2 days), deli cold cuts, 3-5 days and steaks, chops or roasts, 3-5 days. Again, these time ranges are guidelines. If there are signs of spoilage—odor, color change, sliminess—then toss the food, no matter the date! Unfortunately, the bugs that cause illness will not tell you they are there—they don’t make food smell bad or taste funny. Personally, I would throw out any foods beyond the time limits in this paragraph, if the sell by date is past or once I have opened them.
In addition, if you freeze any of these foods, you can extend the shelf life. While quality can suffer in the freezer (dehydration or freezer burn, rancidity in high fat foods), it is unlikely that the food will become dangerous to eat if frozen too long. Use by and sell by dates become meaningless if freezer storage is involved. But, consider the same time frames for using up these foods once defrosted: use ground meat in 1-2 days, fish in 1-2 days, cold cuts in 3-5 days and dairy products within 3-7 dates after defrosting.
Other foods present little or no food safety issues, no matter how long they are kept. Quality is the problem here. Chips, crackers, cereals and snack foods, especially if made from whole grains, can go stale and/or rancid over time. The exact length of time will depend on storage conditions. If it is warm or humid or if the food is exposed to sunlight where you store these foods, they are likely to suffer quality losses faster. But it will not hurt you to taste these foods yourself to see if they are still edible. While bread is similar, its moisture content may make it more prone to mold growth. If you see any mold growth, the bread should go. Mold can develop toxins that may cause illness or may be cancer causing. Don’t eat food that isn’t supposed to have mold on it.
In order to further reduce the wasting of perfectly good, but “out dated” food, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) are advising their members to rethink their safety and quality labels. They are proposing that only two labels be used. “Best if Used By” would be on most foods—indicating a loss of quality over time. But, for those that potentially pose a food safety risk, becoming less safe over time, the “Use By” label would be more appropriate.
People have been clamoring for simplification of these labels for a very long time. But concerns about food waste – whether for environmental, economic, or other reasons—have driven this most recent attempt to make quality and safety labels easier to understand.
For more information on food labels and food storage, go to foodsafety.uconn.edu or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-877-486-6271.
Imagine running out of food, with small children to feed, and no food stamps for another week. Friday’s paycheck has to pay your utility bill, or they will cut off your electricity. Feeling panicked yet? Picture what it was like, over 40 years ago, to have someone from UConn Extension knock on your door and ask if you need help learning how to feed your family for less.
Since 1969, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) educators have been helping thousands of families and youth in some of the most challenged neighborhoods in Connecticut.
While parts of Connecticut are affluent, our state has deep pockets of poverty that can lead to food insecurity and hunger. Some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country are in urban areas of our state. Food deserts, or areas that lack access to grocery stores and fresh food, contribute to the problem. This includes urban centers as well as more remote rural areas where transportation is a major hurdle for accessing healthy foods. Coupled with the challenging economy, the state has seen an increase in the number of families with children using soup kitchens and food assistance.
During the 1960’s, there was increasing awareness of the health problems associated with poverty. Hunger and poor nutrition were identified through several government studies. Cooperative Extension leaders recognized that programming was not reaching low-income populations as well as it could. In 1962, several states conducted pilot projects focusing on the best way to reach this audience with food and nutrition information. Throughout the mid 1960’s, effective land-grant university projects helped to build administrative support for establishing a program within Cooperative Extension.
EFNEP is the oldest federal nutrition education program for low-income families, being formally established in 1969. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) administers EFNEP at land-grant universities in all U.S. states and territories, and the District of Columbia. The program provides practical, hands-on food and nutrition education to tackle societal challenges such as hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and obesity.
UConn Extension has eleven EFNEP educators in communities throughout the state. EFNEP is active in cities such as Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Willimantic, Bridgeport, and Danbury. Bilingual programs and materials, cooking classes, and educational trips to the grocery store are a few offerings.
When the program first began, EFNEP educators did knock on doors to recruit participants. Today, EFNEP staff develop relationships with community-based organizations and agencies who work with low-income families and youth. One of the first pilot projects, in the 1960’s, was conducted in a Bridgeport housing project. Dr. Janina Czajkowski-Esselen directed this pilot project. She was one of the visionary thinkers who helped develop the concepts behind the EFNEP program.
There is a unique peer educator component in EFNEP, which has since been used in communities around the world. The program considers the situation of each participant, and tries to help them identify and determine solutions to their issues around food choices, shopping, feeding families, food safety, and food insecurity.
The program meets clients where they are, and considers economics, culture, and literacy in programs and materials. Educators use interactive, hands-on teaching methods through conversations, not lectures.
Participants develop skills that can help them improve their food and nutrition practices for better health and quality of life. Depending on the situation of the family, this may mean just having enough food at home to last from payday to payday.
UConn EFNEP educators serve as a link between program participants and other local agencies, including federal programs such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp program) that participants may qualify for.
In 2015, EFNEP reached 1,850 participants, and 2,089 family members. Since the program’s inception, over 48,000 families with more than 150,000 family members, and close to 200,000 youth have learned from educators about improving health and quality of life. For more information about EFNEP, visit the NIFA website:nifa.usda.gov/program/expanded-food-and-nutrition-education-program-efnep