The UConn 4-H program fostered a passion for animals in Jessica LaRosa of East Windsor. While in 4-H, Jessica discovered she loved teaching the public and others about agriculture. “My passion for both animals and teaching other about agriculture is what led me to find my major at UConn,” Jessica says.
Jessica joined the Merry Mooers 4-H Dairy Club in Hartford County when she was 10 years old. During her 4-H career she was also active with Hemlock Knoll 4-H, First Town Veterinary Science, and Granby 4-H. Her projects included poultry, dairy goats, rabbits, swine, beef, and veterinary science. She gained leadership experience as a club officer, and serving on the officer team of the Hartford County 4-H Fair Association. Jessica represented UConn 4-H at National 4-H Dairy Conference, the National 4-H Conference, and Citizenship Washington Focus.
“I applied to UConn because the campus felt like home to me due to the number of 4-H events that I attended on the Storrs campus,” Jessica says. “4-H influenced my choice in university and major.” UConn 4-H hosts numerous events throughout the year on the Storrs and the Greater Hartford campuses. Jessica was one of many 4-H members to attend 4-H Dairy and Beef Day, Goat Day, and the New England 4-H Poultry Show on the UConn Storrs campus.
Jessica is currently a sophomore in the Ratcliffe Hicks two-year program, graduating in May of 2018, and transferring to the bachelor’s degree program with a major in Agriculture and Natural Resources. Her expected graduation date is May 2020. She plans to apply to the Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates in the Neag School of Education at UConn and earn her master’s degree in Agriculture Education in May 2021. Jessica plans on becoming a high school agriculture teacher, and staying involved with 4-H by serving as a volunteer.
“The most rewarding part about 4-H for me was being able to get hands-on agriculture experience starting at a young age, and being able to network with both other 4-Hers, along with professionals in various industries of agriculture,” Jessica reflects thoughtfully. “I know those friendships will last a lifetime, and the professionals I have met will be helpful resources to me in the future.”
Jessica cites her 4-H experience as forming a baseline for what she is learning in her courses at UConn. Her background knowledge in animal science has made it easier to learn the detailed information in the courses she is taking.
“4-H has left a lasting impact on my life, and has shaped me into the person that I am today,” Jessica concludes. “For example, I had the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. for the National 4-H Conference, and presented on backyard farming with my roundtable group to the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA).”
USDA Expands Meat and Poultry Hotline Hours to Further Provide Food Safety Information to Consumers
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that it is increasing the delivery of safe food handling and preparation information by expanding the hours of its Meat and Poultry Hotline and Ask Karen chat services. As detailed in the Agency’s 2017-2021 Strategic Plan, FSIS is focusing on the reduction of foodborne illness, and one way to contribute to that reduction is to increase public awareness of safe food handling information.
FSIS’ Meat and Poultry Hotline has been educating consumers since 1985. The toll-free telephone service assists in the prevention of foodborne illnesses by answering consumers’ questions about the safe storage, handling and preparation of meat, poultry and egg products. Beginning today, the hotline will be open for two additional hours, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.
“Our hotline provides a valuable service in educating consumers about how to safely prepare food,” said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza. “By keeping the hotline open an additional two hours, we are expanding our reach to allow more consumers, including those on the West Coast, to have their food safety questions answered.”
The hotline is accompanied by Ask Karen, a 24-hour online service that provides answers to thousands of frequently asked questions and also allows consumers to email or live-chat with a food safety specialist during operating hours.
For 32 years the Meat and Poultry Hotline has answered questions about food manufacturer recalls, food poisoning, food safety during power outages, and the inspection of meat, poultry and egg products. From novice cooks roasting their first turkey to experienced food handlers asking about foodborne bacteria, the Meat and Poultry Hotline has answered more than 3 million calls since its inception.
“Our hotline staff are experts in their field and have backgrounds in nutrition, food technology and public health,” said Almanza. “Experts are available to talk with people in English and Spanish, so we are able to help address the food safety needs of diverse communities.”
Consumers can contact the Meat and Poultry Hotline to speak to a live food expert at 1-888-674-6854, or visit Ask Karen to chat or email (in English or Spanish), Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time/7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pacific Time.
Having back yard chickens has become quite the trend. In Connecticut, many towns have instituted ordinances where none existed or where backyard farm animals were not previously allowed. In Hamden, for example, an ordinance was passed in 2010, allowing up to six chickens (but, alas, no roosters) in any residential zone. Now over 27 towns in Connecticut have backyard chicken ordinances. In addition, many small farms in Connecticut now raise chickens and produce eggs. At a little less than one egg per chicken per day, these farms and backyard chickens will produce thousands of eggs. And someone will need to eat them.
As a result, you are likely to see signs proclaiming eggs for sale as you drive along any country road. Your backyard chicken owning neighbor may also be looking to share or sell you a dozen or two.
Because the production or the selling (or giving away) of these eggs are not subject to any local or state government inspection program, it is really up to the consumer to ask questions and to know what they are buying.
If you purchase your eggs at a grocery or big box store, you are buying eggs that undergo federal and/or state inspection. If a producer has 3,000 hens or more, they must register with the FDA and comply with a 2010 FDA Egg Safety Rule that requires the development of a Salmonella Enteriditis Prevention Plan and refrigeration of eggs at 45 degrees F or less within 36 hours of laying. Government regulations require that USDA-graded eggs be carefully washed and sanitized using only compounds meeting FDA regulations for processing foods.
But many consumers are choosing to go buy local eggs. There may be some nutritional advantages: one study by Mother Earth News in 2005 showed that eggs from chickens allowed to roam “free” or “free range” are lower in cholesterol, higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in saturated fats than those from large commercial producers. Likely even more important to those who choose local is that the chickens are humanely treated and allowed to roam, eggs are very fresh, and considered tastier.
Are they safer? Well this is a question that is often debated. One potential problem is Salmonella. There are several types of Salmonella that have been associated with egg-borne food outbreaks, but most common is Salmonella Enteriditis (SE). Salmonella grows in the intestinal tracts of birds. Humans can get infected when they come into contact with chicken feces or manure, birds that have manure on them, coops, bedding or any part of the environment that may be contaminated with feces, or eggs that may have feces on the surface.
These bacteria can also infect the ovaries of a chicken. When this happens, the interior of the egg is contaminated before the egg is formed. Now that we know this, most public health agencies caution against eating raw eggs or foods such as homemade mayonnaise, egg nog, or any food containing uncooked or undercooked eggs. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 1 in 20,000 eggs are contaminated this way. So, truthfully the risk is rather small…unless you are very young, over 65 or have a compromised immune system.
The point is that you are probably not less likely to contract salmonellosis from eggs produced by a small, local or backyard farmer than from those large, well operated egg producing operations. Salmonella does not differentiate by farm size and, unfortunately, a chicken may show no signs or symptoms of illness when laying eggs that are either internally infected or coated with feces containing the bacteria.
If you buy your eggs from a farmers’ market, a neighbor with back yard chickens or a small farm, then it is up to you to make sure you are buying safe eggs.
What you should ask, observe and do when buying from a small producer
Is the place clean? Look around. If you are going to a farm, make sure that all looks well. The chickens are roaming, there are no signs of rodents or overwhelming smells or swarms of flies—indications that things might not be as clean as they should be.
Are the eggs clean? Do not buy eggs that are very dirty or if they are cracked or broken. At the very least, eggs should be dry brushed or cleaned. When laid, eggs are encased in a protective coating or bloom. This gelatinous coating protects the egg from bacteria and other contaminants. Once the coating is removed, as when eggs are washed, then the egg must be treated with extra care, they must be dried, stored in a clean carton (to minimize dehydration) and refrigerated at 45 degrees or below. Some farmers choose to wash, some do not, but in any event, avoid eggs with obvious dirt, remnants of bedding or feces on them. And be sure the cartons are clean. They can be reused, but must have no evidence of dirt, feces, or raw egg residue.
Are the eggs refrigerated? It is true that in many European countries, eggs are not sold refrigerated. Some, like Great Britain, require chickens to be vaccinated against Salmonella. This is not true in this country. And it does not really make sense to store eggs at room temperature for more than a few hours (producers are allowed to store at room temp for 36 hours after laying). First, it shortens the shelf life. Quality deteriorates rapidly, the white thins, and there are fewer barriers to bacteria. If bacteria are already in the egg (or simply on the surface), they will multiply quickly at room temperature, increasing the chance of illness or cross-contamination.
Eggs sold directly to consumers in Connecticut must be in cartons that are labeled with the farm name and address, and the safe handling statement:
SAFE HANDLING INSTRUCTIONS: To prevent illness from bacteria: keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.
Eggs must also be refrigerated at 45 degrees or less.
When you get your farm-fresh eggs home
Even if a farmer tells you that you do not need to refrigerate the eggs, it still is prudent to do so (unless you plan to eat them that day, perhaps). Keep them in the original carton. If there is any dirt or feces present, and you choose to wash the eggs, allow them to come to room temperature and wash with warm (about 90 degrees F) water. Too cold water may actually cause shrinkage of the egg membrane, and result in dirt or bacteria from the surface of the egg being drawn in through the now coating-free pores. Dry them well before storing in the carton. While commercial eggs, due to the processes used to wash and sometimes to coat the eggs, have a fairly long shelf life of as many as 6 weeks from the date on the carton, use your farm fresh eggs up within 3-4 weeks for best quality and safety.
Hello small flock owners. Avian Influenza (AI) is still a major threat to our poultry. With more cases being diagnosed in the Midwest, it seems it is only a matter of time before it strikes our area. The USDA has set up a new website with all the information on AI. Please go to the website and find out more. Pass this along to anyone else you may know who owns chickens.