Share Your Picnic with Food Safety This Summer

Share Your Picnic with Food Safety This Summer

Picnic foods on a checkered tablecloth

Picnics are a great way to share food and fun with friends and family. By following a few simple food safety tips, you can make sure foodborne illness doesn’t crash your party. (Photo source: UF/IFAS file photo)

There are few things more iconic during summer than a picnic.  There’s just something fresh and fun about sharing a meal in the park or at the beach with family and friends.  But just because you’re enjoying the warm, gentle breeze doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind.  By following a few simple food safety tips, you can ensure that your perfectly planned picnic doesn’t make you sick.

Plan appropriately.  Not all foods are picnic-appropriate.  Anything that requires a lot of perishable ingredients and/or a lot of preparation should be avoided.  Stick with foods that require little or no cooking and that contain just a few ingredients.  Foods such as fruits and vegetables (especially whole ones), hard cheeses, peanut butter and jelly, cereal, bread, and crackers are ideal picnic items.  Anything made with commercially processed custard or mayonnaise will stay safe as long as it is kept cold.

Pack it safely. Use a cooler, if possible, and store cold foods together so they can help each other stay colder longer.  Use ice or frozen gel packs to help keep foods cold.  Pack foods directly from the refrigerator into the cooler; don’t leave them sitting out before packing.  Store ready-to-eat foods separately from raw meats.  If packing up hot foods, be sure to keep them in a thermos or other insulated dish.  DO NOT store them in the same container as the cold foods.  Paper towels, disposable utensils, and a food thermometer are ideal picnic accessories.  Remember, keep cold foods below 41 degrees F and hot foods above 135 degrees F.  Do your best to keep the cooler away from direct sunlight by storing it in the shade and be sure to replenish the ice and/or frozen gel packs when they melt.  If possible, store drinks in a separate cooler so cold foods are not exposed to warm air with frequent openings of the lid to retrieve drinks.  This also reduces the risk of cross-contamination, with fewer hands reaching into the food cooler.

Prepare it carefully.  All food items should be kept at the proper temperature at all times.  When cooking raw meats, use separate plates for the raw and cooked products and clean and sanitize utensils between uses.  Cook meat to the proper recommended internal temperature to ensure doneness and safety.  Click here for a list of recommended internal cooking temperatures.

Clean up quickly.  Discard any perishable foods that have been left out for longer than two hours.  In really hot weather (generally above 90 degrees F), foods should not be left out longer than one hour.  Keep food protected in storage containers such as coolers and lidded dishes to minimize contamination from flies and other pests.  Serve small portions of food at a time and keep the rest in the cooler.

Picnics are an important part of summer and with just a little bit of planning and a few useful tips and tools, they can be safe and delicious for everyone!

Related links:
Food Safety at Tailgating (University of Florida/IFAS)
Picnic Safety (Iowa State University)
Checklist for the Perfect Summer Picnic (

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Six Common Falling Hazards in the Home

Six Common Falling Hazards in the Home

As we get older, our risk of falling increases. In fact, falling once doubles the chances of falling again. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of five falls causes serious injury such as broken bones or head injury. Over 300,000 people aged 65 or older are hospitalized each year for hip fractures caused by falls.

Properly installed handrails in bathrooms and other high traffic areas can greatly reduce the risk of falling. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy)

Most fall injuries occur in the home. We think of our homes as our safe space and sanctuary, often overlooking potential dangers. Here are six common hazards that occur in the home that can contribute to an increased risk of falling.

Clutter. Items that block or limit walkways in the home can be tripping hazards. Having to navigate around excess furniture or boxes can be difficult for someone with limited mobility. Clear out the clutter and keep walkways free of extraneous items. Wide open hallways and other spaces in the home will reduce potential tripping hazards.

Rugs. Rugs large and small can be tripping hazards. People can catch their toes underneath a rug’s edge or the rug itself can slip out from under them, causing a fall. Remove any rugs that are not necessary, such as rugs set out strictly for decoration. Apply slip-resistant backing to rugs to keep them from sliding across the floor.

Lighting. Dim lighting can make it difficult to see potential tripping hazards. Install brighter lights, especially in walkways and stairwells. Use nightlights in hallways and bathrooms to help navigate more easily at night.

Storage. Many falls occur when people are trying to reach items that are stored out-of-reach. Rearrange items, especially those used most often, in cabinets and on shelves so they can be reached easily without needing a step ladder.

Handrails. The lack of handrails or handrails that are broken or installed incorrectly can contribute to falls. The extra support and stability provided by handrails is vital, especially for those with limited mobility. Installing proper handrails in the bathroom (including the toilet and shower) and on stairs can greatly reduce the risk of falling.

Pets. Small pets can contribute to falls by inadvertently acting as a tripping hazard. Be aware of where pets are and tread carefully around them. When walking a pet, keep them on a tight leash and do not let them wrap around feet or legs.

Another great way to help reduce the risk of falling is through exercise. Strength and balance exercises such as Tai Chi help improve leg strength, balance, and flexibility. Some people also may benefit from calcium and vitamin D supplements, which can improve bone strength. Always consult a physician before taking any supplement.

Related articles:
Important Facts about Falls (CDC)
Fall Prevention (UF/IFAS Extension)

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Make Grocery Shopping Sustainable

Make Grocery Shopping Sustainable

reusable shopping bags

One way to be more sustainable when shopping for groceries is to use reusable shopping bags. They’re durable and sturdy and can help reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in the landfill each year. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy)

Sustainability should not just be a buzzword during Earth Month.  The fact that everybody either shops for or eats groceries means the whole grocery shopping experience is a good time to reflect and improve upon what we can personally do to embrace issues of sustainability.

This year in April, the Earth Month theme focuses on Returning to Nature.  There is no better place to start a quest for personal sustainable improvement than the grocery store!  Grocery shopping truly embraces the three main areas of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social.  In fact, it has been well documented that the average family wastes about 25% of the food it purchases.  (Much of this ends up in a landfill and creates problems of its own.)

With a bit of forethought, meal planning before grocery shopping can help individuals and families apply sustainable best practices for environmental, economic, and social well-being.  In fact, many of the principles of sustainability can be effectively applied to both meal planning and grocery shopping.

RESPECT yourself.  Good nutrition is one of the keys to a healthy life. Improve health by keeping a balanced diet.  Vow to make healthier food choices for personal health and the environment.

REFUSE to use food products that do not fit your principles of sustainability. This may mean buying food with less packaging, eating more locally-grown fruits and vegetables, or looking for foods labeled as more responsibly sourced.

REDUCE the amount of food thrown out.  Planning meals ahead of time and writing out a grocery list are excellent ways to start living sustainably.  Planning not only saves money on groceries, it can save time and decrease the amount of personal food waste a family contributes.  (Remember, freezing products can prolong their life, so if you find that you’ve overbought, try preserving some of your bounty for later use.) Reducing the number of trips to the grocery store also can help save on fuel and transportation costs.

REUSE /REPURPOSE food for another occasion.  Careful meal planning helps ensure that leftovers from one meal can be incorporated into the next one, thereby reducing food waste.

RETHINK!  Healthy, nutritious, delicious, and inexpensive grocery choices can be found in every food group.  Not all food has to be prepackaged.  In fact, with a bit of planning, dinner can be on the table in 15 minutes.  (That’s less time than it takes to wait in line at a fast food restaurant.)

BE RESPONSIBLE!  Use what you buy.

Stock up on low-cost healthy grain products like whole-wheat noodles, brown rice, and store-brand cereals and oatmeal.

Purchase fruits and vegetables that are in season and cost less.  In addition, do not forget that frozen, dried, and canned fruits and vegetables can play an important part in meal planning.

Buy the largest size you can effectively use before it reaches the expiration date – and look for the items with the latest dates.  Purchase store brands or generic brands whenever possible. Keep in mind smaller containers tend to cost more, no matter what the food group. Buying larger packages and dividing them into smaller portions can save money and reduce the amount of packaging that ends up in the landfill. Investing in small, reusable storage containers will save money and reduce waste in the end.

Practice Meatless Monday.  The protein group provides inexpensive protein sources like beans, lentils, and eggs, which can be substituted for meat in many meals.

Protein does not have to be the most expensive item purchased.  Consulting the store’s weekly sales flyer during meal planning can help you plan meals around meat and poultry items that are on sale.

Prepare food your family will actually eat.  There are two schools of thought here: preparing just enough for one meal or preparing big-batch recipes that provide leftovers which can be frozen for later use. Either practice can be sustainable. Freeze leftovers only if you’re going to use them. Otherwise, cut down on the amount of food cooked to help reduce food waste.

Learn how to cook.  Prepare and eat more meals at home.  It is sustainable, good for you, and delicious. Meals cooked at home are more nutritious, less expensive, and result in less overall waste, such as packaging.

Two additional ways to be more sustainable when grocery shopping are to use reusable shopping bags and to stop using single-use plastic produce bags. Plastic grocery bags choke our landfills and end up in our water bodies. They are not biodegradable and can last thousands of years virtually intact. Reusable shopping bags are made from recycled materials and can drastically reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in the trash each year.

For more information on making your grocery shopping more sustainable, check out these related articles:
Freezing: Nature’s Pause Button (UF/IFAS Extension)
What’s in your FREEZER? (UF/IFAS Extension)
Best Practices for Shoppers at the Farmers’ Market (UF/IFAS Extension)
Sustainable Grocery Shopping (University of Northern Iowa)

Picture, name, and bio of UF FCS agents: Heidi Copeland and Samantha Kennedy

UF/IFAS Family and Consumer Sciences Agents Heidi Copeland and Samantha Kennedy

Helping Leftovers Last Longer

Helping Leftovers Last Longer

leftover food wrapped in foil

Storing foods in aluminum foil is a not a good food safety practice since it does not form a tight enough seal to keep out air, moisture, or microorganisms. Use air-tight containers or zipper plastic bags to store leftovers safely. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy)

This month, I would like to focus on leftovers, more specifically, using and storing leftovers responsibly.

Many times, leftovers are saved with the best intentions. We really do plan to eat last night’s lasagna for dinner tonight, but then something better comes along and suddenly that lasagna gets pushed to the back of the refrigerator where it gets forgotten until the fridge is cleaned out two months later.

That dried out, fuzzy lump covered in foil? Well, it used to be lasagna.  Now it is inedible, unsafe, and a waste of food and money.

I say, stop the madness! Show those leftovers a little love. If properly stored and handled, those boring leftovers can once again dazzle your palate.

First of all, proper storage is key. Whether being put in the refrigerator or freezer, wrap or store leftovers in an air-tight container.  This will not only prevent cross-contamination by microorganisms, but will also help maintain flavor and quality.

The only exception to this is whole, fresh fruits and veggies, which need to be stored in the crisper drawer or on the countertop to allow air flow. Cut fruits and veggies should always be refrigerated.

The best materials for food storage are air-tight plastic or glass containers and paper or zipper bags made for freezer use. When using paper, be sure to wrap the food tightly and completely.

Aluminum foil, wax paper, and plastic wrap do not make effective wrappers for the freezer since they do not form a tight enough seal to prevent freezer burn.

Always label all leftovers, especially when freezing them, with the name of the food and the date it was stored. To ensure safety, discard refrigerated leftovers after five days and frozen leftovers after six months. Foods frozen longer will suffer significant quality loss.

Leftover foods like soups, stews, and casseroles make terrific quick meals for lunch or dinner.  Simply divide the leftovers into single portions and freeze, or refrigerate if all portions will be eaten within five days.

Foods like leftover roasted chicken or breakfast bacon can be added to a salad or made into a sandwich.  Today’s leftover pancakes can be tomorrow’s pancake parfait or breakfast sandwich bread.

Leftover scrambled eggs can be added to tonight’s fried rice. Last night’s chili can be made into today’s baked potato topping.

The possibilities are endless.

“Leftovers” does not have to be a dirty word. With a little planning, knowledge, and ingenuity, leftovers can easily become a family favorite.  And the best part, saving leftovers means saving money, too.

For more information on food storage tips, try these publications from UF/IFAS Extension:

Healthy Eating: Food Storage Guide
Preserving Food: Freezing Vegetables

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Making SMART Resolutions

Making SMART Resolutions

Every year, millions of us make New Year’s resolutions in the hope of implementing a few changes in our lives. We resolve to lose weight, eat healthier, save money, read more, or spend more time with our family.

Unfortunately, research shows that only about 8% of New Year’s resolutions are actually kept, which begs the question: Why do so few of us stick to the goals we set for ourselves?

In many cases, the answer is simple. We set the bar too high and become discouraged. Instead of losing 5 pounds, we want to lose 50. Instead of saving $10, we want to save $1000. Many resolutions are created with the overall end goal in mind, when we really should be focusing on making incremental changes.

The trick to successful goal-setting is crafting realistic goals that have a better chance of being reached. For example, instead of making the goal to lose 50 pounds, how about setting smaller goals to lose 5 pounds at a time until the overall goal of 50 pounds is met? These smaller goals help reduce frustration and discouragement and are more likely to lead to success.

Setting smaller, realistic goals is one of the major characteristics of what are known as SMART goals.  SMART goals are designed to be more specific and manageable, making them easier to achieve and leading to a better likelihood of success. The SMART acronym provides the five keys to creating better goals:

Specific. Goals should be targeted and specific. While it is great to want to “be healthier” in the upcoming year, what does that mean in specific terms? Does it mean reducing sodium intake? Cooking more meals at home? Losing 10 pounds? Implementing a walking routine? By setting specific goals, it will be easier to track progress.

Measurable. If there is no way to measure progress, then a goal is not very useful. Along with being specific, good goals need to be able to be tracked. Implementing a walking routine is one thing, but being able to set a distance or time goal will help make it more meaningful. If the goal is to walk 30 minutes a day five days a week, that is easily measured.

Achievable. The biggest key to any goal is not setting the bar too high. Too often, we want to set pie in the sky goals because we want to get to where we want to be right now. The problem with that, however, is that when we are not seeing the results we want, we get discouraged and give up. Setting smaller, more manageable goals will make them more achievable.

Relevant. We sometimes set goals for ourselves that get in the way of other, more important things. When setting goals, determine whether it is something that will really make a positive impact. Will working towards this goal prevent us from doing something else that requires our attention? If the goal will not ultimately work towards our overall endpoint, perhaps it is not worth pursuing.

Timed. Nebulous, open-ended goals are often ineffective because they leave too much time to achieve them. Consider this:  If my goal is to lose 10 pounds, but I do not give myself a deadline by which to lose the weight, I am not holding myself accountable since I can just keep giving myself more and more time to reach my goal. However, if I set my goal to lose 10 pounds in 3 months, I am more likely to continue working towards my goal. Setting time limits can help increase the odds of success.

New Year’s goal setting is not a new concept. Neither is not achieving our New Year’s resolutions. However, by creating SMART goals for ourselves, we can help beat the odds and achieve our goals in 2019.

For more information, please call Samantha Kennedy at the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension office at (850) 926-3931.

Extension classes are open to everyone regardless of race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations.