Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
The holiday season is here and, with it, many colorful decorations, delicious treats, and fun events. There also are hidden dangers that can mar this special time of year if we aren’t careful. Follow these twelve tips for a safe holiday celebration:
- To reduce fire risk, do not connect more than three strings of incandescent lights. Follow label guidelines for stringing together LED lights. Check lights for frayed or exposed wires, loose connections, and broken sockets and replace as needed.
- Place candles on stable surfaces away from trees, curtains, and other flammable items and out of reach of children. Never leave burning candles unattended or sleep in a room with a lit candle. Consider using battery-operated candles.
- Use caution when decorating with “angel hair” and artificial snow. Angel hair is made from spun glass and can irritate eyes and skin; always wear gloves when handling or use non-flammable cotton instead. Artificial snow can irritate your lungs if inhaled; follow package directions carefully.
- Keep kids and pets in mind when decorating the tree. Place breakable ornaments or ones with metal hooks near the top out of reach of little hands, playful paws, and wagging tails.
- Use a sturdy step ladder, not chairs or other furniture, to reach high places. Get someone to “spot” you and assist with handing or taking items.
- If you use a fireplace, have your chimney checked and cleaned at least once a year by a certified chimney sweep. Cleaning removes soot and other by-products that can lead to chimney fires and carbon monoxide intrusion into your living space.
- Use special care when giving toys that use coin lithium batteries to children. Older children’s devices with these batteries can be enticing to young children. Ingestion of button batteries can cause serious injury or death. Lock away spare batteries and closely supervise young children around products with button batteries. In case of ingestion, contact the 24-hour National Battery Ingestion Hotline, (800) 498-8666.
- If you want to fry a turkey, consider using an oil-less turkey fryer or purchase a fried turkey from a professional establishment. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that since 2002, there have been 168 turkey-related fires, burns, explosions, or carbon monoxide poisoning incidents, 672 injuries, and $8 million in property damage. Don’t add to the statistic count!
- Use a food thermometer to ensure meat reaches a safe internal temperature. Click here for a convenient temperature chart.
- Refrigerate food within two hours. Cut leftover meat in small pieces and store foods in shallow containers so they will chill quickly. Use leftovers within four days or freeze or discard.
- Reheat sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil before serving.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water to reduce your risk of illness.
Have a happy, healthy holiday season!
National Safety Council
Chimney Safety Institute of America
Electrical Safety Foundation International
Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
Fish and shellfish are easy to prepare and swimming with nutritive value. Fish and shellfish have become an even more important part of the diet as people turn to more healthful eating. People are choosing fish and shellfish more frequently for several reasons. It is economical, versatile, high in nutritive value, quick and easy to prepare, and it tastes good.
When purchasing fish, look for bright, clear, bulging eyes; reddish or pink gills; tight, shiny scales; firm, elastic flesh that springs back when pressed; and a pleasant saltwater-like odor.
Fish and shellfish are best if cooked the day of purchase but can be stored no more than two days in the coldest part of the refrigerator, preferably on ice. Frozen fish and shellfish should be kept solidly frozen until ready to thaw. Frozen seafood will remain fresh for four to six months. Cook seafood immediately upon thawing. Do not thaw fish at room temperature or in warm water because it loses moisture and flavor. Never refreeze uncooked fish.
Most fish and shellfish can be cooked using a variety of methods. Fish and seafood can be broiled, grilled, deep-fried, poached, steamed, baked, pan-fried, and sautéed. Care must be taken not to overcook fish or seafood. Fish are done when the flesh, pierced at its thickest point with a fork, flakes easily, and turns from translucent to opaque. Proper cooking develops flavor, softens connective tissue, and makes protein easier to digest.
Many seafood aficionados prefer flavoring their dishes with small amounts of salt, pepper, and occasionally lemon. The delicate taste of seafood blends exceptionally well with a variety of herbs, spices, and seeds, as long as these seasonings are used sparingly.
The next time you are in the neighborhood of your local seafood market, stop in. Remember that fish and shellfish from the Gulf are nutritious, economical, quick and easy to prepare, and taste great. So, enjoy local fish and seafood today!
2 pounds red snapper fillets or other fish fillets, fresh or frozen
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
2 tablespoons orange juice
Thaw frozen fillets. Cut fillets into 6 portions. Place fish in a single layer, skin side down, in a well-greased baking dish, 12 x 8 x 2 inches. Combine remaining ingredients. Pour sauce over fish. Bake in a moderate oven, 350°F, for 20 to 25 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Makes 6 servings.
1 pound frozen raw, peeled, cleaned shrimp
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon salt
2 large green peppers, cut into 1-inch squares
8 slices bacon, cut into sixths
3 cans (4 ounces each) button mushrooms, drained
Thaw frozen shrimp. Alternate shrimp, bacon, mushrooms, and green pepper on 48 skewers or round toothpicks, approximately 3 inches long. Place kabobs on a well-greased broiler pan. Combine remaining ingredients. Pour half of the sauce over kabobs. Broil about 4 inches from source of heat for 5 to 7 minutes. Turn carefully and baste with remaining sauce. Broil 5 to 7 minutes longer or until shrimp are pink and tender. Makes approximately 48 hors d’oeuvres.
Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
If your family is like most, grocery shopping is a dreaded weekly task. Typical shoppers usually have an idea of what they plan to purchase based on a previously made shopping list. Even then, it’s easy to go astray with impulse purchasing, bargain prices, and buy-one-get-one free opportunities that simply can’t be passed up! Before you know it, the shopping cart is loaded with delicious treasures just begging to come home with you.
Now that you have done the shopping, transported it home, and begun to put food items in their appropriate storage places, you realize the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry are cramped and nearly full. On a related aside, you should see my parents’ pantry. They have enough cans, boxes, and packages to feed their entire neighborhood…twice! Not to mention the two full size refrigerator/freezers that are bursting at the seams. Like my parents, I suspect many of us have a food overbuying addiction. So what happens next? Well, it’s time to clear out the old and make way for the new, of course. But how do you know what to purge and what is still good to keep?
Food Date Labeling Confusion and Food Waste
Standard or uniform language for food product dating does not exist in the U.S., which makes things tricky when it comes to deciphering expiration dates. Current Federal regulations do not require product dating (excluding infant formula), but instead allow food manufacturers to voluntarily set and display these dates on product packaging. With the lack of Federal measures, product dating enforcement is left up to individual states, resulting in consumer confusion over food safety. The U.S. wastes close to an estimated 40% of food produced annually, which equals approximately 160 billion pounds (Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic). Of that, confusion over the meaning of date labels seems to be responsible for roughly 20% of safe and edible food wasted by consumers. Undoubtedly, this hurts purchaser’s pocketbooks and results in $29,000,000,000 of wasted consumer spending yearly (Food Date Labeling Act of 2016, 114th Congress 2D Session).
Food Quality vs. Food Safety
While cleaning out the pantry and cold storage, I also have been guilty of trashing perfectly good food. So many of us unknowingly accept the stamped date as common law not to be questioned. So what does that date actually mean?
The “open” date used by the manufacturer or retailer on food packaging is passively thought of by the consumer as the “expiration date,” or the last date a food can safely be eaten. This is a very common misconception. Food safety is not represented by this date, but rather it refers to product quality and freshness. Dates determined by food companies take into consideration such factors as ingredients, product characteristics and packaging, as well as time and temperatures associated with distribution, retail sale, and storage.
With no current standards in place, a variety of food date phrases are utilized which often are misleading to retailers and consumers. Most commonly used phrases include:
- “Best If Used By/Before” indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality.
- “Sell-By” indicates to the retailer when the product should no longer be displayed for sale.
- “Use-By” is the last date recommended for use of the product at peak quality. This is only a safety date when used on infant formula packaging.
It’s important to remember that open dates on food products ONLY reflect food quality and NOT food safety (except for infant formula). For a list of specific foods and recommended storage time frames, check out the FoodKeeper resource at FoodSafety.gov.
Knowing the signs of spoilage will help you determine if a food is no longer fit for consumption. Although the quality date may have passed, the food is safe until it begins to spoil. Spoiled food may have a different smell, taste, and/or texture with sometimes visible discoloration. This occurs when environmental conditions (such as temperature, moisture, and oxygen) are introduced which support the growth of bacteria, molds, or yeasts. Given enough time, these microorganisms multiply rapidly and affect the safety of the food. If perishable items are not handled and stored properly, spoilage occurs much more rapidly. Learn more about proper refrigeration and food safety.
Do Your Part at Home
- Plan meals in advance and make a specific grocery list. Check the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to utilize what you already have on hand.
- Don’t overbuy! Especially be aware not to purchase excess perishable items that are likely to spoil quickly. These may be foods that require cold storage, fresh bakery items, and fresh produce.
- Always look for and compare date labels of an item; choose the one with a later date.
- Store foods promptly and properly for food safety and best quality. Discard potentially hazardous cold food items that have not been properly refrigerated for 2 hours or more.
- Keep a thermometer inside the front of your refrigerator and check it regularly to be sure it stays below 40 degrees F.
- Thaw foods safely! Thawing in the refrigerator is the safest way, but using cold running water or defrosting in the microwave are acceptable ways to speed up the process. Never sit foods out at room temperature to thaw!
- Recognize the signs of food spoilage and promptly discard foods that smell funny, have off-flavors, obvious mold growth, or sticky or slimy textures (such as fish, poultry, and deli meats).
- Evaluate each item in your pantry and consider whether or not it’s something you want to continue to store and use or want to remove.
- High temperatures affect the shelf life of shelf-stable foods so it’s important to store dry goods and pantry items in temperatures at or below 85 degrees F. Use the “First In First Out” (FIFO) method of rotation, using older items before newly purchased ones. Read more about Shelf Stable Food Safety.
- Discard cans that are rusty, bulging, or leaking, as they are at a high risk for containing the deadly pathogen that causes Botulism. Never taste suspicious foods! Take extra caution by disposing of cans and jars into a tightly closed plastic bag before placing in an outside trash receptacle.
Help Families in Need & Keep Unused Wholesome Food Out of Landfills
Mistakenly discarded food products, not only is the U.S. but globally, have created a sad cascade of wasted resources and money with increasingly negative environmental and social implications. Food banks and local community organizations have plenty of under-served and needy families who can benefit! Remember, it’s safe to donate dry and canned goods, perishables, and other food related items that are beyond the quality date of the product.
Find a food bank near you.
We all can do our part to reduce the amount of wasted food, save money, help the environment, and help our communities!
USDA Food Safety Information, Food Product Dating
USDA Food Labeling Fact Sheets
Youth learn food preservation skills. Photo source: Melanie Taylor
At this point in the summer, many parents are at a loss for what to do to keep their children engaged and “off the couch.” How about a focus on healthy eating and food preservation? If you have a backyard garden be sure to pick the fruits and vegetables at their peak readiness. If you do not have a garden make a family trip to the local farmers market and/or a local u-pick farm.
Of course, fresh fruits and vegetables are full of nutrition and taste, but if you have or buy more than your family can eat in a few days’ time, be sure to make preparations to teach your children how to preserve those foods to eat later in the year. There is nothing more enjoyable than having fruit jam on biscuits or summer vegetables in your soup during the cold depths of winter.
There are six different methods of food preservation to teach your children. They are boiling water/water bath canning, making jam, pickling, freezing, drying, and pressure canning. The easiest method being freezing and the most complex and time consuming being pressure canning. No matter which ones you choose to teach your children be sure to follow valid recipes and procedures. Family and Consumer Science Extension Agents always recommend using the most current recipes and procedures from The National Center for Home Food Preservation, which are maintained at https://nchfp.uga.edu/. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is your source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation. The Center was established with funding from the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (CSREES-USDA) to address food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods. Many of the recipes are available for free on the website, or you can order the 6th edition of the “So Easy to Preserve” food preservation book at https://setp.uga.edu/.
Specific to children, there is also a Put It Up! Food Preservation for Youth curriculum through the University of Georgia, which is a series of informal educational lessons that guide youth to explore and understand the science of safe food preservation. This free curriculum can be found online at https://ugeorgia.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_a5Y4IfBZ2Vh0EIt after a quick questionnaire of how you plan to use the curriculum.
Teaching these food preservation skills to your children will be a fun-filled and very educational opportunity. Be sure to use the above resources to assist you in the food safety methods to be certain your products are safe for consumption. Enjoy this special time in the garden and kitchen with your children this summer.
National Center for Home Food Preservation https://nchfp.uga.edu/
“So Easy to Preserve” https://setp.uga.edu/
Put It Up! Food Preservation for Youth https://ugeorgia.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_a5Y4IfBZ2Vh0EIt
Grill Out Safely This Summer
Perhaps it’s the gentle climate with temperatures conducive to outdoor cooking for much of the year. Or it might be that an outdoor get-together with family, friends, and good food is a great way to celebrate the summer. Whatever the reasons, outdoor cookery is firmly established as a tradition in the South.
Outdoor cookery has given rise to many unique and flavor-filled recipes for foods that can be prepared on even the simplest grill. If long days of summer have you longing to fire up the grill, the following tips, delicious recipes, and helpful grilling charts will help make your outdoor cooking experience easy, safe, and rewarding.
Photo Credit: Dorothy Lee
Safety is an important consideration when operating a grill. Improper use can cause a fire or explosion. Keep the area around a lighted grill clear of combustible materials, and never use a grill in an enclosed area such as a sheltered patio or a garage. Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing that may catch fire. The cooking grids should be cleaned after every cookout. The last thing you want to do is cause someone to become ill due to improper cleaning or unsafe food preparation practices.
Wash your hands with hot soapy water for at least 20 seconds before starting to prepare any foods and wash your hands again if you do anything else—change a diaper, pet an animal, or blow your nose, for example. Cover any cuts or sores on your hands with a bandage or use plastic gloves. If you sneeze or cough while preparing foods, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue and turn your face away, or cough into your sleeve. Always wash your hands afterwards.
Bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature. Most food-borne illness-causing bacteria cannot grow well at temperatures below 40°F or above 140°F. Thaw foods in the refrigerator or in the microwave. Never leave foods out at room temperature.
Keep everything that touches food clean. Bacteria can hitch rides around your kitchen on all sorts of things—plates and cutting boards, dirty utensils, dish rags and sponges, unwashed hands.
Never chop fresh vegetables or salad ingredients on a cutting board that was used for raw meat without properly cleaning it first. If possible, keep a separate cutting board just for the preparation of raw meat, poultry, and fish.
Wash cutting boards thoroughly with hot soapy water, and then sanitize with a solution of household bleach and water.
The most popular meat for outdoor grilling is beef, particularly ground beef. If ground beef burgers are to be the feature of your next cookout select freshly ground meat that has fat content of about 15%. Form the meat into loose patties. Cook hamburger patties to an internal temperature of 160°F.
Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices from coming into contact with other foods during preparation, especially foods that will not be cooked. Wash all utensils and your hands with hot soapy water after contact with raw meat.
Marinate meat, poultry and seafood in the refrigerator in a covered, non-metal container. Throw away any leftover marinade.
Grill food to a safe internal temperature. Use a meat thermometer to assure correct doneness of the food being grilled.
Safe minimum internal temperatures:
- Poultry (whole, ground, and breasts): 165°F
- Hamburgers, beef: 160°F
- Beef, veal, and lamb (steaks, roasts & chops):
- Medium rare: 145°F
- Medium: 160°F.
Hold meat at 140°F until served. Use a clean platter for transferring cooked meat from grill to serving table.
Summer is the time for getting together with friends and family and cooking outdoors. Make your outdoor grilling experience safe and enjoyable.
Safe Food Handling Fact Sheet, USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Series, https://www.foodsafety.gov/
When we think of foods to prepare outdoors we almost immediately think meat. However, grilled vegetables and grilled fruits make a delicious accompaniment to grilled meats.
Corn on the Cob Kabob
- 2 medium red onions, cut into 8 wedges each
- 4 fresh ears sweet corn, husked, silks removed, and cut crosswise into 4 pieces each
- Nonstick cooking spray
- ¼ cup butter, melted
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
On each of eight 12-inch wooden skewers, alternately thread 2 onion wedges and 2 pieces of corn, leaving about ¼ inch between each vegetable. Lightly coat vegetables with nonstick spray.
For a charcoal grill, grill kabobs on the rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals for 15 to 18 minutes or until vegetables are tender and brown, turning occasionally to brown evenly. (For a gas grill, preheat grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place kabobs on grill rack over heat. Cover, grill as above.)
In a small bowl, combine butter, garlic powder, onion powder and oregano. Brush over vegetables. Makes 4 servings.
- 4 large ripe freestone peaches
- Eight 3-inch cinnamon sticks
- 8 fresh mint leaves
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
- ¼ cup dark rum
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch salt
- Peach or vanilla ice cream, for serving
Rinse the peaches and blot them dry with paper towels. Cut each peach in half and discard the pit. Then, cut each peach into quarters. Using a pointed chopstick or metal skewer, make a starter hole in the center of each peach quarter, working from the pit side to the skin side. Skewer 2 peach quarters on each cinnamon stick, placing a mint left between the 2 quarters.
Combine the butter, brown sugar, rum, cinnamon, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Let the glaze boil until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes.
Prepare and preheat the grill to high. Brush and oil the grate. Next, place the skewered peaches on the hot grate and grill until nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side, basting with the rum and butter glaze. Spoon any remaining glaze over the grilled peaches and serve at once. Peach or vanilla ice cream make a great accompaniment.