Spring has arrived. It is fresh produce season. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend that half your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables. Select a rainbow of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables to enhance your diet.
Keep It Fresh
Photo Source: UF/IFAS
There is a bountiful supply of fruits and vegetables during the Spring and Summer months. Grocery stores, famers markets, and backyard gardens abound with abundant supply of fresh produce.
Recently fresh produce has been linked to various outbreaks of foodborne illness. These problems are becoming more common and it is important as a consumer to know how to handle fresh produce safely.
Safe Produce Handling Tips
Purchase vegetables and fruits that look and smell fresh. Purchase only the amount you will use in a few days. Most vegetables and fruits with the exception of apples, potatoes, and citrus don’t store well for long periods of time.
Put produce away promptly. Most whole produce will keep best stored in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper drawer where the humidity is highest. Tomatoes and potatoes are two exceptions. Tomatoes taste better if stored at room temperature. Potatoes stay fresh longer if stored in a cool, dry, dark place. Cut produce should be stored in the refrigerator in covered containers. Bacteria can grow on cut surfaces of produce.
Rinse whole produce thoroughly under clean running tap water, just before you are ready to use. Do not wash fruits and vegetables with detergent. Scrub or rub as needed to remove surface contamination. Wash produce such as oranges and melons even if you don’t eat the rind or skin. When you cut into a fruit or vegetable, any bacteria that is on the surface can be transferred to the inner flesh. Check the label instructions on fresh bagged produce. For example; use by date, pre-washed, and ready to eat. Discard stored fruits and vegetables that appear moldy or smell musty.
It is essential to our health to preserve the nutrition that is found in fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals that the body needs to maintain optimal health. Following those easy safe produce tips can help preserve freshness and assure safe produce handling.
Photo source: Heidi Copeland
According to industry standards, some of these carrots could not be sold because of “Serious damage” or any defect which seriously affects the general appearance of the
carrots in the container.
Waste less, save money is a great creed to live by. Really, it is that simple. One excellent example of this is food. Research indicates that 40% of all food in America is wasted yet, one in eight Americans does not have enough access to affordable, nutritious food. In other words, they are “food insecure.”
Wasted food is a MASSIVE problem at the commercial, institutional and residential levels. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates there is more food than any other single material in our everyday trash and that approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption worldwide is lost or wasted. In fact, in 2015, the USDA joined with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a goal to cut our nation’s food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030.
The sad fact is, most people do not realize how much impact food and food waste has on the earth and its issues of sustainability. Food waste occurs at every level of involvement. Examples of food waste include growing, processing (by-products too), transporting, point of sale, plate waste and uneaten prepared foods, and kitchen trimmings and their eventual disposal. Preventing food waste at all these levels can make a difference in addressing this issue.
However, preventing food waste it is not as easy as it seems. Many consumer factors also contribute to the problem.
- Food date labels confuse people. Use by/sell by dates are not always about food safety but about peak quality. Many foods are still safe to eat after their dates. Inspect “expired” foods closely via sight and smell before consuming – find ways to use up food past its prime.
- Households overbuy – do you really need super sizes? Buying in bulk is not always less expensive if much of it is discarded. Only purchase what you know you will use and do not get lured in by the “more for less” deals.
- Massive portions are often served – share or learn to love leftovers. Split enormous portions into multiple meals.
- Grocery stores overstock their shelves to maintain an image of abundance.
- People demand “perfect” produce. Farmers have a hard time selling less than stellar items. “Ugly” fruits and vegetables are just as delicious and nutritious as their more photogenic counterparts. Places such as farmers’ markets and community gardens are good places to find imperfect produce that would otherwise go to waste.
This Earth Day, (an event first celebrated on April 22, 1970 in the United States and is now a globally coordinated event in more than 193 countries) commit yourself to taking an action. As the late Neil Armstrong famously quoted as he stepped on to the moon… “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind!” If each of us considered and implemented our own practical or creative approaches to preventing food from going to waste what would our collective actions mean for mankind?
Photo Source: Heidi Copeland
The best way to reduce food loss at home is not to create it in the first place. Not only would we individually save money, our collective efforts could conserve resources for future generations. The best method is the one you use.
- Reduce wasted food – shop smart, plan what you purchase, and use it, ALL of it!
- Maximize the efficiency of your refrigerator based on science. Read your refrigerator manual to learn where the coldest spots in the refrigerator are and what foods benefit from refrigerator location.
- Maximize the efficacy of canned products… use the FIFO (first in first out) method of rotation to use the oldest product before the newest on the shelf.
- Donate what you cannot use to others.
- Divert food scraps to animal food (chickens anyone?)
- Landfill as the last resort.
Common causes of personal food waste include overbuying, over preparing and spoilage. The basic tenets of sustainability – reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse, work to reduce food waste too! Pay attention to purchases, eat what is prepared, store food properly, and refuse to waste. We can all do our part! Let’s start today.
Food waste is a huge problem here in the United States. Here are a few incredible facts: Food is the most common solid source of waste in American landfills. Anywhere from 25-40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the US will never be eaten. Food waste harms the environment and results in a lot of wasted money.
Looking for ways to reduce food waste? Just follow these six tips.
Plan meals carefully. Only purchase what will be eaten in a reasonable amount of time, especially perishable items. Buying large quantities of fresh produce, dairy, and other perishables may seem like a time-saving practice. However, throwing spoiled food away not only wastes money, but also time, since the spoiled items need to be replaced during another trip to the market.
Instead of throwing old fruits and vegetables away, turn them into nutrient-rich compost to help your garden thrive. (Photo source: Camila Guillen, UF/IFAS)
Freeze or re-use food whenever possible. Not all food freezes well. However, fresh fruits and vegetables freeze quickly and easily when handled properly and can last in the freezer for months. Vegetable scraps are also great for making compost, which enriches the soil and can help support the growth of backyard gardens.
Look at the sell by/use by/best by dates on food products. Try to purchase items with the longest shelf-life (the latest date) available. If a product is close to its sell by date, be sure to use it or freeze it quickly. Keep in mind, however, that just because a product is past its use by date does not mean it is unsafe to eat. Take it on a case-by-case basis. If there is no mold, pests, off odors, off colors, or off textures, the product is safe to consume. This is especially true for dry, non-perishable items.
Store food properly. Storing foods at the wrong temperatures can speed up the spoilage process. Keep the refrigerator between 37 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Dry goods storage should ideally be around 50 degrees F, but since this is not realistic for most of us, just make sure dry goods are stored in a cool, dry place outside of direct sunlight.
Stay organized. Arrange items so that the oldest stuff is in front. This helps ensure it is used first. Always label frozen foods with the item name and date it was first frozen and use within 12 months whenever possible. Foods frozen for longer than a year start to diminish in flavor and texture. Old food also tends to attract pests, so making sure things are used efficiently can help eliminate the risk of insects and rodents.
Donate non-perishables to those in need. Food banks and other community organizations are always looking for food donations to help the hungry. Non-perishable foods that have not surpassed their use by/sell by dates are always welcome donations. Instead of trashing it, share it with someone less fortunate.
In most cases, food affected by flood damage or other disasters should be discarded for safety reasons. Better to be safe than sorry. However, everyday food waste is completely avoidable if a few simple rules are followed. The amount of food thrown away each year in the US is disheartening. When shopping, being a little more mindful of quantities and dates can help reduce overall food waste, saving both money and the environment.
National Center for Home Food Preservation (University of Georgia Extension)
Food Waste Resources (Kansas State University Extension)
UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
Homemade canned preserves 1942.
Photo Credits: UF/IFAS File Photo
In 1795, Napoleon needed a better way to preserve large quantities of food for his troops during the Napoleonic Wars, so his government offered a reward of 12,000 francs for the invention of a new food preservation method. In 1809, Nicolas Appert won that award with his canning technique that used glass containers that were sealed then heated to a set temperature. Peter Durand created the tin canister a year later. These inventions led to the canning materials and processes that are used today to preserve food for people all over the world.
Canned food provides a convenient and often less expensive way to include fruits and vegetables in the diet of many individuals and families. Canned foods are also considered a staple in many pantries because of their shelf life. Commercially canned products may keep the food packed inside at its best quality for 1 to 5 years depending on the type of food. Most home canned foods are able to be stored for up to a year, though there are some exceptions.
Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones
To make the most of canned foods, keep these tips in mind.
Best by or use by dates on commercial products do not indicate safety. They are estimated dates provided by the manufacturer on how long they believe their product would be at its best quality. The exception to this is for infant formula products that are required to have a “Use-By” date and should not be used after that date.
Avoid cans or jars that are not in good condition. Look for dents, swelling or bulging, leaking, rust, cracks in jars or loose lids. If the food has a foul odor or spurts liquid when it’s opened, do not use it. Any of these could indicate the food may have been contaminated or could contain Clostridium botulinum toxins.
A woman canning in the kitchen.
Photo Credits: UF/IFAS File Photo
Store canned foods in a cool, dark and dry space. This will help them to last longer and keep the food inside at its best quality. Keep canned foods in an area that is between 50-70°F.
Use canned foods to fill nutrition gaps. Add a can of vegetables to your dinner menu—a side of green beans or carrots can help balance your plate. Try using a can of fruit as a basis for a dessert. Pineapple and cottage cheese, anyone? If you’re concerned about sodium or sugar in canned foods, look for products marked as low sodium or lite for less sugar. Compare ingredient and nutrition labels of different brands or varieties of a product to find what works best for you.
If you can foods at home, make sure you’re following recipes that have been tested for safety. Follow the guidelines in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2015 Revision or find more information at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. You can also contact your local extension office; in Florida, you can find your local office here.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library, How Did We Can?: https://www.nal.usda.gov/exhibits/ipd/canning/timeline-table
U.S. Department of Agriculture, AskUSDA, How long can you keep canned goods?: https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-long-can-you-keep-canned-goods
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Food Product Dating: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating
Dining out with family was the thing to do when we were so busy doing so much outside the home. Now that we’re spending more time at home together, dining in is in again. You can start or continue the “in” thing by taking the pledge to dine-in healthy with your family this December 3rd. Why take this kind of pledge? Keep reading.
FCS Dine In Day
Making and keeping a promise has an upside
Keeping the commitment you made to eat healthy with your family means you get to reap the rewards of actually providing a healthy meal for your family. Additionally, keeping this promise can boost your self-confidence and self-esteem because you know you’re making strides to take care of yourself and your family.
Since dining in is in again, eating healthy with your family December 3rd makes you the admired one to your family and friends. As you dine in together, share praises and compliments as well as healthy foods, and reinforce the feeling of belonging. After providing these trendy experiences often enough, you can begin to enjoy the adoration and respect of others around you. You can be popular.
It’s cherished time
Schedule it. Block off time for it. Show up for it. You and your family are worth it. Start with the pledge on December 3rd. For best success for a healthy lifestyle change, make it a S.M.A.R.T. goal. That’s one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-framed. Here’s an example: Every Tuesday at 6pm, our family will eat a healthy meal together that includes at least two vegetables and a whole grain.
You can keep it safe
- If ventilation indoors is a bit stifling, eat outdoors when you can. Backyards, patios, and porches are great venues for your dining experiences.
- Clean your hands often as you prepare and eat your meal. If you can’t wash for 20 seconds with soap and running water, hand sanitizer is a good backup. Make sure your hands are completely dry after washing or sanitizing.
- Cook foods to the proper temperature. See the Safe Internal Temperature Chart.
- Put leftovers away as quickly as possible.
Tried and true or something new
- Have fun. Try decorating to make your mealtime together special. Let all family members participate.
- Make comfort food. But also try making something you’ve never had before, or try food prepared in a new way.
- Look through the cabinets or in the garage for kitchen equipment you haven’t used in a long time or have forgotten you had. Then use it.
For better health and wellness, make the pledge to Dine In with your family this December 3rd. Now is the time – especially since dining in is in again.
Have you ever taken something out of your pantry or cupboard to find the item teeming with pests? I have and it is NOT a good feeling! Recently, I attempted to use raw almonds I had stored in a sealed plastic bag only to discover worms! Yes, worms! Then, upon careful inspection, a few moths! Not only did it ruin my meal plan, it ruined my appetite for almonds!
On the bright side, it forced me to clean out my pantry. I emptied the shelves. I took EVERYTHING out and inspected both the shelving and the food packages/containers. I removed the shelves, vacuumed all the cracks and crevices, washed everything down and used a fan to ensure dry, future pest-free storage. I was lucky; my infestation was limited to a bag of raw almonds purchased a few weeks prior.
Inspect all pantry items before putting them away to eliminate pests. Photo source: Heidi Copeland
However, I learned that almonds could be the harbinger of a moth. And, as you probably know, moths do not actually start out as a moth but as an egg. In nature, the moth lays an egg and the egg hatches to a larva (caterpillar). Upon maturation, the larva forms its pupa (cocoon) and from the pupa emerges the adult moth, only to start the whole cycle over again! Mating and egg laying begin almost immediately after adults emerge from the pupa.
Raw almonds have NOT been heat treated, thus it is pretty common for the product to contain perhaps an element of surprise. (Note: Eating this product with the worm intact hurts nothing other than our psyche!) Although I am certain my moth was an almond moth, the Indianmeal moth has an attraction for the same pheromone (scent). Thus, after buying food, it is extremely important that ALL pantry goods be examined carefully to eliminate the next generation of adults that can fly and contribute to an infestation. EDIS publication EENY-026 Indianmeal Moth is a great publication with pictures of common hiding places. Moths in particular can be found among tree nuts, grains, cereals, spices, herbs, pasta, starches, flour, and even pet foods.
However, pantry pests are not limited to moths. EDIS publication ENY-213 Pantry and Stored Food Pests has pictures and information of the many species of stored food pests found at various times in food pantries. In fact, there is hardly a food item in the kitchen or food pantry that can escape being infested by some pest if it remains unused and exposed in some dark corner or drawer long enough.
To kill insects in infested foods, place food in an oven at 130 degrees F for 30 minutes or in the freezer at 0 degrees F for four days. If freezing, place the food item in a tightly sealed plastic bag to limit condensation on the product, which can lead to mold growth. Defrost the item in the plastic bag and use the product as soon as possible.
During Covid-19, and now hurricane season, consumers have been encouraged to have food on hand for weeks at a time. Now is a good time to take stock of the pantry and learn how to use the FIFO – first in, first out – system of product rotation. FIFO simply encourages prioritization and the use of stored items, so the oldest products are used first.
The presence of stored food pests is not an indication of uncleanliness, since an insect may be brought home in purchased food or on purchased food packages. However, it is important when purchasing any food product, to inspect your purchase to ensure you do not bring home an insect. Even one insect left alone long enough can cause an infestation.