We all can do our part for the planet

Basic Food Safety Practices at Home

What made you sick? Is it food you cooked at home?

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety


bar graph showing thoughts of consumers on food borne illness causes
Source: FDA

As winter wanes and we begin to eat more seasonally—perhaps eat more salads, raw fruits and veggies, using the barbecue—it may be a good time to take stock of our safe food preparation skills.

Many Americans believe that the food that they prepare at home is unlikely to be the source of a foodborne illness. In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration surveyed over 4,000 adults regarding the source of food “poisoning” in the U.S. According to the data, 53 percent of respondents believed that food poisoning from foods prepared at home is “not very common.” Only 12 percent thought it was “very common.”

I recently read an article that addressed European Food Safety Authority (an agency that addresses foodborne illness and food safety policy for the European Union [EU]) concerns about safe food handling in the home. The agency reported that 40 percent of foodborne outbreaks in the EU were traced to food prepared in private homes. There, the major sources were identified as meat, meat products; mixed food and buffet meals, eggs, fish and milk. Vegetables and fruits were further down the list, but not considered to be insignificant.

In the United States, the news is not quite so bad for the consumer. A 2014 report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest indicated that Americans are twice as likely to get food poisoning from food prepared at a restaurant than from food we cook at home. But that still equates to about 30% of outbreaks being tied to home food preparation.

Why are these figures different? Maybe food is prepared in the home more consistently in Europe? Americans go out for breakfast, lunch or dinner more frequently? Is it possible that those with more health care options are more likely to report their illnesses? The outbreaks that go unreported, especially sporadic incidents that affect low numbers of consumers, is a number we don’t have a great handle on.

The bottom line is that while we continue to blame farmers, processors, foodservice and restaurants for making the food that makes us sick, the fact is that home cooks are quite likely to handle food in a way that results in a foodborne illness. Each part of the food system from the farmer or producer all the way to the home cook has some responsibility to prepare, serve and store food so that risks for foodborne illness are minimized.

So, how can you lower your risk of contributing to the statistics of home-sourced food borne illness? It really is not all that difficult. We are often so busy with our lives that we just don’t think about how we handle food at home—or consumers just don’t know the risks, because no one told them. It can be really scary when you are attending a pot luck or bringing a dish to soup kitchen or elementary school event where kids are sharing their favorite cultural foods.

Did that person clean up before they cooked? How long did was that casserole at room temperature after it was cooked? Was a food thermometer used to make sure the food was cooked long enough to be safe? What does their refrigerator look like? Kitchens in most homes are used for many different activities: feeding the dog; creating the latest art project; counters become a resting place for cats when you are not at home; sinks are used for washing hands and cleaning fresh lettuce; cleaning the cutting board after boning a chicken; washing your hair. So many opportunities for cross-contamination of perfectly clean and healthy food with those pesky pathogens that make us sick.

I have tried to distill all of the food safety rules down to an easy five points. Copy, paste, and pin this on your fridge for a few days and see if you can make these habits part of your everyday food prep routine.

  • Keep your kitchen, utensils, and hands clean. At the very least, clean surfaces before cooking and use clean utensils. Wash your hands before food preparation—no matter what. Even if you just went to the bathroom and washed your hands. Wash out your sink regularly, especially after washing knives used on raw meat or cleaning freshly harvested garden tomatoes or cucumbers.
  • Handle raw and cooked foods with care—do not let them cross paths. If you are making a salad for dinner, time it so that you can do that BEFORE you prepare the chicken or the fish. Then revisit #1—wash every surface and utensil before using it on another food. If you do prepare raw foods (i.e. cracking eggs) before the cooked or ready to eat foods (slicing bread or chopping washed lettuce), preventing cross contamination is essential to reduce risks.
  • Use a food thermometer. No matter what you have been told by anyone (including the chef who insists they know meat is done by pressing it with his or her finger), you CANNOT tell the temperature of a food without a thermometer. This is especially important when checking if a meat, poultry, fish or egg dish is fully cooked. Or, if leftovers are heated to the proper temperature (165 degrees F). Once I purchased a good digital thermometer, I actually found that I was actually less likely to over cook meat and chicken.
  • Use a refrigerator thermometer. While refrigeration can slow the growth of bacteria, it does not totally stop it. For example, Listeria is a bacteria that loves a cold, wet environment. So, keep your fridge clean, wipe up spills quickly, do not let lettuce, herbs, and other perishables melt into a wet mush in the veggie drawer. Remove outdated or old foods when you are collecting the household trash for weekly collection. If your refrigerator does not have a built-in temperature gauge, buy one and place it near the door, the warmest part of the fridge. It should read between 38 and 40 degrees F. Also, look at that thermometer or temperature gauge periodically to ensure that the fridge is maintaining that safe temperature range.
  • Get leftovers into the refrigerator ASAP after eating. Many consumers are under the mistaken impression that once you clean a food (fruits and veggies) or cook a food (chicken, fish) to the safe end temperature, your food safety worries are over. Not so. Washing alone will never totally remove all risk of pathogens. Get that leftover salad back into the refrigerator ASAP. Once cooked, soups, stews, steaks and mac and cheese need to be sent back to the fridge as soon as they are cool enough to handle. No reason to let them cool to room temperature. Modern fridges can handle reasonable amounts of warm food—break the food down to smaller amounts, about no more than three inches deep. They will cool faster. Don’t leave leftovers on the counter for long. It is too easy to forget them!


For more information about food safety at home, visit our website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

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EFNEP in New Britain

Extension educator Heather Pease from our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program was recently at the YWCA in New Britain for a program. Heather said of the program, “Learning about portions, measurements and recommended serving sizes! Playing with our food!”

EFNEP New Britain EFNEP New Britain portions and sizing with food EFNEP New Britain EFNEP New Britain participants

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! Contact the office near you for more information!

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EFNEP in New Britain

Extension educator Heather Pease from our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program was recently at the YWCA in New Britain for a program. Heather said of the program, “Learning about portions, measurements and recommended serving sizes! Playing with our food!”

EFNEP New Britain EFNEP New Britain portions and sizing with food EFNEP New Britain EFNEP New Britain participants

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! Contact the office near you for more information!

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Kid Eats

Kid Eats app

A new interactive app named Kid Eats, designed to help parents and teachers promote healthy eating and introduce cooking skills, is now available at the Apple app store. The program incorporates youth-adult partnerships, with adult and child working together in the kitchen. Designed for youth grades three to six, the app is a collaborative effort between UConn Extension 4-H Fitness and Nutrition Clubs In Motion, a 4-H STEM after school program funded through USDA-NIFA, and the New Mexico State University (NMSU) Media Productions. Kid Eats app is currently compatible with iPad iOS 11.0 or later.

The UConn team brought their nutrition and health promotion background to the project while NMSU Media Kid Eats app visualproductions developed the app. The teams created the app to pilot the effectiveness of video instruction to encourage healthy habits. UConn 4-H FANs IM was designed to promote healthy eating and exercise for youth, through fun and engaging activities.

The app includes a step-by-step instructional recipe, while directing users to the KidEats website, which includes seven recipe videos along with one on safe knife skills. Recipes are available to download and include, Banana Breakfast Cookies, Fruit Slushies, Garden Salsa, Hummus Dip with Veggies, Kale Chips, Tortilla Pizza and Sautéed Veggies. The teams plan to expand the app to include additional kitchen skills, recipes and Spanish videos.

By Kim Colavito Markesich

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Cloe Labranche: 4-H Alumni Spotlight

Meet 4-H Alumni and UConn undergraduate Cloe Labranche. We met with her and chatted about her 4-H experience, and what she is up to at UConn.

Cloe Labranche (left) and Laura Irwin at the 2017 Little International Livestock Show at UConn.
Cloe Labranche (left) and Laura Irwin at the 2017 Little International Livestock Show at UConn.

How did you become involved with 4-H? Can you tell us about your 4-H experience?

I came from a non-ag family and found out about 4-H when I was eight years old from a neighbor. I was very interested in larger animals, and I was lucky to find a dairy club close to my hometown of Ellington. I joined the Merry Moo-er’s of Enfield a year later, and was involved with them until I aged out of 4-H.

Did you visit UConn for a 4-H event prior to attending UConn?

My 4-H club was full of wonderful leaders who pushed me to take advantage of as many 4-H experiences as possible, including the ones at UConn. I showed at the UConn poultry show and Dairy Day, along with various workshops that were held throughout the years. I spent a lot of time at UConn before I came here as a student.

Why did you apply to UConn? What are you majoring in, and when is your expected graduation?

I am a sophomore majoring in Animal Science and will be graduating in May 2020. I applied to UConn because I knew that the connections I made here in my 4-H years would open up many opportunities for career options. I also knew that the Ag program here is unlike any other.

Did 4-H influence your choice of university or major?

4-H played a major part in my decision; however; I think I would have ended up here regardless. I knew I wanted to work with animals before I knew about 4-H, and I also come from a family of UConn alumni.

What was the most challenging part of 4-H?

The most challenging part of 4-H was doing things out of my comfort level. I had many mentors who pushed me to do things that I might not have pushed myself to do in my youth. I was lucky to have people to encourage me to join the CT Quiz Bowl team, show at the Big E, attend the Citizenship Washington Focus trip, run for club and county officer positions, and many more. After 4-H, I have learned to push myself to do things that I might not have done otherwise. Doing so helps anyone make the most out of 4-H, college, and life.

What was the most rewarding part of 4-H?

The opportunities. Every single aspect of 4-H that I took advantage of made me a stronger person with skills I will use forever. It opened up a world of career options that made me excited for my future in animal science, and I hope to become a passionate worker when I begin my career, whatever that may be.

What is your favorite 4-H memory?

I attended the National 4-H Dairy Expo Trip in Madison, Wisconsin when I was 16. After a long day of educational workshops and hands-on activities, the whole group of 4-Hers from all over the country gathered in the dining hall of our housing area and had a square dance. I can’t think of a time I had more fun.

Is your course work at UConn building off of your 4-H experience?

Yes. This is something I notice especially now as a sophomore, where my classes are becoming less generic. I have had a slight advantage in almost all of my classes I have taken this semester because of the knowledge I have gained throughout my 4-H years.

After you earn your degree, what are your plans for the future? 

I would love to work with animal genetics, or possibly biosecurity and research with animal products. If you ask me again in a month, that answer might be different, because I have many interests within animal science careers. All I know is that I would love to do anything where I can help create more sustainable agriculture in the world.

Can you tell us about some of your other interests?

I have a passion for music and have been playing piano and guitar for 12 years.

Anything else you think we should know?

I would not be the person I am today without 4-H.

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Garden Master Classes Available

FANs gardenGarden Master Classes are offered through the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program. For Certified Master Gardeners they provide continuing education as part of the Advanced Master Gardener certification process.

These classes are also open to the general public. Anyone with an interest in gardening and  horticulture is welcome!

The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program is an Educational Outreach Program that is part of UConn Extension. The program started in 1978 and consists of horticulture training and an outreach component that focus on the community at large. Master Gardeners are enthusiastic, willing to learn and share their knowledge and training with others. What sets them apart from other home gardeners is their special horticultural training. In exchange for this training, Master Gardeners commit time as volunteers working through their local UConn Extension Center and the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford to provide horticultural-related information to the community.

For more information and a class listing visit: https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/garden-master-classes/.

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Install a Rain Garden This Spring

rain garden appWhat is a Rain Garden?

A rain garden is a depression (about 6 inches deep) that collects stormwater runoff from a roof, driveway or yard and allows it to infiltrate into the ground. Rain gardens are typically planted with shrubs and perennials (natives are ideal), and can be colorful, landscaped areas in your yard.

Why a Rain Garden?

Every time it rains, water runs off impervious surfaces such as roofs, driveways, roads and parking lots, collecting pollutants along the way. This runoff has been cited by the United States Environmental Protection Agency as a major source of pollution to our nation’s waterways. By building a rain garden at your home, you can reduce the amount of pollutants that leave your yard and enter nearby lakes, streams and ponds.

Learn more, and use our app or resources to install a rain garden on your property.

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Tick Alert!

Headed outdoors? The recent warm weather has brought the ticks back out. Make sure you take precautions against ticks in October and November. Adult ticks are more active during this time of the year, creating a problem for both humans and animals.

These disease-carrying arachnids reside in moist areas, long grass and the leaf litter and will latch onto humans and animals alike. Although there are many different species of ticks, people generally think of one tick species in particular when worrying about illness: the deer tick. While the Deer tick is predominantly known for transmitting Lyme disease (caused by the corkscrew-shaped bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi) it can also carry other disease causing agents such as Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Babesia microti and Borrelia miyamotoi. These are the causative agents of Granulocytic Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis and Borrelia miyamotoi respectively. A single tick has the potential to transmit one, two, or even all four of these illnesses simultaneously! Other species of ticks found in the Northeast such as the Dog tick (Dermacentor variablis), Brown Dog tick (Rhiphcephalus sanguineus) and Lonestar tick (Amblyomma americanum) can also be tested for different pathogens known to cause illness in humans and/or animals.

Photo: CVMDL
ticks being tested for Lyme disease at UConn lab
Photo: Heather Haycock

If you find a tick on yourself, your child, or your pet, remove it immediately but do not make any attempt to destroy it. The Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) at UConn can test the tick for all those pathogens. Ticks received at the CVMDL are first examined and identified by trained technicians using a dissection microscope. This identification process determines the species of tick, life stage, and degree of blood engorgement, all of which are factors that may impact transmission of pathogens to the person or animal (the host). Ticks may then be tested for the DNA of pathogens that are known to be transmitted by that tick species. Results are reported within 3-5 business days of receiving the sample. Next business day RUSH testing is available for an additional fee. The information obtained from testing your tick at UConn is very useful when consulting with your physician or veterinarian about further actions you may need to take.

Compared to 2016, this year, the CVMDL has seen a significant increase in the numbers of tick submissions to the laboratory. In the month of April the number of submissions increased 92% relative to the same month in 2016. The increases for other warm weather months were 104% in May, 70% in June and 60% in July. CVMDL speculates that changes in weather patterns this year may have affected changes in tick populations and with that, increased number of tick submissions to the lab.

CVMDL is the only laboratory in New England accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians. The laboratory is located on the UConn-Storrs campus and provides diagnostic services, professional expertise, research and detection of newly emerging diseases, and collaborates with federal, state, and local agencies to detect and monitor diseases important to animal and human health.

How to send in ticks: Please send ticks in sealed, double zip lock bags accompanied by a small square of moist paper towel. The submission form and the “Do’s and Don’ts of tick testing” can be found on our website at http://s.uconn.edu/tickform. You can also watch a video produced by UConn Communications for the Science in Seconds series here.

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Solar Pumping 101: the what, why, and the how

Solar water pumping system.
Image credit: Energy & Development Group.

Access to a safe, sustainable water supply is a growing concern in every region of the world. In many communities, groundwater is being pumped by diesel fueled systems, which are both expensive and can be difficult to maintain. In communities where electricity is scarce, solar can be a part of the solution.
The highest demand for solar pumps is among rural off-grid areas, currently underserved, or served by costly fuel-driven pumps. Solar pumping is most competitive in regions with high solar insolation, which include most of Africa, South America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia; but the technology can operate successfully in almost any region of the world.

“Things are changing; new technologies are coming up. You can’t resist good technology that offers you cheaper costs for what you need.” said Jackson Mutazamba, assistant director of operational planning in the Ministry of Water and Irrigation in Tanzania, when asked about the use of solar pumps for water supply.
Echoed by Mamun from the Sohagpur village in Dhamrai, Bangladesh, “With the solar pump installed, we are getting sufficient water with lower monthly bills than we spent on buying diesel to run the generator”, he said.
In order for solar to be successful, however, this technology needs to be understood and appreciated by water practitioners around the world.
To provide a clear and concise introduction to solar water pumping, my colleagues and I have developed a handbook – Solar Pumping: The Basics, which offers an overview of the various aspects of solar water pumping.

Let’s take a deeper look.

Over the last 7 years, things have changed dramatically. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, which power the pumps, have dropped significantly in price, while the technology has improved and is now able to pump higher volumes of water and reach even deeper sources of groundwater.
While the initial acquisition of equipment is more costly than other pumping alternatives, the operation and maintenance costs are low. Particularly compared with diesel pumping, solar is not only more energy efficient, but with a lifespan of over 20 years, the financial benefits vastly outweigh the costs.
A solar pumping system is simple and includes the solar panel itself, the pump, and a power conditioner. The new systems are flexible and can work in tandem with a back-up generator and the electrical grid.   
Considerations for designing a solar pumping system include various parameters including: water demand (volume), water storage, water depth (head), location of PV panels, and solar irradiance among others. Fortunately, modern software provides a free and user-friendly tool that enables engineers to easily design and size solar pumping system.
Finally, once the system is up, running, and secured, long-term maintenance is critical. This includes warrantees on equipment and maintenance contracts to ensure the water keeps flowing clean.
This handbook is part of a larger package on solar pumping produced by the World Bank Water Global Practice, which includes a comprehensive knowledge base, video tutorials, case studies, and more.  While solar pumping may not be the silver bullet for every community, it is important that this technology is made accessible and available as an option for those who wish to benefit from it.
Download the handbook or visit the webpage to learn more about solar water pumping. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me at kwelsien@worldbank.org.

Download the handbook

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A water and sanitation success story in Uganda — but the question is how to sustain it

Last year, I attended the African Great Lakes Conference in Entebbe, Uganda, joining over 300 specialists who presented on a wide range of water issues. The highlight of the conference, for me, was visiting the Integrated Community Environmental Conservation project in Arul village, Kigungu, in Entebbe.
The project aims to reduce bio-diversity loss, pollution of international waters of Lake Victoria, land degradation, and address some effects of climate change. The fact that the project was managed by a women’s empowerment network made the prospects of the visit more interesting. Mainstreaming gender in environmental and conservation work is an issue that needs to be addressed.

The community fish pond in Kigungu, Entebbe, created to promote sustainable practices, self-sufficiency and to reduce over fishing in Lake Victoria.

We arrived in Arul village, Kigungu, in the afternoon. The Kigungu area was a place where wetlands had been polluted, contaminated, and devastated by illegal sand mining, poor waste management, and climate change, among other issues. However, since 2006, the Integrated Community Environmental Conservation project has been addressing these issues.
A Sustainable Fish Pond
In the village, we visited a community pond filled with tropical fish. The pond was created to promote sustainable fishing practices and self-sufficiency in food production. For example, the tropical fish were used for local food production with the surplus fish stock sold in the local market as a small business venture which earned local women a small wage. The pond is also used to reduce over fishing in Lake Victoria.

Local fishermen enter the pond and
demonstrate sustainable fishing practices

The fish pond is reaping benefits for the local community – a good practice that should be replicated in other local villages. However, as a trained environmental auditor, I had concerns over the quality of the water which appeared muddy and slightly dark in color. In my field of work, it is recommended that the pond water is green in color; deep dark colors should be avoided to gain good fish yield. The color of the pond water is usually a good indicator of the quality of the water. The deterioration of the water quality of the pond may be in its early stages. Without testing the water quality, it is difficult to assess; but the color indicates that the pond is in need of monitoring to evaluate whether the water quality may, if untreated, affect the fish stock. To ensure that the fish pond continues to produce local food for self-sufficiency in a sustainable manner, water quality monitoring and maintenance is essential to continue the success story.

Ecological Sanitation Toilets
The success story of conservation in this village continues, when we visited the ecological sanitation toilets. We learned that there was a water shortage in the village, which was multiplied by a high-water table which causes groundwater contamination. Due to these circumstances the women’s network decided to build ecological sanitation toilets, since these toilets can function within a closed system which does not require water.
After visiting an ecological sanitation toilet, I must say it is another good practice, a beacon of excellence in conservation that addresses the challenge and relationship between water shortage and sanitation. We discussed the principle of using this new technology, where the nutrients in the waste is recycled to create manure and fertilizer for agriculture, improving soil productivity for small-scale farmers. This vital technology was used to train three hundred local community members in the use and maintenance of the system. It was quite impressive.
But it also occurred to me that the nature of these new ecological sanitation toilets means they will require routine checks, monitoring, and regular training as well as sustainable policies and laws and regulations to enforce such actions.

According to the UN Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and drinking water, in Uganda, there are neither national standards for monitoring sanitation and drinking water, nor independent tests on water quality.

A community ecological
sanitation toilet – a model of
good practice in conservation.

What is the future for these innovative conservation water and sanitation projects without adequate monitoring, measuring, analysis, and evaluation? How will these projects be measured for environmental performance? How will their success story be sustainable without monitoring and evaluation?
The upfront initial investment in water conservation projects is going well, and making a difference across Africa, but long-term monitoring and evaluation needs to be put in place as well. There is evidence that some projects started out as beacons of excellence in conservation tend to need extra investment in monitoring and evaluation to continue the success story.

Also learn about the World Bank’s work in Uganda:

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