Fire up the grill for a healthy and safe cookout

Last weekend, millions of Americans will be fired up the grill for July 4 celebrations. Be sure to plan ahead and follow these steps to ensure a healthy and safe meal when cooking out with your friends and family.

Image by rawpixel.com
  • Clean the Grill: An important step in preparing the grill is cleaning it. Many people use the same brush year after year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report an increase in reports of people swallowing bristles from these grill brushes. To prevent this, replace grill brushes regularly before the bristles wear down or use a brush for cleaning that does not have steel bristles. Also, wipe down the grill with a wet cloth after scrubbing to remove small pieces of bristle on the grill racks that are difficult to see.
  • Select your meat: One of the advantages of grilling is the flavor it adds without extra fat.  Here are some suggestions for healthy meat choices. For hamburgers, try lean ground beef, turkey, chicken or veggie burgers made from chickpeas or black beans.  Another option is chicken, shrimp or fish.  You can make skewers with meat and vegetables or put them together in a “foil packet” to cook on the grill.
  • Marinate: If you want to marinate the food for extra flavor before cooking, be sure to marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Since the marinade has been exposed to bacteria from the raw food, you need to boil the leftover marinade to kill any harmful bacteria before serving it over the cooked meat. A better idea is to keep some marinade aside in a separate container in the refrigerator that you can serve with the meal. 
  • Storage: Raw foods, including meats and vegetables, need to be stored safely in the refrigerator or a cooler until it is time to grill and serve the food. If you buy the meat, poultry or fish more than 2 days before your barbeque, freeze it to prevent it from spoiling. Be sure to thaw it completely, in either the refrigerator or microwave, before grilling it to ensure even cooking.  
  • Use food thermometer to make sure meat is cooked:  Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast.  Watch the temperature to avoid burnt food on the outside and undercooked food on the inside.  Do not rely on its color to determine if it is done.  The only way to determine if a food is cooked to a safe temperature is with a food thermometer.  Ground meats need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F.  Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.  When reheating fully cooked meats like hot dogs, grill to 165 °F or until steaming hot. After cooking meat and poultry to a safe temperature, keep it at 140 °F or warmer by placing to the side of the grill rack or in a pre-heated 200 °F oven until ready to serve. 
  • Avoid cross-contamination: When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter instead of the one used for the raw meat.  Bacteria present from the raw meat juices could contaminate the cooked food.  

Plan your menu today for a healthy and safe summer and fire up the grill.  If you have any questions about grilling meat and poultry, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6843 or visit www.fsis.usda.gov .

Love For Leftovers

As many of us plan on what to eat this holiday season, it can be good to have the end in mind — leftovers!

Eating leftovers is an economical choice that reduces food waste and keeps the holiday memory alive for a few more days. However, there are a few tips to share to make sure your leftovers are safe for all to enjoy.

How long can I keep leftovers in the refrigerator and freezer?

You have the option to refrigerate leftovers or freeze them. If you keep your leftovers in the refrigerator, you want to consume them within 3 to 4 days. If you choose to freeze your leftovers, for quality we recommend keeping them in the freezer for 3 to 4 months. Again, you can keep leftovers in the freezer longer, but the quality may decrease — think freezer burn.

Temperatures to remember:

  • Refrigerator: Keep at 32°F to 40°F, buy an appliance thermometer.
    • Why: Temperatures at this range will prevent the growth of most foodborne pathogens.
  • Freezer: Keep at -20°F to 0°F, buy an appliance thermometer.
    • Why: Temperatures at 0°F will prevent bacteria growth. However, freezing doesn’t kill all bacteria. 
  • Reheating leftovers: Reheat leftovers to 165°F, buy an appliance thermometer
    • Why: This temperature will prevent growth of most foodborne pathogens

How do I store leftovers? Cool the foods quickly!

Have food storage containers in mind. Use shallow containers that are 4” or less in height to store leftovers. Shallow containers will help cool foods to 40°F and below faster.

Why: Temperatures at 40°F and below will reduce the risk of bacteria growing quickly (one bacteria can grow to over 16 million bacteria in 8 hours under the right conditions).

How: Slice large cuts into smaller portions to be refrigerated or frozen. Hot foods can be placed directly into the refrigerator or placed in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating.

Gifts are not the only thing that should be wrapped well!

Wrapping leftovers so they are airtight will help keep moisture, absorbing funky odors and help keep bacteria out.

Though this infographic shows how to thaw a frozen turkey, the same methods can be used for other frozen foods.

Thawing: Thaw frozen leftovers in the microwave, refrigerator, cold water method or cook frozen. The best method is thawing in the refrigerator because the food can always be refrozen if using a refrigerator thaw.

Why: These methods do not encourage bacteria growth.

Reheating leftovers: Whether you use the oven, stovetop or microwave, you will want to reheat leftovers until they reach a safe internal temperature of 165°F. If you use the microwave, cover the bowl or plate, and make sure you stir the food to prevent cold spots, where food many not heat up.

Helpful resources:

  1. Your local Extension office: Find here
  2. Free FoodKeeper App: Here
  3. USDA: Leftovers and food safety

This post written by Extension food safety specialist Shauna Henley, PhD.

Hot off the Grill: Healthy Grillin’ ideas!

Some of my fondest summer memories include weekend barbeques at the Jersey shore. Eating outdoors and the smell of food cooking on our grill still makes my mouth water. Grilling isn’t only a summer activity. In fact, during the recent pandemic many people, myself included, found grilling to be a great alternative to using a stove or oven. Seeing grill marks on foods and eating outdoors just makes things taste better. 

Grilling is easy and can be a healthy cooking method, especially if you use lean cuts of meat, skinless chicken, or fish. Marinating foods in juices, vinegars, and wine along with your favorite herbs and spices adds a calorie-free flavor punch. If you prefer bottled marinades, choose one that contains a small amount of oil (preferably olive or canola).  

Grilling can also have a downside regarding our health. When high-fat meats are cooked at high temperatures, two cancer-causing compounds are formed — heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAH). When I first read the science behind this I thought, does this mean no more burgers on the grill? The answer is no. The good news is there are things you can do to reduce the health risk from these compounds.  

1. Choose lean meats, cut them in small pieces, and grill them at a lower temperature longer. For example, instead of a one big burger or chicken breast, I grill burger sliders and chicken kabobs with fruits and vegetables. Plant foods add color and nutrients and don’t form HCAs and PAHs.

2. Marinating meats and poultry 1-2 hours before grilling can reduce these cancer-causing compounds, especially if marinades contain olive-oil and herbs and spices high in antioxidants (oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, cinnamon). My favorite marinade for poultry and vegetables is a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, and one-two drops of lemon juice.

3. Trimming excess fat will limit the fat drippings and PAHs.

4. Flipping meats often prevents them from charring, limiting HCAs from forming.

Recently I discovered many foods you can grill besides meat, poultry, and fish. My new favorites include grilled Cesar salad and an array of fresh vegetables and fruits. Grilled watermelon wedges and pineapple slices (great on chicken or a burger) are delicious and nutrient-rich, and grilled peach halves with shortbread crumbles and strawberries with grilled pound cake drizzled with balsamic glaze are my two new favorite summer desserts. 

Summer is quickly approaching. If you haven’t already, it’s time to get out the grill, clean and fire it up, and have fun with friends and family over a great meal! For hot tips for grilling safely, visit the Partnership for Food Safety Education:  https://www.fightbac.org/?s=grilling+tips&id=12049.

Try this great grilling recipe!

Grilled peaches with shortbread cookie crumbles

  • 4 peaches, preferable Freestone
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup shortbread cookies, finely crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, cut into small pieces
  • Low-fat frozen vanilla yogurt
  • Amaretto liqueur (optional)
  1. Heat a gas grill to medium.
  2. Cut peaches in half, all the way around. Twist halves off their pits. Remove pits. Brush the cut sides of the peaches lightly with olive oil. Grill, cut side down until grill marks form and flesh softens, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Combine crumbled shortbread cookies with brown sugar and melted butter or margarine. Scoop small amount of mixture into the pit hole of each peach half.
  4. Put peach halves in an aluminum foil pan and move to the side of the grill to continue cooking over indirect heat, another 4 to 5 minutes.
  5. Serve with small scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt. Optional: Drizzle with amaretto liqueur.

Safe Celebrations for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the start of the most wonderful time of the year – but this year it looks a bit different. 

Traditional Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends are always the best, but this year can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu. Obviously, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household. If you do plan to spend Thanksgiving with people outside your household, take steps to make your celebration safer.

Attending a Gathering

Make your celebration safer. In addition to following the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer like washing hands properly, take these additional steps while attending a Thanksgiving gathering.

  • Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils.
  • Wear a mask, and safely store your mask while eating and drinking.
  • Avoid going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as the kitchen.
  • Use single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable items like food containers, plates, and utensils.

Hosting a Thanksgiving Gathering

If having guests to your home, be sure that people follow the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer. Other steps you can take include:

  • Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.
  • Limit the number of guests.
  • Have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use.
  • If celebrating indoors, make sure to open windows and provide ventilation.
  • Limit the number of people in food preparation areas.
  • Have guests bring their own food and drink.
  • If sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils.

Consider Other Thanksgiving Activities

  • Host a virtual Thanksgiving meal with friends and family who don’t live with you
    • Schedule a time to share a meal together virtually.
    • Have people share recipes and show their turkey, dressing, or other dishes they prepared.
  • Watch television and play games with people in your household
    • Watch Thanksgiving Day parades, sports, and movies at home.
    • Find a fun game to play.
  • Shopping
    • Shop online sales the day after Thanksgiving and the days leading up to the winter holidays.
    • Use contactless services for purchased items, like a curbside pick-up.
    • Shop in open-air markets staying 6 feet away from others.

Don’t forget to practice gratitude this Thanksgiving, especially if you and your family are healthy and well! 

Blog contributed by Morgan Page (’21), University of Maryland College of Arts and Humanities

Happy Healthy Thanksgiving Tips

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, so families should consider ways they can stay healthy during the holidays. Here are some tips to consider when preparing Thanksgiving dinner:

The Main Dish: Roasting a turkey is by far the healthiest way to reduce sodium and fat.

  • Avoid salt-based seasonings.
  • Use fresh or dried herbs and spices to decrease sodium and add flavor.
  • Reduce eating too much fat by avoiding eating the skin of the turkey.

 Try these quick and easy Herb Roasted Turkey recipes this Thanksgiving!

Side Dishes: Vegetables and fruit are incredibly important to our everyday health. Make half of your plate filled with delicious fruits and vegetables. There are many ways to prepare vegetables that can go well with a Thanksgiving meal. Check out my favorite recipes:

Try using Maryland’s Best to find local produce and meats for your meals this holiday and every night of the week.

Drinks: Reduce your consumption of sugary drinks. Enjoy your favorite cider or soda if you wish, but to help limit the extra calories you consume it may be best to drink more water. Water can also help you feel full to prevent you from going back for seconds.

Desserts: Staying healthy this Thanksgiving does not mean that you have to give up having dessert. It can be our favorite part of the meal! Here are some sweet and savory recipes you can enjoy to end the Thanksgiving celebration with:

Physical Activity: Try a family walk through your neighborhood or at a park to burn calories. Remember to wear your mask. Think of fun family games to get you moving. Family football games can be a great way to work off the meal.

Food safety tips

Remember to always wash your hands before cooking and clean all surfaces.

Always wash your hand before and after touching raw poultry, meat, eggs or seafood, and its packaging.

For more tips, checkout our previous post on food safety for preparing a turkey for the family.

COVID-19 & Holiday Resources: Talk to your household and non-household family members to determine whether an in-person or virtual holiday celebration is a shared risk at this point in time. Here are some resources that give some ways to approach a COVID-Holiday season from the CDC and STAT News. This year will be different due to COVID-19, so it may be best to avoid Black Friday shopping this year.

Happy Thanksgiving and stay safe!

Special guest post contributed by Jae’La Reese, FCS Intern and senior in the School of Public Health

Tips for a Safe and Healthy July Fourth Celebration

Americans celebrate July 4th with picnics, barbecues and fireworks. Whether it is in your own backyard or at local parks and recreation centers, here are some important tips for healthy eating and food safety to keep in mind.  

Stay hydrated. As the temperatures increase this summer and we spend more time outside, remember to stay hydrated. Water is the best choice to drink. You can make infused water by adding oranges, lemons, limes, berries or cucumbers for a different flavor. Add a patriotic theme by adding diced blueberries and strawberries to ice cube trays, fill with water and freeze. Add these to your water or try some sparkling water for a little fizz.

Plan ahead. This is key to food safety for your celebration. Food borne illnesses increase during the hot summer months when people are eating outside more often. Some essential items to pack for your celebration are:

  • food thermometer (if you are grilling)
  • two coolers with ice
  • plenty of clean utensils
  • storage containers for leftovers
  • paper towels
  • soap and water for handwashing
  • trash bags

Prepare food the day before. To save you time, cut up fruits and vegetables and prepare foods like salads, deviled eggs and desserts the day or two before and refrigerate so they are thoroughly chilled when putting in the cooler. If your meats (burgers, hot dogs, steaks or chicken) are frozen, be sure to thaw them in the refrigerator the night before and not on the countertop.

Pack two coolers. Pre-chill your coolers early in the morning by placing ice in them a few hours before packing so they are already chilled. Place raw meats in tightly sealed containers and place them in the bottom of the cooler so juices from these foods do not drip onto other foods. Pack other perishables, like deviled eggs, salads and vegetables directly from the refrigerator right before leaving the house. Make sure to fill coolers with ice around the food to keep it cold. Add extra ice or freezer gel packs on top to keep food at 40°F or colder. A full cooler will keep cold temperatures better than a half-filled cooler. Pack a separate cooler with beverages so they are easily accessible throughout the day and limits the frequency of opening the food cooler.

Keep coolers cool. When traveling, place coolers up front in the air conditioning because temperatures can reach over 140°F in the trunk. Once you arrive at your site, keep coolers in the shade and place a blanket over them. Keep them closed as much as possible to keep the contents inside cold. It is important to keep food out of the “Danger Zone”, between 40 and 140 degrees F, to prevent rapid growth of bacteria, which can cause food borne illnesses. 

Tips for grilling. If grilling, be sure to cook meat and poultry to a safe temperature, measured with a food thermometer. To kill bacteria, cook steaks to 145 degrees F, hamburgers and ribs to 160 degrees F, and all poultry and hot dogs to 165 degrees F. Use a clean plate to serve food from the grill.   

Store safely. After serving, store foods back in the cooler. Do not allow food to sit out longer than one hour when it is warm outside. If in doubt, throw it out. Some foods such as breads, rolls, chips, crackers, and cookies are okay to leave out but cover to keep them fresh.

Keep your family safe and healthy this Fourth of July by following a few guidelines and taking precautions with your food, and be sure your summertime picnic is full of fun.

Kids can make their own food sparklers!

This requires a make-ahead step of slicing watermelon and then cutting out star shapes with a cookie cutter. Place watermelon stars in a covered container to use when making the sparklers. Fill separate containers with blueberries and strawberries. Set up a station so kids can create their own sparklers. Start with a wooden skewer. Next add blueberries and strawberries to the skewer but leave space at the top for the watermelon star. A fun, creative way to enjoy a healthy patriotic treat.

The whole family can enjoy brainstorming and creating other patriotic-themed foods to celebrate our nation’s birthday.

Resources for Personal Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Risk Management Solution Crisis Identity Planning ConceptIt was March 12 when we found out that offices were closed, and the following day that schools would be closed in our state.  At that time, it was supposed to be for a two-week period, but now we have moved beyond that. While many are still working, others are laid off or furloughed. Even if you are still working, you may experience fluctuations in your income or even unexpected bills. Since the beginning, I have been keeping a list of resources shared by my friends and colleagues during this difficult time. 

Now is the time to share them with you.

Several government agencies have pulled together resources for consumers. The list is not comprehensive and focuses primarily on finance related topics. An important note is that the federal tax filing deadline is extended from April 15 until July 15. Now if you are expecting a refund, you probably should not wait to file your taxes. You should also check the filing requirements for your state. Maryland residents have a filing date of July 15.  Click on the links below for government resources in response to COVID-19.

Cooperative Extension has responded with resources available for food preservation, nutrition, mindfulness, and finance. Most of the links provided will focus on finances, as that is the role I serve with Extension. The most important item to remember is that you need a plan. Figure out your current situation and develop a plan in case your situation changes. Always seek credible resources for information. There are people out there that are trying to take advantage of you in this challenging environment. The Cooperative Extension resources listed below are credible. You should also check the Extension resources available in your state.

I am a member of the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS).  The organization has pulled together a list of resources around emergency preparedness, cleaning, hand washing, and food safety, family resources, and financial wellness resources.  Click here for its COVID-19 resources.

Some parents are looking for free resources to teach your children at home. 

Colleagues have sent me other resources as pdf files.  If you are interested in them, please email me at jketterm@umd.edu.

It is important to keep in mind that this situation is temporary. Stay positive as this will pass. During difficult times, you need to take care of your mental and physical well-being. Take time to unplug and stop reading all of the negative coverage.  

Stay healthy.

Got Groundwater?

Do you know where your drinking water comes from?

You may be thinking, I’m on city water, not a well; but in fact forty-four percent of American’s water comes from wells in the ground! Many municipalities and utilities use wells in addition to surface waters.

36E_32C_177274_3586387248_5Groundwater originates from rain that travels on land surfaces entering streams and rivers, and also percolates through soils and ends in underground aquifers that we tap into. Our water is essentially all connected and all recycled. This connectivity of water emphasizes the importance of protecting this critical resource, and further, that we can all play a role, which is why we are also observing Protect Your Groundwater Day, held this week on Sept. 3.

Everyday Choices

Many of our everyday activities can affect water quality of either ground or surface waters. What we put down our drains, where and how we wash our cars, what we throw away, the fertilizer we use, salting our roads or sidewalks — these and many other activities can negatively influence our water. Sure, some of water we use is treated, but not all contamination may be removed, and it all eventually ends up in our ground or surface waters.

Conserve and Protect

So what can we each do to be better stewards of water? A few simple practices go a long way. Conserve water by fixing leaking faucets, turn water off while brushing your teeth, use high efficiency appliances that use less water, limit shower time, use a rain barrel or rain garden outside and irrigate your lawn less. Recycle unwanted cleaners, fuels, paints, and prescriptions rather than dumping or flushing down toilet. If you have a septic tank, have it pumped every three to five years.

Remember, regardless of where you live and where your water comes from, much of what we do influences water quality. So think before you act and do your part in protecting our waters.

For more information on ensuring a clean and safe groundwater system, go to https://extension.umd.edu/well-and-septic.