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 .

Mental Fitness for Incoming Freshmen

As high school seniors are making their way across the graduation stage, their minds are turning to thoughts of leaving for college in the fall. Making the transition from living at home to living on campus can be exciting but also overwhelming.

During this shift, it is important for students to check in with themselves and regulate their mental health. Being away from home can lead to additional stress and strain on students because living on campus often means taking on more responsibilities. Freshmen must learn how to coordinate their schedules to attend class, study, show up to social events, and bear the responsibility of caring for themselves.

Since we all struggle with this balance, here are some resources and tips for improving and maintaining good mental health.

One of the most important resources available to students on campus is the counseling center. Students can visit the counseling center for mental health care including individual counseling, group counseling, couples counseling, career counseling, drop in hours, and referral services. The counseling center or the disability support center can also provide accessibility and disability services in order to accommodate students in their classes. It is important for students to keep in mind that professional mental health experts are available on campus because a busy semester could mean that students may not have time to seek these resources outside of campus.

Listed below are some mindful tips for taking care of your mental health during the semester.

  • Staying active. Physical exercise is a key component of good mental health. Taking time to go to the gym or going for a walk can be a good way to improve your mental health.
  • Reaching out. Maintaining regular social engagement whether it be with family or friends can be extremely beneficial to your mental health. Isolating during stressful times can lead to even more stress, so it is important to stay connected to your loved ones throughout the semester.
  • Eating and sleeping. Many college students skip meals and avoid sleep in order to get their work done, but a consistent diet and enough sleep is essential to maintaining good mental health. Eating and sleeping keeps our brains and bodies functioning as well as possible.
  • Meditation. During the rush of classes and assignments, meditation can be a simple practice to keep your thoughts focused and your mind at ease. A few minutes of meditation and quiet time on a daily basis can reduce stress and improve mental performance.
  • Seeking resources. Even when you’re trying your best to keep up with yourself and school, it can still be tough to deal with certain issues. Knowing what resources are available to you and seeking them out during times of crisis can help you solve a problem much easier.

This blog written by Mumtahina Tabassum, FCS senior intern, class of ’22

Celebrate Senior Health and Fitness Day Today!

If you read Breathing Room regularly, you know that I often write posts about physical activity. I’ve written about my dad and I exercising together, the mental health benefits of exercise, and tips for exercising outside. Since May 25th is Senior Health and Fitness day, I thought this would be a good time to talk about physical activity for seniors in particular. Regardless of age, exercise is important for good health, but for seniors, there are some specific things that can make it even more important (although occasionally more challenging too, but we’ll get to that).

So, why is it so important that we continue to be physically active as we age? Many of them are the same benefits we have mentioned before, but they become so much more important as we get older. To read about many of the benefits, check out this article from the National Council on Aging: https://www.ncoa.org/article/the-life-changing-benefits-of-exercise-after-60

But, let’s also mention a few important benefits now. First, exercise helps keep bones strong. Since bone density decreases more as we age, keeping bones strong can help prevent serious injuries from trips or falls. Second, exercise can help prevent illnesses that are common for older people like cancer, diabetes, and hypertension. And if people already have these conditions, exercising can help manage symptoms. Finally, exercise might help improve immunity, which helps keep seniors healthy.

It is also important to keep in mind that seniors might have more health factors they need to consider when beginning to exercise. The best thing to do is talk to your doctor before getting started. Your doctor, or some other healthcare professional familiar with your health situation, can help you determine if you need to avoid (or focus on) and particular type of exercise. For example, many seniors experience joint pain from arthritis or some other condition that can require them to avoid certain movements.

Changes in balance and muscle density can also make seniors feel unsure about exercise. Having a place to sit nearby, good shoes, or some other support can help improve confidence. So, make sure you have what you need to feel comfortable being active! Remember, any increase in physical activity can help improve health so whether it is swimming, walking, biking, gardening, or some other movement, every little bit helps.

If you are a senior who is looking to get moving, check out some resources for seniors in your area. Your local center for aging, senior center, or even AARP might have information about exercise programs that are specifically designed for seniors. You can also check out this link for some online resources: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-older-adults-can-get-started-exercise

 If you are someone who knows a senior, reach out to them and see if there is a way you can help them be more active. Having support from a friend or family member can help make it easier to get moving. Physical activity is important and although there can be more to consider when becoming active as a senior, the benefits make it worth the effort!

Resilience — Rooted in the Land

Farming is more than a job—it’s an identity that adds meaning to life. It is often a calling.

Farming is a frequently a multigenerational enterprise on land passed down through the generations. Farming adds a weight of responsibility and pressure to meet expectations of previous generations and not fail the next — to not lose the family’s cultural heritage. This drive to survive and thrive can be both a source of stress and a source of resilience.

Farming ranks in the top 10 most stressful occupations in the U.S. Farm and farm family stress, more accurately, distress, is brought on by pressures within individuals and families, farming systems and the farm as a business.

If you are in the business of farming, or working with someone who is, you know that along with the ordinary stress of life, farming has added sources of stress. Extreme weather, changing markets and commodity prices, episodes of animal and plant diseases and other events all bring added pressures and threats.

So how is it that you and your family can face multiple stressors and keep on farming? Research says it’s by being resilient.

I farm because it’s in my blood. You get done planting a field and you turn around and the sun’s setting over the pattern of the crops that you’ve just planted, and it’s a pretty rewarding experience to see all the hard work pan out and know that you’re helping to feed families throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

Mike Harrison of Woodbine, Md.

Resilience

Resilience is an asset that enables you adapt to meet challenges and changes of the times. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. Resilience means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”

Most farmers and farm families are optimistic. They draw on their values to get them through challenges. When life’s events are really hard, deeply held values become the motivation to draw on resilience to bounce back or bounce forward after recovering from the initial set back.

So ask yourself:

  • Do you draw on resilience resources like managerial skills, self-control, self-compassion, optimism and hardiness to prevent and deal with stress?
  • Have you drawn on the value of hardiness to get through?
  • Do you recall other challenges and how you, your family and past generations were able to get by?
  • Are you motivated to succeed for the next generation?

How critical is the value of resilience, of adapting to conditions to survive and thrive? It’s imperative and for farmers, driven by generational heritage. Multi-generational farms exist because farmers adapted to change. In the past three years, Maryland farmers, and other farmers, have experienced multiple challenges.

Those who are best able to adapt quickly are those most likely to withstand tests of their ability to survive and thrive. They are those who are resilient are most likely to succeed because they get great satisfaction from what they do. Farming is in their blood. They draw on resilience from being are rooted to the land.

Find resilience-building resources:

Farm Stress Management – University of Maryland Extension

Managing Farm and Farm Family Challenges Resiliently: A Worksheet to Explore Resilient Thinking and DoingUniversity of Maryland Extension and University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

The Road to Resilience American Psychological Association


This blog was written by special guest blogger Bonnie Braun, Professor Emerita, Extension Family Health Policy specialist and professor in the Department of Family Science in the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland.

It Takes a Village: Building Up Maryland’s Agricultural Community

The expression “it takes a village…” usually refers to raising children. It highlights how an engaged community is critical to support a growing child. What many of us often do not realize is that the phrase also applies to supporting adults. Adults, too, need a village of caring, competent others to celebrate the good times and support them in the bad times. Fortunately, building a more caring and competent “village” is possible through education and practice. 

University of Maryland Extension has developed a comprehensive set of programs to address stress and mental health in the farming community. Our approach is unique in that we not only teach farmers themselves techniques for stress management, but we also work with agricultural service providers and other members of the community around farmers. Members of the community learn the skills to observe signs of stress, engage skillfully, and share relevant resources with their peers in agriculture. As the community grows more supportive of the health of farmers, farm businesses remain productive and sustainable. 

Although 2021 was a generally good financial year in the agricultural community, many are still feeling the ongoing effects of stressful years past. In addition, new challenges such as the avian influenza outbreak continue to pose significant threats to Maryland’s farmers. 

Each successive challenge takes a toll on our physical and mental health. In a phenomenon called “cumulative stress,” each stressful experience increases both the likelihood and impact of future stressful events. In other words, things pile up. 

We have already reached over 1,000 individuals across Maryland’s agricultural community through a combination of education and outreach efforts. These individuals include training medical and mental health providers in rural areas about the unique culture of farming so that they are better equipped to serve the community that surrounds them. 
If you are interested in joining the village of support, check out our upcoming events site and learn how you can contribute to the health and vitality of our Maryland farms.

This blog written by Breathing Room special guest Alexander Chan, family and consumer sciences agent with UME.

Everyone Can Celebrate Play Outside Day

I recently learned that the first Saturday of every month is National Play Outside Day! As someone whose family loves to get together and play games in the back yard, I think it is great that there is a day specifically set aside to remind everyone to enjoy playing outside. As the weather gets warmer, there are more and more options for places we can go and activities we can do outside. So, set a reminder for yourself on the first Saturday of every month (like this upcoming Saturday May 7th) and head outside for some fun!

Playing outside was a big part of my childhood and something that I still enjoy. When I was younger, my siblings and I would scour my mother’s gardens for ingredients we could use to create our pretend delicacies. I will always appreciate my mother’s tolerance of our pulling up her plants for our make-believe games! As we got older, we would play games like kick the can, capture the flag, and more. Some in my family might even tell you that the games would get so competitive that some might have cheated in order to win, but those allegations were never proven.  Kick-The-Can was actually a game designed to be played as it started to get dark because we would regularly play well into the evening. Even now, my family and I love to get together for some outdoor games like cornhole. On one occasion, we even made a homemade outdoor putt-putt course in the backyard!

If you are interested in getting outside to play but aren’t sure what to do, here are some ideas to get you started! Keep in mind that, especially for kids, part of the fun is in being creative and coming up with your own games and rules. So, try these ideas to get started, and then see if you can come up with your own even more creative ideas!

One thing you can do is create your own scavenger hunt or competition. You could send everyone out in search of the coolest rock or biggest leaf.  If you have sports equipment, you could also see who can come up with the best trick shot (with any ball and container you have available). You can use that same sports equipment to create a totally new game! Get out everything you have and then see if you can come up with new ways to use those things for a different game. It can be even more fun if you create your own weird rules. Don’t get hung up on the details, just get outside and find something fun you can play!

One last thing before we get outside and play, please consider safety as well. Playing outside is fun, but we want to ensure that we stay safe too!

  • Pay attention to the weather. If the weather is too hot, you’ll want to consider playing at a cooler time of day. Also, summer storms can come on suddenly. Know what to do if it starts to look stormy.
  • If it is sunny, make sure you are protecting yourself! Wear sunscreen or sun protective clothing to make sure you don’t get burned. Also, make sure you have water so that you can stay hydrated.

I hope you get to get your creativity flowing and enjoy some time outside in honor of National Play Outside Day!

Spring Drinking Water Tune-Up

Home appliances require periodic maintenance to ensure they last and operate effectively. This is especially true if they have filters such as a vacuum or heating/air conditioner. Your water supply and filtration system also needs regular attention. Water quality is very important to your health, so understanding your water supply, its quality, and treatment is essential.

Depending on your supply (public or private well), tune up procedures will vary. For public water supplies, which go through extensive testing and treatment, there may be little to do unless you have older plumbing pipe and fixtures. In this case, testing for lead and copper is recommended. 

If you are on a drinking water well, have your water tested annually for coliform bacteria, E.coli and nitrate (animal waste and sewage contaminants), and every three years test for chloride, copper, lead, iron, pH, manganese, sulfates, and total dissolved solids. In some areas, there may be other contaminants such as arsenic or radium (local health departments can provide information), which you can test for. Be sure to use a certified lab – your local county health department should have a list. If your water results indicate treatment is needed, go to this resource to find out more about filters: http://dwit.psiee.psu.edu/dwit.asp.

Whatever type of water filter you use — faucet, pitcher, refrigerator or under the sink filter – they all require maintenance. Simply be sure to change the filters as recommended by the manufacturer. Not changing them can lead to reduction in water flow and filtration performance, and can also result in contaminants no longer being trapped, which can then be released into the water. Water filters can also build up bacteria if not changed as recommended. If you have a whole house or faucet filtration system, be sure to follow the manufacturers’ recommended maintenance schedule. 

Investing a little time to check on your water and filtration system can help ensure safe drinking water for you and your family.

How UME Helped Me Navigate my Health Insurance! 

One of the things we love to do here at Breathing Room is show people how University of Maryland Extension (UME) can help them with day-to-day challenges. We have tons of classes and resources all focused on helping people make positive changes in their lives. Today, I thought I would share the story of how one of those resources helped me navigate a particularly confusing situation with my health insurance. 

I don’t think it’s a secret that health insurance can be really confusing. When I started working for UME, I didn’t know much at all about how my insurance worked. But, I actually wasn’t too concerned about it. I had always been on my mother’s insurance and she had always helped me with it. Then, I got certified to teach our Smart Choice, Smart Use program and learned so much about the ins and outs of insurance! Now, I often get to teach people (including my own friends and family) about how health insurance works. I didn’t even realize how much my own confidence had increased until I ran into a problem with my insurance. 

It all started with my going to the doctor for a regular checkup. I wasn’t concerned, until a few weeks later I got a bill for $400 and a letter saying my visit wasn’t covered. Because of all I had learned, I knew my visit should have been considered preventive care and I knew my doctor was in-network for my plan. So, the visit should have been covered and I shouldn’t have had any out-of-pocket costs. 

I called the insurance company to get an explanation and they let me know they would look into it and get back to me. After not hearing back for a few weeks, I called again. The issue appeared to be that the health insurance company was confused about whether I was still covered under my mother’s insurance after getting married. We spent so long going back and forth, that I actually started getting calls from a debt collection company. I still refused to pay because I knew the visit should have been covered! 

Finally, the health insurance company resolved the problem and paid for the visit. After receiving confirmation the bill was paid, I wrote a letter to the debt collection company asking them to verify the debt, which basically means the debt collection company has to go back and make sure the original debt is still valid (I also learned about this from UME, we have great classes about credit and debt!) Finally, the company stopped contacting me and everything was resolved. 

Recently, I was thinking about how differently this whole situation could have gone for me! Without the knowledge and confidence I had gained with UME, I don’t think I would have known I could file a dispute with the health insurance company and get things figured out. Having had this personal experience, it’s so important to me to spread the word about our resources so that people can get the knowledge and skills they need to avoid situations like this. 

So, if you have ever been confused by health insurance, check out these resources!

  1. Smart Choice, Smart Use – these are workshops focused on different health insurance topics. We have workshops available now and you can register here: https://go.umd.edu/hili_spring_2022
  2. Need to resolve your own health insurance dispute? Check out this resource, it spells out the whole process: https://extension.umd.edu/resource/health-insurance-claim-problem-how-navigate-health-insurance-claims-process
  3. For many other resources, check out https://extension.umd.edu/resource/health-insurance-claim-problem-how-navigate-health-insurance-claims-process