Make Lemonade! Drink Lemonade!

Sipping ice-cold lemonade on a hot summer day is one of life’s memorable pleasures.  However, for me, that means lemonade made with real lemons, sugar, and water.  I am not a fan of frozen concentrate, powdered instant mixes, or bottled or canned (refrigerated or shelf-stable) lemonades.  While the latter are very convenient, they just don’t make the mark for me; they are nowhere near as delicious as a homemade version and often are full of artificial ingredients.  There’s seriously nothing more refreshing than a big glass of cold, fresh squeezed lemonade.

There are two easy ways to make fresh lemonade—fresh squeezed or DIY concentrate.  Either option is made with just three simple ingredients—fresh lemons, sugar, and water.  Making your own lemonade gives the option to adjust the sweetness to one’s liking and also add other fruits or herbs to the mix—like strawberries or mint.   WARNING!  There are downsides to making your own lemonade: it may ruin your taste for any store-bought lemonade, be more costly, and require preparation time.

Get Squeezing and Make Lemonade.

Fresh Squeezed.  Fresh squeezed lemonade can be made by combining fresh lemon juice, sugar, water, and ice followed by stirring or shaking to dissolve the sugar OR by combining the lemon juice with a simple syrup and pouring over ice.  Recipes for both styles of fresh lemonade can be found at food.com and tastesbetterfromscratch.com.

DIY Lemonade Concentrate.  Concentrate is made by adding fresh lemon juice to a simple sugar.  It can be store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months (for best quality). When the mood strikes, the concentrate is simply diluted with water and ice.   A good recipe can be found at realsimple.com.

Health Benefits Derived from Drinking Lemonade

As it turns out, the adage, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is good advice.  Beyond quenching your thirst, fresh lemonade has many health benefits because it contains lemon juice—lemons are one of the superfoods. Lemonade made with real lemons is an easy way to get a healthy dose of lemon juice.  Lemon juice is an especially good source of vitamins (C, B6, A), folate, potassium, phytonutrients and antioxidants (flavonoids) that can assist the body in numerous ways.   Some benefits include:

Assist with Digestion:  Citric acid stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach which improves digestion. Citric acid also slows the break down food and absorption of nutrients in the gut.

Prevent Kidney Stones:  According to researchers at UC San Diego [1], lemons have the highest concentration of citrate of all citrus fruits.  Citrate is a natural inhibitor of kidney stone formation and also breaks up small stones that are forming. The more citric acid in your urine, the more protected you are from forming new kidney stones [2]

Improve LDL Cholesterol Levels.   Citrus fruits contain a compound known as citrus limonoids. One type of limonoid, called limonin found in the juice of lemons, may help reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol and improve heart health.

Prevent Cancer:  The antioxidants found in lemons have been shown to prevent cells in your body from deforming which can lead to cancer developing and/or spreading.

Lower Blood Pressure:  Lemons contain a high amount of potassium which can help to calm numerous cardiac issues.

Risks of Consuming Lemonade

If consumed in excess, lemonade could cause gastric reflux problems or heartburn for those who suffer from the conditions. Citric acid can also wear down tooth enamel.  For that reason, drinking lemonade through a straw is encouraged.  Additionally, there are approximately 28 grams of carbohydrate (sugar) or 150 calories in a 12 oz glass of lemonade.  

Fresh lemonade—it really does a body good!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Tips for Preventing Gardening Injuries

I love spring and can’t wait to get my hands in the soil to start gardening.  I love being outside and moving again after a winter siesta.  The healthy benefits of gardening are many with physical exercise being at the top of the list.  Whether gardening to grow food or flowers or landscape and maintain a yard, gardening offers low- to moderate-intensity exercise depending on the task according to the American Heart Association.  Digging, lifting, raking, mowing, pruning, and planting all produce whole-body movement increasing endurance, strength, balance and flexibility as well as burning calories. Getting out in the yard for just 30-45 minutes can burn up to 300 calories. Other benefits of gardening include lowering of cholesterol, blood pressure, and mortality, better hand function, higher bone density, and better psychological wellbeing.   

For the most part, gardening is a safe, beneficial activity but can lead to injury if precautions are not taken.  The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that ERs treat more than 400,000 injuries each year related to gardening.  Therefore, it is important to take note of garden safety to prevent injury.

Regardless of age, experts [1], [2], [3], in an AARP article, warn against jumping into gardening activities without preparing and warming up a little bit.  Rather, they recommend pre-gardening preparation to build strength, stamina, and aerobic power to prevent injury as well as talking to your doctor before beginning any new regiment.   The following exercises are recommended to strength garden muscles prior to gardening:

  1. Walk to warm up the muscles and build core strength.  Stand tall and concentrate on core muscles as you move to support the back.
  2. Sit-to-stand exercises (raising from a chair to stand position without using hands) help to strengthen the thigh muscles and the core muscles for stability and improve mobility.  Set a goal to see how many can be done in 30 seconds several times daily.
  3. Hamstring stretches help to keep the muscles loose and prevent lower back, knee, and foot pain.There are numerous ways to stretch hamstrings so it is best to find the stretching exercise that is personally best.
  4. Planks are great for building body strength as well as stretching and building strength in the arms, fingers and hands.  Planks can be done on the floor or against a wall.
  5. Practice balance by standing on one foot to build stability and prevent falling.

Once one has properly prepared for gardening, safety should always be first and foremost in the way we use our body and tools in the garden. For your comfort, safety, and the good of your back and knees, keep these tips in mind: 

  • warm up and stretch prior to activity;
  • begin with light movements;
  • stand tall occasionally to stretch the legs and roll the shoulders to relieve tension;
  • lift with one’s legs instead of back to prevent back injury;
  • avoid repetition; switch up activity every 15 minutes;
  • practice caution when raking and shoveling; learn safe use of rakes and shovels from the University of California Agricultural Resources [4] to prevent strain to the back, shoulders, and wrists;
  • kneel instead of bending; consider wearing knee pads or using a cushion;
  • apply sun screen with a SPF of 30 and ultraviolet A and B protection;
  • consume plenty of water while working to stay hydrated;
  • wear a hat or other protective clothing as needed; mask when using chemicals;
  • wear gloves to protect hands from blisters, chemicals, sharp tools, etc.;
  • use the correct tool for the job;
  • maintain your tools and use them properly.

Gardening not only provides physical activity but can also be a great source of happiness. You may garden to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables or beautify your world. Whatever your reason, enjoy your gardening chores but keep your body fit and work safely to prevent injury.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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DIY Corned Beef

Corned beef brisket sliced on a cutting board

Corned beef and cabbage has been the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal for my family and invited friends for many years. We are not of Irish descent, but do enjoy the St Patrick’s Day cuisine.   While St Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world, corned beef is strictly an Irish-American tradition.  It isn’t the national dish of Ireland nor the food you would eat on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin.

The early Irish immigrants are credited for giving us corned beef, however.  In their homeland, St. Paddy’s Day was celebrated with boiled bacon.  Being too poor to afford the high price of pork and bacon products, they turned to a cheap cut of beef (brisket) and adapted Eastern European and Jewish brining methods to prepare the meat.  “Corned” has nothing to do with corn; instead it refers to the corn-sized salt crystals (saltpeter) used during the brining process to cure or pickle the meat.  Their new celebration dish was paired with cabbage as it was one of the cheapest vegetables available to them.

Corned beef is essentially beef cured in a salt brine, with some pickling spices for added flavor. It is readily available around St Patrick’s Day in ready-to-cook form and available at most delis year round. It can also be made at home using fresh brisket or any other cut of beef desired.

I decided that this year I would attempt making my own corned beef and in the process learn another food preservation technique first-hand.  After looking at a few recipes, it became apparent that while the technique was nearly the same from recipe to recipe, the seasoning for pickling varied and there was a learning curve regarding curing salts referred to as ‘pink curing salt’ for me. 

Salt (sodium chloride), in general, acts as a preservative and by osmosis action pulls water out of the meat cells as well as any bacteria, killing or preventing it from multiplying by dehydration.  Even though salt is a dehydrator, it also produces a contradictory reaction making brined meat moister and juicier by changing the shape of the cell protein to hold more juice.  Care should be taken in the amount of salt used in the brine.  1Ruhlman and Polcyn recommend a 5-percent brine, 5 ounces of salt per 100 ounces of water. Kosher salt is preferred but it is not absolutely necessary; table or pickling salt can be used.  Since kosher salt has larger crystals, a lesser amount of finer grained salts should be used.  (See this Morton Salt conversion table.)

Pink curing salts are a mixture of sodium chloride (93.75%) and sodium nitrite (6.25%) and serve as a preservative by inhibiting bacterial growth as well as giving cured meats their characteristic reddish color and savory, sharp flavor. Pink curing salt used for brining have such names as InstaCure #1, Prague Powder #1, DQ Cure #1 and Modern Cure #1.  I had to order a small packet online as none was available in my supermarkets.

Pink curing salt should not be confused with Himalayan salt which is also pink; the two salts are only similar in color and sodium chloride content. Curing salts are colored pink so that they are not confused with table or pickling salt as, if used in quantity, they are toxic. The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends that consumers use 1 ounce of curing salt for every 25 pounds of meat or one level teaspoon of cure for 5 pounds of meat.

There is some controversy over the use of sodium nitrite in curing meats as with frequent consumption of cured meat, some studies have shown a risk of certain types of cancer. (Per University of Minnesota scientists, “based on available evidence to date, nitrite as used in meat and meat products is considered safe because known benefits outweigh potential risks.”2) Because nitrites are also found in vegetables, it is estimated that around 90 percent of the nitrite in our bodies comes from vegetables, while just 10 percent comes from processed meats.2   If curing salt is not used, the brined meat must be cooked immediately after curing and one should expect grey meat; salt used in the brine turns the meat grey.

Regardless of recipe, making corned beef is a three-step process and is easily done. The biggest difference in recipes is the pickling spice mix.

Step 1.  Make a salty curing brine of water, kosher salt, and pickling spices with any combination that appeals in flavor. Pickling spice, mustard seed, allspice berries coriander seeds, peppercorns, juniper berries, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cloves, and ground ginger are just some of the pickling spice suggested.   The brine for corned beef usually contains a small amount of sugar (white or brown) and pink curing salt. Sugar helps to cut some of the harsher effects of salt and enhances flavor.  The brine is boiled and chilled.  Boiling activates the pickling spices to flavor the brine and insures that the sugar and salt are fully dissolved.

Step 2. Add meat to the chilled brine and marinate in the refrigerator. This is perhaps the most difficult as it involves finding a sealable, non-reactive container big enough for brisket and brine to marinate for 5-10 days and a space large enough in the refrigerator. The container should be plastic, glass, or stainless steel. Other metal containers will react with the brine solution and give the meat a metallic flavor.  A large zip bag on a tray is a good option if the brisket is not too big and both will fit in the refrigerator. The brisket should be turned daily during this time to insure that it is cured evenly and thoroughly.

Step 3.  Rinse and simmer in the same way as a prepared corned beef brisket from the supermarket.  The brisket is rinsed to remove the brine and simmered in water covering the meat with more pickling spices for at least three hours or until tender.  Once the meat is tender, it should be sliced against the grain for serving. Cutting through the muscle fibers shortens them and makes each piece easier to chew. 

Obviously, DIY’ers need to start early.  Since this is my first attempt, I started extra early giving me time to purchase a prepared corned beef should I fail.  I’ve gathered by ingredients, made the brine, and am currently marinating the brisket.  Assuming I am successful, I will slice the cooked brisket/corned beef and freeze it for use on St Paddy’s Day.  I will also defat the cooking liquid and freeze it for cooking the cabbage, potatoes and carrots to accompany the brisket for the once-a-year meal.

With any luck, this DIY adventure will end well with a “Ta-Da! Corned Beef from scratch!” and we will enjoy the flavoring derived from the combination of spices chosen.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

To learn more about corning, curing, and salts, I used the following resources:
1Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, 2013. 
Joy of Cooking, by Irma S Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, Ethan Becker, John Becker, and Megan Scott, 2019.
National Center for Home Food Preservation:  Curing and Smoking Meats for Home Food Preservation
2Nitrite in Meat by Richard J Epley, Paul B Addis and Joseph J Warthesen, Minnesota Extension Service, University of Minnesota Agriculture
The Ultimate Guide to Curing Salts from the Smoked Barbecue Source website

Follow up to blog: “Ta Da!!!” The corned beef adventure was a total success! The meat is tasty and succulent with a lovely pink/red color; I would not hesitate to do it again. There will be no need to purchase a prepared corned beef for this family.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Recipe Makeovers for Healthier Versions

One doesn’t have to give up favorite recipes to maintain a healthy diet. Making a few simple changes can make most recipes more healthful without sacrificing taste.  It begins with preparing a recipe in a different way or by substituting ingredients.

Recipes can be altered to reduce or eliminate fat, salt, and unwanted calories in the form of sugar. Recipes can also be altered to increase nutrition or fiber. When modifying a recipe, it is best to make one modification at a time, reducing, substituting, or increasing an ingredient by a small amount at first.

Baked goods require careful adjustments as each ingredient has an important role in the outcome of the product.
– Fat provides flavor, richness, and texture.
– Eggs provide structure, act as a binding agent, and add volume.
– Sugar provides flavor, increases tenderness, and acts as a preservative.
– Salt provides flavor.

Below are suggestions for reducing fat, calories, sugar, and salt and/or increasing fiber in your recipes without changing texture, flavor, purpose or structure.  Be sure to keep a record of the changes that produce the best tasting and satisfactory product.

If your recipe calls forMake the following adjustments or replace with
Condiments and toppingsOmit or use fresh cucumbers vs pickles, cherry tomatoes vs olives, non-fat or reduced fat spreads, mashed fresh berries, thin slices of fresh apples, peaches or pears.
Canned fruit packed in syrupFresh fruit or canned fruit packed in water
Chicken stock or brothsVegetable stock/broth or refrigerated broth with fat skimmed off
Sour creamLow-fat yogurt or blended low-fat cottage cheese
1 egg2 egg whites
CreamWhipped non-fat dry milk or skim evaporated milk
RiceBrown rice
Sautéing in butter or oilNon-stick spray, chicken or beef broth
Cream cheeseNeufchatel cheese or light cream cheese
Gravy1 Tbsp cornstarch or 2 Tbsp flour added to 1 cup fat-free broth
Whole milkSkim or 1% milk
Ice creamLow-fat or non-fat yogurt
All-purpose flour½ whole wheat flour and ½ all-purpose flour
Ground beefLean ground turkey or chicken
BaconTurkey bacon
Ricotta cheeseNon-fat or low-fat cottage cheese
CheeseLow-fat or non-fat cheese or use only half 
PastaWhole wheat pasta

If your baking recipe calls forMake the following adjustments
Sugars – Brown, Corn Syrup, Honey, MolassesUse up to one third less sugar in recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads, and pie fillings. Add spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg, or flavorings such as vanilla or almond extract to boost sweetness.
Fat – Shortening, Butter, Lard, OilReplace solid fat with vegetable oil using 1/4 cup less.  Or, use half the butter, shortening or oil and replace the other half with an equal amount of applesauce, mashed bananas, pureed prunes or commercially prepared fruit-based fat replacers.
SaltReduce the amount by ½ (except in yeast breads), use spices or herbs or light salt.

Other options to add fiber include adding whole oats or chopped dried/fresh fruit to cookies, muffins, waffles, and pancakes and beans to soups, casseroles, and salads. Using fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits whenever possible not only increases fiber, but also ups nutrition.

Cooking methods such as baking, boiling, broiling, grilling, roasting, or stir-frying whenever possible are the best choices for reducing fat intake. Along with fat reduction, the high heat associated with frying changes the chemical structure of the fat making it difficult for your body to break down which can negatively affect health.

Remember, make small modifications at a time. Be creative and, most importantly, have fun! Enjoy the challenge!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Boosting the Immune System

Health officials advise us each fall to get our flu shots.  The flu vaccine helps reduce the severity of flu symptoms and helps prevent against the virus. This year the flu shot’s importance has been heighten because of the coronavirus pandemic.

After getting the shot, the next step should be regular visits to your local grocery store to pick up foods that will continually boost your immunity.  It is important to note that NO diet or supplement will cure or prevent disease; rather a healthy immune system is a powerful weapon against colds, flu, and other infections.

There are several different vitamins and minerals that fall in the immune booster category. These booster foods can increase the number of white blood cells and enhance their function while helping to flush non-functioning cells from the body. Listed below are some key nutrients and the foods where they can be found.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C sits at the top of the immune boosters. It increases the production of white blood cells and antibodies which are key to fighting infections.  It also increases the antibody, interferon, which coats cell surfaces and prevents the entry of viruses. Besides helping with colds and flu, Vitamin C is a key element in fighting cardiovascular disease by raising HDL (good cholesterol) and decreasing blood pressure. Good sources of Vitamin C include: bell peppers (especially red peppers), citrus fruits (grapefruit, oranges, clementines, tangerines, limes, lemons), dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, sprouts), kiwi, papaya, and herbs (parsley, thyme).

Vitamin E

Vitamin E sometimes takes a back seat to Vitamin C but this powerful antioxidant is key to stimulating the natural killer cells that seek out and destroy germs, bacteria and even cancer cells. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it requires the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts) are packed with the vitamin and also have healthy fats. Other foods containing Vitamin E include: sunflower seeds, dark leafy greens (see Vitamin C), avocados, and sweet potatoes.

Beta-Carotene

Beta carotene is an antioxidant that converts to vitamin A and plays a very important role in immune health by increasing the infection fighting cells while decreasing the number of free radicals in the body. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant and helps fight cardiovascular disease by interfering with the way fats oxidize in the blood stream to form plaque. It is also known to aid in the battle against cancer and promote eye and skin health. Common foods containing beta-carotene include: naturally orange foods (carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, squash) dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, red leaf lettuce, turnip greens), cantaloupe, red and yellow peppers, and apricots.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3’s boost immune function by increasing phagocyte, the white blood cells that destroy bacteria. They also protect the body against damage from inflammation due to infection. Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E complement each other, working together to give a major boost to the immune system.  Omega-3’s are important to heart health by maintaining heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and improving blood vessel function. Foods high in Omega-3 include: fish and fish oil, canola oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables.

Zinc

Zinc doesn’t get as much attention, but our bodies need it so that our immune cells can function as intended. However, too much zinc can actually inhibit immune system function so the RDA (11 mg men, 8 mg women) is sufficient. Shellfish (oysters, crab, mussels) is the best source of zinc.  Other sources include: red meat and poultry, beans, nuts, and whole grains. 

Variety is key. Eating just one of these foods won’t be enough to help fight off cold, flu or other infections. Pay attention to serving sizes and recommended daily intake to keep things in balance. Beyond immune boosting foods, staying healthy also involves regular exercise, staying hydrated throughout the day, and practicing good hygiene to protect oneself from colds, flues, and other illnesses.

In light of the 2019 coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, it’s especially important to note that no specific food, supplement, diet, or other lifestyle modification has been shown to protect one from COVID-19.  As with other infections, immune boosting foods will help with the fight.  Physical or social distancing, masking, and proper hygiene practices are the agents known to protect one from COVID-19. 

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Aronia Berries – Old Fruit with a New Name

Aronia berry picking at Berry Hill Farms near Fertile, IA. Photo courtesy of Jaci Thorson.

Its aronia berry picking time in Iowa!  And if you are lucky enough to live near a pick-your-own aronia berry orchard, you are in for a day of fun and stained hands!  Fresh berries, juice and other aronia products may also be available now in some local grocery stores.

Aronia berries are not new to Iowa; they are actually indigenous to the state and were used by the Potawatomi Native Americans to cure colds. Formerly known as black chokeberries, rebranding of the less appetizing name of “chokeberry” has helped the native berry catch on and develop into what is now a big industry.  The berry’s new name comes from its genus, Aronia melancorpa. While grown throughout North America, the first US commercial cultivation of the berry bushes can be traced to the Sawmill Hollow Family Farm in the Loess Hills of western Iowa, where Andrew Pittz and his family planted about 200 bushes in 1997.   Since then, aronia production has grown and bushes have been planted in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.  Presently there are 300-400 growers in Iowa with small to large operations.  80 of these operations have been organic certified by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Arona berries at Berry Hill Farms near Fertile, IA. Photo courtesy Jaci Thorson.

These purple, pea-sized berries boast one of the highest antioxidant values ever recorded for fruits, superseding blueberries, elderberries, acai berries and goji berries, according to research published last year in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.  Also rich in vitamins and minerals, they have high levels of polyphenols, anthocyanins, and flavanols–antioxidants needed to fight free radicals–making them good at fighting inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and urinary tract infections.

While aronia berries are more astringent than blueberries, they can be eaten fresh or frozen.  Not many people eat them fresh. The fruit has a lot of tannins in the skin that creates a dry or chalky sensation in the mouth when eaten. They are a little less astringent after freezing but usually best processed into jam, juice or baked products where the aronia takes on a whole new taste of its own. To eat them raw, they are best used in smoothies, yogurt, ice cream or oatmeal. Berries, either fresh or frozen, can be used in any recipe as a substitute for cranberries, blueberries, or chokecherries.  They are also good added to pancakes or mixed with other fruits in a crisp or pie.  Other ideas include salsa, salads, beverages, cereal, pizza, chili, and soups.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides information on making jam from all berries.

So if you haven’t had an opportunity to try aronia berries fresh, frozen, or in another product, perhaps it is time to venture out and give these tart little berries a try!  They might make you pucker, but this superfruit will definitely add some health benefits to your diet.  And, chances are, this Iowa crop will grow on you!

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Caring for Cloth Masks

As the world makes a slow comeback from the coronavirus pandemic, the CDC is now recommending individuals wear a new piece of ‘attire’, the face mask or any face covering, any time one goes out where social distancing is hard to practice such as to grocery stores, pharmacies, or other places where other people are likely to be present in number.  In recent days, many retail outlets are requiring this new attire of their customers. Employers, too, may be requiring employees who are unable to maintain the recommended 6 foot distance from others during the course of essential work functions to wear masks. It seems that for the foreseeable future, the face mask or covering of the nose and mouth will be a necessary part of our attire.

Hand washing and social distancing remain the critical means of disease prevention. When going out for essentials or required in the workplace, cloth masks are becoming essential attire.  While not as effective as clinical masks, properly made cloth masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19 by blocking large droplets from coughs and sneezes. 

Many have put their DIY skills to work and created cloth masks at home for themselves and others.  In a previous blog, I shared guidelines for DIY face masks.  However, acquiring a face mask is only step one.  Step two is wearing it to limit the spread of germs.  STEP THREE IS CARING FOR IT TO KEEP IT EFFECTIVE AND SAFE.  There are differing reports on whether coronavirus can live on clothing or cloth.  The general thought is that the coronavirus is more likely to live on hard surfaces than soft surfaces like fabric.  Despite that, the CDC urges laundering of cloth masks after each use, daily, or when wet or soiled.  When regular use is required, having multiple masks will be necessary. 

A piece by Kansas State University Environmental Health and Safety says a washing machine and dryer is adequate for cleaning.  The Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab suggests that face masks be washed with hot water (160֯F) in the washing machine and tumbled dried on high heat with other similar items.  Masks can also be hand washed by lathering masks with soap and scrubbing for 20 seconds or more with warm to hot water, rinsing, and tossing into the dryer.  Non-scented/allergy-free detergents should be used for laundering masks per guidelines from the University of Iowa and dryer sheets should not be used.  Further, masks can be ironed on the cotton or linen setting to further kill any remaining germs provided the masks are made of cotton.  Sanitizing face masks in the microwave, oven, or boiling water is not recommended.   A mask that is damaged or that no longer fits properly to the face should be disposed and replaced.

If filters are being used in conjunction with a cloth mask, filters too, need to be properly cleaned or replaced.  Coffee filters and paper towels are not washable so should be replaced after each use.  HVAC filters and non-woven interfacings are washable so can be laundered in the same way as the mask; however, the filter’s effectiveness decreases with each washing and will eventually disintegrate.

Masks need to be carefully removed from the face after use.  Individuals should take care not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth when removing the mask; only the elastic ear pieces or head/neck ties should be handled.  Used masks should be placed outside down on a piece of paper or in a bag until laundering with hand washing following immediately.

As discussed above, cloth masks can provide limited protection.  Proper care of the mask is important to provide protection and to maintain the health of the wearer. 

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Food Safety and COVID-19

AnswerLine has been getting lots of calls about food safety and food safety practices during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  With many of us being at home, our TVs provide some entertainment as well as non-stop COVID-19 news and advice from one ‘expert’ to the next.  The messages are very mixed and sometimes downright FALSE.  We at AnswerLine, a part of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, are committed to providing consumers with researched-based information and supporting the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s measures and advice on staying safe during this time.

Here’s answers to some of the questions clients have asked regarding food safety, food packaging, and how to shop for food safely.  Answers to these questions come from the following resources:

1USDA, Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions/Food Safety 
2Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, No Evidence COVID-19 Is Transmitted Through Food and Food Packaging 
3North Carolina State Extension, Covid-19 Food Safety ResourcesSee this site for copies of flyers to share on these topics.

Q:  Can I become sick with COVID-19 from food?
A:   “The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the European Food Safety Authority are in full agreement that there is currently NO evidence that COVID-19 has spread through food or food packaging.  Previous coronavirus epidemics likewise showed no evidence of having been spread through food or packaging.”2  

“Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like Norovirus and Hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness and not food poisoning, and foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.” 2

As before the pandemic, one needs to vigilantly practice good hygiene such as washing hands and surfaces often and correctly, separating meat from other foods, cooking foods to the correct temperature, and refrigerating foods properly and promptly to keep food supplies safe and prevent food-borne illnesses.

Q:  Do I need to disinfect my produce before I use it?
A:  “Washing produce before eating or using fresh is always a good idea.  It is NOT recommended to wash produce with dish soap or any detergent or to treat produce with a chemical disinfectant.”Washing produce with these products can cause vomiting and diarrhea making consumers otherwise sick.

Some have promoted the use of natural disinfectants like vinegar and water as a safer way to wash fruits and vegetables.  Unlike soaps, detergents and chemicals, vinegar and water will not harm anyone; however, vinegar and water simply offer false security when it comes to COVID-19.  While a few studies have shown that vinegar helps with some viruses and microbes, there is no evidence that it can kill COVID-19.  

Q:  I have heard that the virus lives on surfaces.  Do I need to sanitize or disinfect packaged and canned food items?  Do I need to remove food items from cardboard packaging and store otherwise?
A:  As previously stated, food and food packaging are NOT major sources of virus transmission.  However, laboratory studies have shown that COVID-19 can survive for days on plastic, cardboard, glass, and steel.  Therefore, it is “possible that a person could get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the primary way the virus spreads.”2 Person to person is the most likely means of transmission.

“Handling of food packaging should be followed with handwashing and/or using hand sanitizer.”3 If it offers one more peace of mind to handle items with gloves and to wipe plastic, glass, and cans at home with a disinfectant before storing, there is no harm in doing so as long as it is done safely, items are allowed to dry completely, gloves are disposed of, and hand washing follows.  Cardboard should not be wiped with a disinfectant prior to storage; foods items can be removed and stored appropriately otherwise with the cardboard box disposed of, if that brings more peace of mind.

Q:  Should I store my groceries someplace other than my pantry, refrigerator, or freezer?
A:  “It is NOT recommended to store groceries outside of the home, in cars or garages.”3

Q:  How can I minimize my risk at the store?
A:  “Use hand sanitizer when entering stores and wash hands and/or use sanitizer when leaving. Bring your own disinfecting wipes and use on cart and basket handles and card readers. Maintain social distancing as much as possible while shopping and give others at least 6 ft of space. Avoid touching surfaces or items unnecessarily (touch only items that you will buy) and avoid touching your mouth, nose or face.”3 To avoid touching produce with your bare hands use a produce bag to pick up items and place into a clean bag or use the same bag if you are getting a single item; avoid touching multiple items when making produce selections.  Discard all plastic bags at home and wash your hands after discarding. 

If your store permits the use of recyclable bags, make sure to follow these guidelines each and every time they are used during this time of caution.  Many stores are not permitting their use presently.

Lastly, the best food safety protection for ALL is for everyone to be responsible and avoid shopping if experiencing a cough, runny nose, or fever—symptoms of any virus.  And always seek responsible, researched-based information for as a friend’s father advised, “Misinformation is worse than no information at all!”

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Learning to Stay Social While Social Distancing

After several days of staying home to social distance, I began to really miss my pre-COVID-19 life—occasional lunch with friends, haircuts, grocery shopping, library time, exercise classes, grandkids’ sport games, friends and family, social and business meetings, church services, work, and every other social outlet I had.  

Besides connecting with family and friends via phone, Skype, email, or other social media platforms, I needed something more to bring my social groups together.  I began to look for and learn about various online video conferencing options or a way to socialize virtually from the safety of my home.  There are several options available offering both free and subscription services.  Some that I researched included GoToMeetings, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and ZOOM.  As with any service there are pluses and minuses to consider.  After much consideration, I chose to try ZOOM.  Besides being a very popular platform, ZOOM has great video support to aid one in using the medium. Almost overnight, I became a Zoomer!

After downloading the application and learning the basics of how to use it, I asked a friend to try it with me.  Once we were successful, we asked our husbands to try it with us to enlarge our audience.  Again with success, I was ready to try hosting a group meeting with friends with minimal computer skills who agreed to be my test group.  A meeting was scheduled and the chosen friends were invited.  Everyone successfully made it into the meeting via their computer or tablet!  And what a good time we had seeing each other’s face, hearing each other’s voice, and visiting as if we were in a room together. 

Businesses and educational institutions have used virtual meetings for sometime which allows workers to telecommute, save on travel, connect to people around the world, educate, and keep teams together. For those of us not in that world, virtual meetings serve a way to humanize our conversations. A video is a moving picture in contrast to phone or email communication. Seeing someone while talking to them completely changes the nomenclature of a conversation and is highly important to human interaction.

It is not my intention to promote ZOOM or any other product, but simply to raise awareness to the options we have today to stay connected in a time of social distancing.  We are social beings and we need to find our own ways to continue our pre-COVID-19 life while maintaining our own safety until such time that we are free once again to enjoy in-person contacts.  So whether it be any of the virtual meeting options I looked into or Skype, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, Apple FaceTime, Marco Polo, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or any others, the bottom line is to find the best way to stay connected.  Doing so will keep us happy and in turn, healthy!

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Clean Your Phone to Help Protect Against Coronavirus and Other Illnesses

It’s no secret that our smartphones are filthy and my phone is no exception.   There are any number of scientific studies documenting such.  Our phones go everywhere with us and often times to places where contamination is high making it a breeding ground for germs of all kinds.  They touch our faces, ears, lips, and hands.  And who knows what our hands have touched prior to or after handling our phone. Keeping our phones reasonably sanitary is a smart way to keep germs off our fingers and away from our face. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider phones to be a “high-touch surface,” which makes them a possible carrier of the Covid-19 virus.   Therefore, it seems prudent that we clean our smartphones regularly and more so, in this time of a global health crisis.  The CDC does not know at this time how long the coronavirus lives on surfaces, but evidence suggests it could be hours to 9 days.

As a result of my concern to sanitize, not just cleaning, my phone, I began to research the proper way to do it to insure success in disinfecting and at the same time, not using something that would damage my phone.  Here’s what I learned:

Apple support has guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting Apple specific products.  Amidst novel coronavirus concerns, Apple recently updated its cleaning guide to say “70% isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox disinfecting wipes” could be used to clean iPhones as long as one is careful to avoid getting moisture in the openings in the phone.  Android users should check with their individual phone manufacturer for specific guidelines. In general, most manufacturers (Samsung has not yet provided a statement) suggest using ordinary household disinfecting wipes or 70% isopropyl alcohol-based wipes to disinfect phones, including the screen.  Wipes containing bleach should not be used on the screen as it will eat away at the oleophobic coating used to help prevent fingerprint smudges.  In all cases, one must avoid getting moisture into openings like the ports, switches, and camera lens.  

The CDC recommends wearing disposable gloves during the cleaning and disinfecting process.  To begin cleaning, power off and unplug the phone.  Remove the outer protective case and clean as appropriate for the material the case is made from.  Wipe the phone with an appropriate disinfecting/cleaning product as suggested by the phone manufacturer.  Allow the phone and case to thoroughly dry before putting the two back together.  Finally, remove and dispose of the gloves and wash your hands.

While there are some ultraviolet light sanitizing devices available to buy, they have not been proven to be effect for the Covid-19 virus.

Here’s to an “ounce of prevention being a pound of cure” or “I’d rather be safe than sorry” in these uncertain times when there are simple things we can do to protect ourselves.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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