Written by: Joe Hannan, ISU Extension and Outreach Commercial Horticulture Field Specialist
A common misconception among consumers is that organic means “chemical free.” Regardless of the farming system, however, chemicals can be applied to a field. The difference is the type of products that can be applied.
- Conventional Farming – Any pesticide that is approved by the EPA for a particular crop and pest can be applied.
- Organic Farming – Only products that are naturally occurring in the environment can be applied.
EXAMPLE: Pyrethrum is an insecticide derived from mums and can be used in organic farming systems. Manufacturers have found that slightly modifying the chemical structure of pyrethrum, however, increases its effectiveness against insect pests. This modified insecticide cannot be used on organic farms but can be used on conventional farms.
The EPA ensures safety to the environment and to humans through the product label. The label provides the details for how to use a product, including the following:
- what crops it can be used on
- what pests it is effective against
- the rate and the frequency it can be used
Human tolerance to pesticides is derived by research before products are released to market and regulated by the FDA. The label is designed to keep pesticide residues on consumed produce below a threshold that can harm humans. This is why there are often restrictions between product application and when a product can be harvested. It is illegal to sell a product that has not been sprayed according to a pesticide label or if pesticide residue is greater than FDA tolerances. This is true regardless of whether a product is grown organically or conventionally.
It is difficult to make generalizations about organic and conventional farming systems’ impact on the environment. For instance, an organic farmer may choose to use pyrethrum to control spotted winged drosophila in raspberries while a conventional farmer may use a modified pyrethrum-type insecticide. The organic farmer would need to spray more often than the conventional farmer but would have less impact on nontarget insects. On the other hand, the conventional farmer would make less trips through the field using less insecticide, water, and fuel. That’s just one example. In Iowa, most fruit and vegetable farmers fall somewhere in between certified organic and conventional by using best practices from both systems.
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Fruits and vegetables come in terrific colors and flavors. Just as their nutritional benefits differ, the way in which you store fresh produce differs too! The required storage temperature and humidity level varies depending on the type of fruit or vegetable. Avoid placing produce in a sealed plastic bag on your countertop. This slows ripening and may increase off-odors and decay. Use the guides below to store your garden bounty.
Store these at room temperature, making sure they are clean, dry, well ventilated, and away from direct sunlight:
- Tomatoes, onions, potatoes, melons, bananas, pumpkins, and winter squash
Ripen these on the counter, then store in the refrigerator:
- Avocado, kiwifruits, peaches, nectarines, pears, and plums
Most other fresh produce keeps best stored in a clean refrigerator at 40°F or below.
- Store fruit in a different refrigerator crisper drawer than vegetables. Fruits give off ethylene gas, which can shorten the storage life of vegetables. Some vegetables give off odors that can be absorbed by fruits and affect their quality.
Source: Amy Peterson and Alice Henneman from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Shake off winter by doing some spring cleaning. It is a great time to target harmful bacteria that can hang out on kitchen surfaces and even in your refrigerator. You can’t see bacteria, but they are everywhere! They especially like moist environments. A clean and dry kitchen protects you and your family from foodborne illness.
- Always clean surfaces with hot, soapy water. After thoroughly washing surfaces with hot, soapy water, sanitize them with a disinfectant kitchen spray or diluted chlorine bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach to 1 quart of water). Let the solution stand on the surface for a few minutes, then blot dry with clean paper towels.
- Disinfect dishcloths often. Launder dishcloths and towels frequently using the hot water cycle of the washing machine. Then be sure they are thoroughly dry.
Rid your refrigerator of spills, bacteria, mold, and mildew. Clean your fridge weekly to kill germs that could contaminate foods. Clean interior surfaces with hot, soapy water. Rinse well with a damp cloth; dry with a clean cloth. Some manufacturers recommend not using chlorine bleach because it can damage seals, gaskets, and linings.
- Clean your kitchen sink drain and disposal. Pour a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water down the drain once or twice per week. Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposal, creating the perfect environment for bacterial growth.
Sources: www.fightbac.org and www.foodsafety.gov
The first step in having safe leftovers is to cook the food safely. Cook the food to the proper temperature by using a food thermometer. Bacteria grow rapidly in the temperature danger zone (40°F to 140°F), so be sure your leftovers are safe by following these steps:
- Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking or holding it hot.
- Throw away all cooked food that has been at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Cool foods rapidly. To do this, large quantities of food should be cut in smaller pieces first or divided into shallow containers that will aid in cooling.
- Cover leftovers well before refrigerating. This helps keep odors and bacteria out and moisture in.
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 4 months. Although leftovers are safe indefinitely when frozen, quality will deteriorate when stored longer.
For a chart on storage times, visit http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html.
Health inspection records for eating establishments are now easier to find thanks to a new app—HD Scores. The app, available for both iPhone and Android devices, was developed by chef Matthew Eierman and his colleagues. The app displays a map of the user’s area and shows a percentage score for each establishment, based on a scoring algorithm created by HDScores.
HDScores emphasizes cleanliness and factors related to foodborne illness, and it focuses less on issues unrelated to contamination. This means it is possible for an establishment to score an A on their health inspection but receive a lower score on HDScores, like 75 percent, if they have only a few violations but those violations are directly related to foodborne illness risk.
Information on the app is updated frequently, with new inspection scores available within 12 to 24 hours of the health department’s filing. Currently the app contains data for more than 615,000 of the approximately 1.5 million eating establishments across the United States. The app covers the entire state of Iowa. For more information on the app, visit hdscores.com.
Iowa winters bring with them cold, snow, and the occasional loss of power. Try these food safety tips for when your power goes out:
Make sure you have a thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer. When the power goes out, check your thermometers for safe temperatures: refrigerator below 40°F, and 0°F or lower for freezer.
Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed. When kept closed, a refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours; a full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours; a half-full freezer will hold its temperature for 24 hours.
Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags now. These can be used in the refrigerator and freezer to help food stay cold and be a source of fresh water for you to use.
When in doubt, throw it out. Any perishable food that has been above 40°F for two hours or more should be thrown out. Frozen food with ice crystals may be safely refrozen.
Source: Food Poisoning Bulletin
Bacteria are everywhere, but a few types especially like to crash parties. Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens, and Listeria monocrytogenes frequent people’s hands and kitchens. And unlike bacteria that cause food to spoil, these bacteria cannot be smelled or tasted. Safe food handling is necessary for prevention.
Staphylococcus (“staph”) bacteria are found on our skin, in infected cuts and pimples, and in our noses and throats. They are spread by improper food handling. Prevention includes washing hands and utensils before preparing and handling foods and not letting prepared foods- particularly cooked and cured meats and cheeses ass well as meat salads- sit at room temperature more than two hours. Thorough cooking destroys “staph” bacteria, but the toxin it may produce is resistant to heat, refrigeration, and freezing and can make you sick.
“Perfringens” is called the “cafeteria germ” because it may be found in foods served in quantity and left for long periods at room temperature. Prevent it by dividing large portions of cooked foods such as beef, turkey, gravy, dressing, stews, and casseroles into smaller portions for serving and cooling. Keep cooked foods hot or cold, not lukewarm.
Listeria bacteria multiply, although slowly, at refrigeration temperatures. Therefore, these bacteria can be found in cold foods typically served on buffets. To avoid serving foods containing Listeria, follow “keep refrigerated” label directions and carefully observe “sell by” and “use by” dates on processed products like deli meat. Thoroughly reheat frozen or refrigerated processed meat and poultry products before eating.
If illness does occur, contact a health professional and describe the symptoms.
If you have a question on buying, storing, preparing, or cooking your turkey this Thanksgiving, the USDA’s Meat and Poultry hotline can help you. The hotline, which recently celebrated its 30th year, is available to answer any question on food safety.
Call 888-674-6854 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Thanksgiving Day, the line is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., but it is closed other government holidays. The hotline is available in Spanish as well. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day in English and Spanish. Or you can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org; use their virtual food safety representative at askkaren.gov or live chat during specified weekday hours. In addition, the USDA’s FoodKeeper app available on Android and iOS provides information on storage times for foods.
A new trend showing up in the cereal, bread, pasta, and snack aisles is products made with sprouts. Most people have heard of bean sprouts, but other foods that can be sprouted include grains, legumes, radish seeds, broccoli seeds, and nuts.
The health benefits touted include being higher in vitamins such as B and C and minerals such as zinc and iron, as well as increased digestibility. Currently there is little research on sprouted foods, and the results of these studies show the benefits to be small compared to nonsprouted foods. The few studies that have been done show that vitamin C is slightly higher in sprouted grains, and iron and zinc may be more easily absorbed. In regard to digestibility, sprouting does break down the seed, which means less work for your digestive system.
If you are considering adding raw sprouts to your diet, first look at food safety. To reduce the risk of a foodborne illness, the Food and Drug Administration recommends the following:
• Children, elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts.
• Refrigerate any sprouts you buy.
• Cook sprouts thoroughly to kill any potentially harmful bacteria.
Sources: chnr.ucdavis.edu/faq/, www.webmd.com/food-recipes/sprouting-food