What’s Growing in Your Lunch Box?

lunch bag with cold packMany of us pack a lunch for work every day and soon we will start packing lunches for children going back to school. One of the fun things I remember about back-to-school shopping was picking out a lunch box for that year. Believe it or not, my husband still enjoys carrying his lunch in a metal Star Trek lunch box from when he was a kid. Using the same container everyday is an environmentally smart choice, but is it a smart food safety move?

Let’s start by looking at what goes in those lunch boxes and bags . . . and where those boxes and bags go. We put food of all kinds into the bags. Sticky food, greasy food, crumbly food, gooey food, hot food, cold food and the list goes on. Sometimes little bits of that food seem to stay behind in our lunch boxes. From the time we leave the house in the morning until we return home at night, our lunch boxes and bags can touch many things – car or bus seats, floors, desktops, cafeteria tables, lockers, and more.

So what can you do to keep your lunch bags and boxes clean? The first thing is to use hot soapy water or disinfecting wipes to clean both the inside and outside after each use. If you have a hard plastic or metal lunch box, you can probably run it through a dishwasher. Some (but not all) soft sided lunch bags and boxes can be put in the washing machine with hot water.

Packing the food for your lunch also requires some planning ahead:

  • Be sure to wash your hands and work surfaces before starting any food preparation.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables before packing. Use clean food storage containers.
  • Use separate cutting boards for different types of food to prevent cross contamination.
  • If you are planning to pack foods that need to be kept hot or cold, be sure you have a way to maintain their temperature. Insulated containers work well to keep foods hot or cold. Frozen beverages or ice/gel packs can also be used to keep foods cold.

Lunch can be a pick-me-up in the middle of the day. Make sure your lunch fills you with good nutrition and energy to finish the day . . . not unsafe food and bacteria to that can make you sick.

Written by: Kate Shumaker, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension Holmes County

Reviewed by: Christine Kendle, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension Tuscarawas County

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Salsa Time

TomatoesRed, Yellow or Green tomatoes come in many different sizes, shapes and colors, but when it comes to processing them, they are all treated the same. When you are making a particular recipe, look for the qualities that best fit your need. I’ve had several calls about making salsa, so here are a few tips to help you make the best recipe yet.
*Choose a firm tomato for thicker salsa
*Use fresh, high quality tomatoes, not ones that are overripe or spoiled. Poor quality to begin with may yield poor quality salsa that is more possible to spoil.
*Read your recipe first, then follow it if the tomatoes need to be peeled or not.
*If you are adding peppers, be sure to use rubber gloves and be aware that not doing so may cause skin irritation. Bell peppers can be substituted for some or all of the long green chilies. Canned chilies can be used in place of fresh if you desire. (For detailed directions see the fact sheet reference listed below)
*Vinegar or lemon juice should be in the recipe to raise the acidity level for canning safety. Make sure to use vinegar of at least 5% acidity and bottled lemon juice. An equal amount of lemon juice can be safely substituted for vinegar, but do not substitute vinegar for lemon juice as this could result in a potentially unsafe salsa. Lemon juice is more acidic than vinegar and it has less effect on the product’s flavor.
*The amount of spices and herbs can be altered in these recipes.
*DO NOT alter the proportions of vegetables to acid and tomatoes because it might make the salsa unsafe.
*Process the recipe in a boiling water bath according to directions.

Canning is a fun way to involve the whole family and maybe even start a new tradition. Local Foods week is just around the corner August 9-15, and salsa might be a great way to start your home food preservation journey!

Author: Melinda Hill, Extension Educator Family and Consumer Sciences, OSU Extension, Wayne County
Reviewed by: Joanna Rini, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, OSU Extension, Medina County.


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Acidifying Canned Tomatoes & Tomato Products

UntitledYou’ve heard us say it before – vegetables and other low acidity foods must be canned in pressure canners in order to reach temperatures high enough to kill harmful microorganisms that would otherwise grow. Many consumers typically think of tomatoes as highly acidic foods. However, due to several factors, including ease in harvesting and consumer demand, tomatoes are now bred to have a lower acidity than they once did.

Participants in our home food preservation classes are usually surprised to learn that tomatoes need to be further acidified for safe canning! Tomatoes have a pH between 4 and 4.6. Because of their varying acidity, we can only be sure that tomatoes have been safely canned when they have been acidified. The following chart indicates how much acid must be added to tomatoes.


Note that the lemon juice option specifies using bottled lemon juice. Fresh lemons may also have varying acidity, so using bottled lemon juice offers consistency in the pH of the product.

Other options for acids include citric acid and vinegar. Vinegar may cause a change in flavor of your product. Acidification is required whether you are water bath canning tomatoes or pressure canning them.

Tomatoes are one of the most popular home-canned items. Be sure you are canning tomatoes safely by acidifying them. For more information about preserving tomatoes, visit Ohioline to read OSU Extension’s Fact Sheets on Canning Tomatoes and Canning Tomato Products.

Written by: Joanna Rini, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension – Medina County, rini.41@osu.edu

Reviewed by: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension – Ross County




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“Is It Done Yet?”

is it done yetHow many times have you heard “Is it done yet?” when you are fixing a meal? It doesn’t matter if it is the Thanksgiving turkey or a grilled burger or pork chops – they can’t seem to wait until it is done to eat. It is true that when cooking meats you need to use a food thermometer to know that “It’s done!”

While studies show that the use of food thermometers is increasing, research has found that most of us aren’t using it consistently. Several studies found that less than 10% of us use our thermometers to check for doneness in all poultry.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that 66% of study participants never used their thermometer when cooking hamburgers.  You may say “I can tell when grilled meats are done, they aren’t pink anymore.” Unfortunately studies have found that cooked chicken breasts can turn white, but still not be 165 degrees. From personal experience, my family did a food thermometer experiment recently with ground beef for a 4-H project. Trust me, the hamburgers where not 160 degrees when I thought they were done (using just visual cues).

To be food safe use a thermometer every time you cook meats, grill, and even in casseroles. Here are a few thermometer use tips:

  • Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling meats.
  • An instant-read food thermometer should be used to check the internal temperature of foods, when approaching the end of the cooking time.
  • Place food thermometer in the thickest part of the food, avoid touching bone, fat or gristle. On large cuts of meat, check several places to ensure even doneness.
  • Clean thermometer with hot, soapy water between uses.
  • Always use a clean plate for meats done cooking to avoid cross contamination.
  • Use the chart below for food thermometer temperatures.
  • Don’t forget to refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours, sooner if possible.



Always using that food thermometer is one of the best ways to prevent foodborne illness. So, set a good example and the next time they say “Is it done yet?” ask them to grab the food thermometer and help you check to see if it is. High risk groups for foodborne illness include: pregnant women, young children, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems or chronic illnesses. We never want to unnecessarily risk their health by serving undercooked meats.

*”Is it done yet?” is a USDA campaign for food safety.

Writer: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Ross County.

Reviewer: Liz Smith, SNAP Ed Program Specialist, Ohio State University Extension, North East Region.

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Food Safety at Fairs and Festivals

As we flip the calendar page to July, a growing number of local fairs and festivals await us. Who can resist a funnel cake, fresh squeezed lemonade, or those fabulous fair fries? In my mind, I have this picturesque image of carefree summer days and evenings spent taking in the sites, sounds, Ferris Wheeland tastes of the fair. I also have not so picturesque images of my husband getting a food borne illness after taking in some mishandled fair food. He now takes my advice when deciding which food vendors to patronize! Below are a few tips that can keep you and your family food safe at fairs and festivals as well:

  1. Wash your hands with comfortably hot, soapy water prior to eating. I have been to enough fairs and festivals to know that restrooms and self-standing hand washing stations are in short supply at times. At the very least, carry your own hand sanitizer or utilize a hand sanitizer station. Keep in mind that hand sanitizer must air dry in order for it to be effective – no wiping hands wet with hand sanitizer on pants, shirts, or napkins as these actions can actually contaminate your hands further. Hand washing is particularly important after touching animals and/or visiting the barn areas.
  2. Take time to scope out food vendors using good food safety practices such as the following:
    1. They have a current food safety license. All vendors at festivals and fairs should be inspected at some point during the event, ideally at the beginning.
    2. Their trailer, booth, or food truck looks reasonably clean and in order. You know from preparing food at home that it can be a messy process! Expect that vendors may have items they are preparing out and on counters, particularly during busy periods. However, visible “yuck” on counters, spills that have been left on the floor, and grease build up may be signs of a poor cleaning program.
    3. They wear gloves or use a barrier (such as tongs, utensils, napkins, or deli papers) when touching ready to eat food. Ready to eat food includes any prepared/cooked items that you will be eating (i.e. your prepared funnel cake or hamburger) as well as any fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, or dairy products. Note that in most jurisdictions, glove use is not required when handling foods that will receive further cooking (i.e. the person preparing your pizza crust that will be going into the wood fired oven).
    4. They use a food thermometer to check the doneness of chicken, meat products (including hamburgers and sausages), and monitor foods they are holding (such as grilled vegetables stacked and moved aside for Italian sandwiches).
    5. They keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot prepared items are in roasters, warming units, or temperature controlled display units (i.e. hot dogs on a revolving hot dog cooker). Cold foods, such as catchup, mustard, onions, relish, and other self-serve condiment items are on ice, in a cooler, or in a temperature controlled holding unit.
    6. They practice division of tasks. In other words, the person taking the money is not same person putting your hot dog on the bun. Money is very dirty and contaminates the hands. If the person handling the money is also handing you your food, there should be a barrier between their hands and your food, such as a wrapper, plate, or container.
    7. You observe them washing their hands and work surfaces. All food service operations are required to have a hand washing station, whether the establishment is working out of a permanent building or a food stand brought in special for the event. When I observe food vendors taking the time to wash their hands and clean their counters between tasks, I know they are committed to food safety.
  3. Do not share food and beverages. I know sampling from those in your group can be fun, but even during the summer people carry bacteria and viruses that can be transferred through straws, utensils, and containers (i.e. drinking from the same water bottle).

The list may seem lengthy, but many of these suggestions can be quickly observed and practiced. So as you head out to the summer fairs and festivals, may you take in only the sights, sounds, and delicious fair fries, and not the foodborne illness!
Written by: Christine Kendle, Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Science Educator, Tuscarawas County

Reviewed by: Melinda Hill, Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Science Educator, Wayne County

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Camping, Picnic, It’s time to get Outdoors!

food grilled over fireOne of my favorite things about summer is eating outside. Really, not just on a picnic table, but cooking food over an open fire or packing a snack or light meal to eat while riding the horses. Whatever your favorite outdoor activity might be, if you take food along, a few extra precautions will make it a safe experience for everyone.
One rule that never changes is to keep hot foods hot (above 140 degrees F) and cold foods cold (below 40 degrees F). When bringing coolers, make sure that your ice stays cold to cover the food or freeze juice boxes to help keep foods cold. Once the food is heated you have two hours or less (one hour if it’s more than 90 degrees F) to enjoy it. If refrigeration is not available, plan accordingly and discard the leftovers.
Keep everything clean. Bacteria present on raw meat and poultry or seafood can easily spread to other foods. When we are outside, running water might not be available so bring your own soapy water if possible or use disposable wipes to keep your hands and work surfaces as clean as possible.
Don’t plan on drinking from fresh water streams or lakes, no matter how clean it looks. Bottled water is always a better alternative for drinking water. If you are staying for a length of time, use water purification tablets and water filters. Over time purification tablets lose their potency, so keep your supply fresh. Water sanitizing tablets for washing dishes can also be purchased, but be careful not to interchange the two. Look in the camping supply section of your local store for these items.
If you are stationary in your campsite planning food is not so much of a challenge. You can plan meals ahead and use coolers to keep your food safe. If you are hiking or camping off site for a few days, the safety of the food becomes a little more challenging. Here are a few suggestions you might consider:
Dehydrated foods
Dried fruits and nuts
Canned tuna, ham, chicken and beef
Beef jerky or other dried meats
Remember too, the cookware to prepare foods in is also heavy to carry, so preparation and planning ahead will save efforts in the long run. Finally here are some general rules for outdoor food safety:
Pack your foods safely, and always keep raw meats separate from everything else.
Never bring meat or poultry without a way to keep them cold. The cooler is only safe if there is ice in it and it stays below 40 degrees F. Otherwise, discard food if the temperature gets above 40 degrees F for more than 2 hours.
Bring disposable wipes or biodegradable soap for handwashing and dishwashing. Wash your hands often while doing food preparation.
Bring your own drinking water or plan to use purification tablets and boiling water to be safe
Do no leave trash behind, clean up after yourself
For more information check out http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/food-safety-while-hiking-camping-and-boating/ct_index

Written by: Melinda Hill, Ohio State University, Family and Consumer Science Educator, Wayne County

Reviewed by: Linnette Goard, Field Specialist, Food Safety, Selection and Management, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension.

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Prepare to Preserve: Pressure Canner Testing

Finally, summer is here and your garden may be offering a bounty of fresh produce. If you plan to preserve your harvest throughout the season by using a pressure canner, one of the most important things that you can do in preparation for canning season is to get your pressure canner’s gauge tested for accuracy.

pressure cannerPressure canning is a canning method that is necessary for safely canning low-acidity foods, such as vegetables like corn, peas, beans, carrots and potatoes. Your pressure canner should be tested for accuracy every year. The beginning of the summer is a great time to get it tested.

The testing process involves comparing your pressure canner’s gauge to that of a master gauge. If your pressure canner’s gauge is accurate, then you can be certain that, as long as you follow tested recipes, your food will reach a temperature that is high enough to kill harmful microorganisms, and you will be safely canning low acidity foods.

If your gauge reads up to two pounds higher than the master gauge, you must add that amount of difference to the required pressure so you don’t under-process your food. For instance, if the master gauge reads 11 PSI and your gauge reads 12 PSI, process at 12 PSI when the instructions say 11 PSI.

If your gauge reads up to two pounds lower than the master gauge, you may subtract the same amount it differs from the required pressure. For example, if the master gauge reads 11 PSI and your gauge reads 10 PSI, you may process at 10 PSI when the recipe says 11 PSI. In this case, you may also use the pressure stated in the instructions for added safety; it will not harm your food to process at higher temperatures than called for.

If your pressure canner’s gauge reads high or low by more than two pounds, it should be replaced.

Food processed in boiling water bath canners will never reach temperatures higher than 212°F, which is not a high enough temperature to kill the pathogens that will grow in low acidity foods. Higher acidity foods, like fruit, pickles, or jam do not need to reach temperatures higher than 212°F, and can be safely canned in a boiling water bath canner, and this type of canner does not require testing. Some pressure canners use a weighted gauge, and these do not require testing either.

Contact your local Extension office to learn about pressure canner testing service. Your Extension office will also be able to ensure that the different parts of your pressure canner are in good condition and are safe to use.


Ohio State University Extension, Pressure Canner Inspection (2010).

Written by: Joanna Rini, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension Medina County

Reviewed by: Linnette Goard, Field Specialist, Food Safety, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension

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