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Tips for Traveling with Food to Gatherings

holiday meal

It’s a time-honored tradition for many people to bring food to gatherings, such as holiday meals. How do you decide who brings what or how to travel with food if you’re asked to bring something?

When assigning foods or deciding what to take, consider type of food and distance to travel. Remember the 2-hour rule: Avoid leaving perishable foods at room temperature longer than 2 hours (1 hour in warmer seasons when the temperature is over 90° F). The 2 hours includes preparation time for foods that aren’t cooked or foods that need more preparation steps after cooking.

People traveling a long distance might best bring non-perishables such as rolls, breads and cookies. Those traveling about a half hour or less can more safely bring perishable foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products or foods containing these items. Nearer relatives also are a better choice for providing salads, relishes and vegetables.

When traveling with food, keep HOT foods hot (135° F or higher) by wrapping them in foil, and then in heavy towels. Or, carry them in insulated wrappers, bags or containers designed to keep food hot.

Place COLD foods in a cooler with ice or freezer packs or an insulated container with a cold pack so they remain at 40° F or lower, especially if traveling over a half hour.

On arrival, place cold foods in the refrigerator. Place hot foods in an oven hot enough to keep the food at an internal temperature of 140° F or above; use a food thermometer to assure the food stays at a safe internal temperature. Plan to serve foods shortly after guests have arrived.

Another possibility is to carry all perishable food in an ice chest and come early. Then prepare the food after you arrive.

Remember: If you travel with food, take a detour around the “danger zone.” Keep hot foods hot (140° F or higher) and cold foods cold (40° F or lower).

by Patti West, Regional Extension Agent for Food Safety and Quality

Breast Cancer Awareness and Prevention Programs

cancer awareness

October is Breast Health Awareness month. We want to encourage you to be screened and also be educated on ways to prevent not only breast cancer but all cancers.

One risk factor that is not listed above but very important to your overall health is your Nutrition. Aim for meals made up of 2/3 (or more) vegetables, fruits whole grains or beans and 1/3 (or less) animal protein. If you are overweight, consider gradually reducing it by controlling portion size at home and in restaurants making a long-lasting difference in controlling your weight. Research has found that eating a plant based diet, being physically active, and maintain a healthy weight are the important things you can do to reduce your risk of all cancers.

Cancer Fighting Foods   

  • Apples are a good source of fiber and vitamin C. Most of the antioxidant power they provide comes from phytochemicals
  • Blueberries are an excellent source of vitamins C and K, manganese and a good source of dietary fiber. Blueberries are among the fruits highest in antioxidant power, largely due to their many phytochemicals:
  • Cherries – Both sweet and tart cherries are a good source of fiber and vitamin C, and they contain potassium. Tart cherries, but not sweet cherries or tart cherry juice, are also an excellent source of vitamin A.
  • Cranberries are good sources of vitamin C and dietary fiber. They’re very high in antioxidants
  • Grapefruit – One-half of a medium grapefruit – red, pink and white – provides at least half of most adults’ daily vitamin C needs
  • Winter squash are excellent sources of vitamin A, good sources of vitamin C and dietary fiber. They are also a good way to get potassium.
  • Flaxseed is an excellent source of magnesium, manganese and thiamin, and fiber; a good source of selenium; and provides protein and copper, too. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): about half of the fat in flaxseed is this plant form of omega-3 fat.
  • Broccoli & Cruciferous Vegetables – Nearly all are excellent or good sources of vitamin C and some are good sources of manganese. Dark greens are high in vitamin K.
  • Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamins C and A (produced from beta-carotene) and one serving provides at least 10 percent of the daily recommended potassium.
  • Whole grains are good sources of fiber and magnesium and provide some protein. A variety of healthful compounds in whole grains combine to make these foods high in potential anti-cancer activity.
  • Dry Beans & Peas (Legumes) are excellent source of folate, a B vitamin.
  • Dark Green Vegetables – Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens, chicory and Swiss chard all have some fiber, folate and a wide range of carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, along with saponins and flavonoids.
  • Carrots – About one carrot –one-half cup chopped– provides 200% of the Daily Value of vitamin A, some fiber and is a good source of vitamin K. Carrots contain phytochemicals that can act as antioxidants and in other ways. These include:
  • Garlic belongs to the family of vegetables called Allium, which also includes onions, scallions, leeks and chives. According to AICR’s second expert report and its updates (CUP), garlic probably protects against colorectal cancer.

Worship in Pink Program

Worship in Pink is a health program for congregations of all faiths with the goal of increasing breast cancer awareness and linking women to resources. We provide a toolkit to a Worship in Pink Coordinator at each congregation to plan an educational event during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

** Events can be held any time of the year, not just the month of October

  • Educational information pamphlet
  • 50 church fans
  • 2 survivor ambassador ribbons
  • 50 pink ribbons for participates

Your FREE Worship in pink kit can be picked up from your local Extension office Monday through Friday.

Extension offers breast health seminars are available at no cost to all citizens. Contact your local Extension office to register for Even After October Breast Health Seminars or contact me directly at 256-499-7146.

by Sheree N. Taylor, Regional Extension Agent for Human Nutrition, Diet and Health

Tactics for Avoiding the Bite of Mosquitoes


Mosquitoes bite, carry diseases, and are responsible for more human deaths than any other insect in the world.  These diseases have included West Nile virus, Chikungunya virus, Eastern equine encephalitis, dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever and St. Louis encephalitis. Recently, mosquitoes have been found carrying the Zika virus and again are a major health concern in the United States.

Mosquito control is difficult and usually limited to prevention methods.  Homeowners can most effectively reduce the number of mosquitoes around their homes and neighborhoods by eliminating standing water. Mosquitoes need water for the immature stages to develop, therefore, reducing standing water will reduce adult populations.  Female mosquitoes lay their eggs on water or moist substrates such as soil and the interior of walls of treeholes, cans, and old tires that are likely to be flooded by water. Most larvae hatch within 48 hours and then live in the water for a little while longer. Adult mosquitoes emerge soon after.

Start by placing these tactics on your mosquito control to-do-list:

  • Dispose of any refuse that can hold water, including containers, tin cans, and old tires.
  • Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers and check uncovered junk piles.
  • Clean clogged roof gutters every year, check storm drains, and leaky outdoor faucets.
  • Empty accumulated water from wheelbarrows, boats, cargo trailers, pet dishes, toys, and ceramic pots. If possible, turn these items over when not in use.
  • Do not allow water to stagnate in birdbaths, ornamental pools, water gardens, and swimming pools or their covers.
  • Swimming pools should be cleaned and chlorinated when not in use.
  • Alter the landscape of your property to eliminate standing water. Keep in mind that during warm weather, mosquitoes can breed in any puddle of water.
  • Eliminate seepage from cisterns, cesspools, and septic tanks.
  • Water plants and lawns in the morning and so that water is not left standing for several days.
  • Change the water in pet bowls daily.
  • Clean livestock-watering troughs monthly.
  • Aerate ornamental pools or stock them with fish. People with lily ponds can get mosquito fish (Gambusia), which eat mosquito larvae and live happily with goldfish.
  • Larvicides or “mosquito dunks” are highly effective in controlling immature mosquitoes and should be considered when standing water cannot be eliminated.

Preventing mosquito bites is the next best tactic.  Start by avoiding outdoor activities between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are looking for a blood meal. If not, cover up by wearing shoes, socks, long pants, and long sleeved shirts; light-colored clothing is better. Apply a “bug spray” or repellent for personal protection. Those containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) are effective in discouraging mosquitoes from biting. The higher the percentage of DEET in the product, the longer the protection lasts. Non-Deet repellants may provide some relief but typically do not persist as long.

Eliminating adult mosquitoes all together would be the perfect solution, but in reality is a major undertaking and impossible.  One can try by managing the home landscape vegetation since adult mosquitoes rest on dense vegetation during the day. Cut tall weeds, and keep shrubs and trees trimmed away from the house to increase air circulation.

Spray shrubs and the lower branches of trees where mosquitoes rest with an insecticide. Registered insecticide for adult mosquito control include cyfluthrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, and permethrin, Yard foggers, which typically contain pyrethrins may be set off shortly before an outside activity to provide temporary relief from mosquitoes.

Note – insecticides used in an area provide temporary relief of mosquitoes and not long term control.  Like most insects, mosquitoes have the ability to reproduce rapidly and replace any dent that might occur in the population.

Finally, beware of mosquito control gimmicks such as bug zappers, traps, electronic devices, candles, plants, etc. Research studies have proven that most of them are not only costly but quite ineffective in controlling or providing relief of mosquitoes. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Guidleines on Expiration Dates for Produce

expiration dates

Expiration dates are posted on all packaged and/or processed food items found in the grocery store. However, fruits and vegetables are left for us to wonder if they are safe or not to eat. This can cause confusion when trying to remember how long certain produce items will stay fresh and where they can be stored.

What are the beginning signs of an unsafe fruit or vegetable? Regional Extension Agent Janet Johnson said bruises or signs of wilting are the first signs of spoilage. The bad or wilted part can be removed and the fruit or vegetable may still be safe to eat. However, this all depends on the fruit or vegetable but if a slimy or foul odor is present, throw it away.

Many fruits and vegetables should be stored at room temperature and can generally last for several days. Others require refrigeration and vary on shelf life.

“Common fruits that must be stored in the refrigerator include berries, grapes and plums, and they should be washed only before consumption,” Johnson said. “Fruits like apples, bananas, peaches, and pears should be ripened at room temperature and then stored in the refrigerator.”

Produce expiration dates:

The expiration dates, or shelf life, for vegetables vary but generally follow the following guidelines. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green onions, lima beans, peas, yellow squash, carrots, beets, and turnips will only last about 5 days. Cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, peppers and whole tomatoes can usually last slightly longer, or about one week. Let tomatoes ripen at room temperature. Lettuce, spinach and leafy greens should be washed, drained and stored for about 5 days. Citrus fruits, carrots, beets and turnips can last about 2 weeks.

Some vegetables can be stored at room temperature but should be kept in a slightly cooler area, like 50 to 60 degrees, and should be loosely wrapped and kept in a dark location. These items include onions, potatoes, rutabagas, butternut or spaghetti squash.

Determining if a fruit is ripe and ready to consume can often be difficult. Of course it depends on the type of fruit, but generally the color, texture, or firmness of the fruit can determine when ripe.

Some fresh fruits and vegetables can be stored in the freezer, with proper preparation.

“Vegetables high in water content, such as lettuce, do not freeze well,” Johnson said. “Other vegetables should be blanched (boiled for a short time to stop enzymatic activity), cooled and drained before freezing.”

Don’t wash blueberries before freezing. Most fruits should be frozen in syrup to help retain the texture.

How strict should you follow the dates and sign of expiration? Don’t consume processed foods beyond the dates on packaged and/or processed foods.. The only exceptions are based on whether or not the food can be frozen. This will extend the food’s shelf life. Expiration dates do not apply to fresh fruits and vegetables since proper or improper storage strongly affects how long produce will last.

Fruit and vegetable quality is not based on a date. Proper storage conditions determine the length of shelf life. If improperly stored, most items will not last as long.

Don’t eat produce that has visible mold. Instead throw away the entire fruit or vegetable.

For more information about understanding date labeling on prepackaged foods, contact your county Extension office.

Stay Safe in the Sizzling Sun this Summer


Summer is right around the corner, and with it comes warm temperatures and sunny skies. Many people will begin to ditch their winter-wear and spend their weekends away at the beach or the lake. These days by the shore may put you in a relaxed state of mind, but it is important to take proper measures to protect your skin.

To understand the importance of skin protection, you must first know about the sun and the rays it produces. The sun gives off three different types of rays that hit your skin while outside: UVB, UVA and UVC rays. UVB rays are most prevalent between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and hit the skin’s surface layers. UVB rays are responsible for the majority of sunburns and sun damage you get after a long day in the sun without adequate protection.

UVA rays reach the deepest into your skin. Though less intense than UVB, UVA rays are able to seep into fresh skin that is forming deep beneath the skin’s surface, which can cause serious damage. Finally, UVC rays possess the most energy of all of the rays, but they are not present in sunlight and do not penetrate through our atmosphere.

The best practices for protection from these harmful rays are applying sunscreen, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and wearing a lightweight, long-sleeve shirt when in the direct sun. Also, taking breaks in the shade whenever possible is recommended.

“The key is that you use the correct SPF- probably a 30 minimum- apply it in the correct amount and apply it often,” said Donna Shanklin, a  regional agent in Human Nutrition, Diet and Health with theAlabama Cooperative Extension System.

“SPF is a hard concept for many people to understand, but it is important to know if you want to shield your skin from the damage that the sun can cause. When a sunscreen bottle has a certain SPF number on it, it illustrates the product’s level of protection from UVB rays.”

For example, in the amount of time that it takes an individual to burn with no protection, it would take the same individual 30 times longer to burn while using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30.

You also want your sunscreen to protect against UVA rays. When shopping for a sunscreen that protects against UVA rays as well as UVB, look for ingredients such as: benzophenones, oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, titanium diozide, zinc oxide or Metroxyl SX.

A sunscreen that lists any of the previous ingredients, has an SPF of 15 or higher and states on the bottle that it is a broad-spectrum sunscreen is adequate for protection from the sun.

According to the Skin Care Foundation, one out of every five people will develop a type of skin cancer  such as basil cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma, in their lifetimes. Sunburn history, moles, fairness of skin and family history all factor into an individual’s risk.

By implementing safe, sun protection procedures into your every day life, you can greatly decrease your chances of skin damage and the development of skin cancer.

So, when you are eager to spend your days outdoors this spring, make sure that skin protection is your first priority.

Source List:

  • http://agrilife.org/4h/files/2011/12/coconsumer_decision_making_guide_sunscreen_2011cdm.pdf
  • https://ag.purdue.edu/extension/WIA/Documents/3A%20witkoske.neher%20Nourish%20Your%20Skin.pdf
  • www.skincancer.org

Donna Shanklin, Regional Extension Agent, Human Nutrition, Diet and Health, Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Food Safety Class for Fund Raisers

food safety fundraiser - banner

Many local organizations count on the help that comes from fundraising events and nearly all of these events involve food.  Fairs, festivals, bazaars, cook-off competitions, spaghetti suppers, pancake breakfasts all feature dishes usually prepared by volunteers.  If food is mishandled during preparation, storing or serving, serious consequences may result, especially for high risk individuals – young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.

It is important to protect your fundraiser/event from foodborne illness. In 2015, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported 99 outbreaks of foodborne illness in the state.  In 2013 a fundraising event in Alabama was the source of an outbreak of Salmonella. An estimated 200 – 300 people became ill after eating food prepared for the event. An investigation by the Health Department concluded that the outbreak was caused by mishandling of the food – improper temperatures, and cross contamination.

If your organization is planning a community fundraising event involving food, consider the implications of food safety at this event.  Bacteria are an invisible enemy that could cause serious problems for many individuals.  One in six Americans get sick from food poisoning each year.  For this reason, it is important that volunteers be aware of food safety practices when preparing and serving large quantities of food.

Food Safety for Fundraisers is a class being offered by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System for organizations to receive some food safety training in quantity cooking.  Tallapoosa County Extension will host classes on May 3rd and May 10th at the Tallapoosa County Courthouse Extension auditorium in Dadeville. Class time is 6 – 8 pm.

Food Safety for Fundraisers will focus on the principles of keeping food safe when handling large quantities of food.  The class will be offered in two sessions of 2 hours each, a certificate of study will be given to those who complete the course. There is no charge to attend.

Contact the Tallapoosa County Extension office at 256-825-1050 for more information or see promotional flyer. 

Foodborne illness is preventable, and prevention begins with you.

By Patti West, Regional Extension Agent, Food Safety and Quality.

Extension to Present A Grill Master Class on May 14th

Baby Back Ribs on a barbecue grill with flames

There is just something special about cooking and eating outdoors. That distinctive smell of charcoal in the air, hamburgers cooking on the grill, or a pork butt being smoked gets everyone excited.   Whether it is a simple backyard picnic, a large family gathering, or tailgating before a big game, great food brings folks together.  The center piece of all these events, is the person designated to do the cooking, the one that makes it all happen and successful  – the honorary grill master.

Grilling and smoking meats may sound like a real easy job; some will say anyone can do that.  Anyone can mess it up real quick too.   Becoming really good at cooking takes practice and some training.  Most “experts” learn from experience and other folks.  Cooking outdoors – grilling and smoking meats – takes skill and knowledge.    There are dos and don’ts when it comes to properly cooking pork, chicken, and beef.  Gas, charcoal, and wood, can all be used but each cook differently and have their advantages and disadvantages.  It is real easy for someone to become confused and hesitant about cooking outdoors.

HiResExtension would like to help you become more comfortable with cooking, grilling, and smoking meats.  The Tallapoosa County Extension office is hosting its first ever Grill Master Class on Saturday, May 14th.  This basic class will cover food safety, meat selection, types of fuel cooking methods, and cooking tips for beef, pork, and poultry.  And true to other Extension programs, this event will be an “eating meeting” and feature taste testing – some samples of cooked items.

This program will be led by Extension Agents and local “Grill Masters” who will provide their advice when it comes to grilling and smoking meats.  However, it will also be very informal and allow all participants the opportunity to share their cooking tips and techniques with the group.   We can all learn from each other. Our goal is for this class to have a fun Saturday morning talking about and eating good food.

The Grill Master Class will be held from 9 a.m. – 12 noon at Pavilion #3 at Wind Creek State Park in Alexander City.  Cost is $15 per person and reservations are required.   Participants are asked to contact the Tallapoosa County Extension office at 256-825-1050 to sign-up or mail in the Grill Master Class Registration Form. Deadline for payment is Friday, May 13th.

Common Food Safety Mistakes to Avoid in the Kitchen



Food safety, especially that in restaurants, has been a reoccurring issue. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) tracks all reported cases of outbreaks, the most recent one being earlier this month. Janice Hall, a regional Extension agent in Food Safety and Quality with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, is one of the public’s lines of defense when it comes to ensuring restaurants maintaining  quality standards.

“Restaurants are currently required to have at least one person on site that is ServSafe certified. ServSafe is a nationally recognized certification for food service industry.  It provides up-to-date information for all employees on all aspects of handling food from purchasing to serving.  The Alabama Cooperative Extension System Food Safety Team and Quality offers this training statewide.”

Hall said there are several different risk factors that can contribute to foodborne illnesses, such as purchasing food from an unauthorized vendor, to employees simply not practicing good personal hygiene. But per the CDC, most disease outbreaks stem from just a few mistakes.

“The CDC estimates that in 2013, 818 foodborne disease outbreaks were reported, resulting in 13,360 illness, 1,062 hospitalizations, 16 deaths and 14 food recalls. These numbers are attributed to the five most common risk factors as to why people get a foodborne illness.

  • Purchasing food from unsafe sources. It is required that restaurants purchase from approved reputable suppliers.
  • Failing to cook food to the correct temperature.
  • Using contaminated equipment.
  • Holding food at the incorrect temperature. Leaving food in the temperature danger zone, 41F-135F, for too long can cause bacteria to grow to numbers that can make people sick.
  • Employees practicing poor personal hygiene. This means failing to wash hands after touching body, other objects such as phones, and other surfaces that can contaminate hands then touching the food, and coming to work while sick are just a couple of items that fall into this category.”

According to this study done by the CDC, people believe that restaurants make them more sick than eating at home. However, mistakes in home kitchens can lead to illness as well. Hall advises people to practice good food safety habits in their own homes.

“People should always rinse all fruits and vegetables before cooking and/or consuming. They should avoid cross contamination by washing hands, surfaces and utensils between handling raw and ready to eat foods. They should cook their food to the correct temperature and use a thermometer to make sure it’s done. They should never thaw meat on the counter. It should be thawed in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for each 5 pounds of meat.  They should not put hot food in the refrigerator to cool because bacteria can grow on warm foods kept in the danger zone for more than 2 hours. Also, putting hot foods in the refrigerator can warm the inside of your refrigerator exposing all of the other food to dangerous temperature levels.”

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System offers several resources for maintaining good food safety habits at home:

For more information about food safety, follow the ACES food safety blog.

Source: Extension Daily

Reading and Understanding Food Labels

food labels banner

When it comes to grocery shopping today and maintaining general health, it has become increasingly difficult to navigate the complicated ingredients lists on food labels. The seemingly unlimited amount of ingredients one can encounter on a trip to the store can leave shoppers feeling overwhelmed and confused about how to make healthy decisions.

A good place to start is to debunk a traditional thought when it comes to food labels, ingredients and additives.

The common rule among those attempting to eliminate unnecessary additives to their diets is “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it”. However, this can sometimes be misleading.

Christina Levert, a registered dietician and regional Extension agent in Human Nutrition Diet and Health with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System,  offers a simple example, “If the make up of a raw apple was listed on an ‘ingredient list,’ it would contain the words ‘pantothenic acid’ and ‘pyridoxine’. These are naturally occurring B vitamins and obviously should not be avoided simply because we cannot pronounce them.”

Another issue shoppers face is the explosion of fat-free, low-fat, low calorie or other claims on packaging to entice the health-conscious buyer.

While these altered foods would ideally offer all of the good and none of the bad, Levert warns, “Often, when a food is altered to become fat-free or low-fat, another ingredient is added to maintain taste and quality of the food. Sometimes this is in the form of additional sugar or sodium.”

Just as the “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it rule” can be broken when appropriate, the same can be said for foods that do not have any of the fat-free, low-fat or low calorie labels.

When asked to advise consumers on something that is most often overlooked on food labels, Levert said, “People often overlook the amount of sodium and added sugars. These aren’t always listed in the ingredients lists using the names we are familiar with.” She said, “added sugar may sometimes be listed as honey, high fructose corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice or balt marley syrup, to name a few.”

So, is there any true rule consumers can easily follow to ensure they avoid unwanted ingredients? Levert says to eat as much fresh food as you can. A simple alternative to canned or packaged foods is to opt for frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen items give you the ability to save food longer than traditional fresh foods without compromising any health benefits. She also advises cutting  back convenience foods to maximize good ingredients and minimize bad.

In an increasingly fast-paced world, it becomes difficult to monitor all aspects of life. With a few small steps such as sticking to the freshest food options offered, consumers can eliminate at least some of the damaging parts of processed food, leading to healthier lives now and in the long term.