Friday, August 30, 2013

Food Safety: The Game Plan for Tailgate Parties

Pre-game tailgate parties are a long-standing American tradition enjoyed by many. Although tailgating is typically a cool weather activity in most areas of the country, it still requires the same safe food handling practices as summer picnicking. Let's take a look at some tailgate tips offered by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

Foods like chili or stew can be kept hot with an insulated container. To ensure the food stays hot, first fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Keep the insulated container closed to keep the food hot (140° F or above) for several hours.
Plan ahead and chill the food in your refrigerator before packing for your tailgate. Carry all cold perishable foods, including potato or pasta salads, luncheon meats, raw hamburger patties, and cooked meat or chicken in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, frozen gel packs or containers of frozen water. Wrap raw meat and poultry securely to prevent their juices from cross contaminating ready-to-eat foods.
Pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces. Be sure to pack along water for cleaning up.

Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside, so check using a food thermometer to be sure they are cooked thoroughly. Cook hamburgers, sausage and all cuts of pork to 160°F. For taste as well as safety, FSIS recommends cooking poultry breast meat to 170°F and dark meat to 180°F. Beef, veal and lamb steaks and roasts may be safely cooked to 145°F for medium rare. It is best to avoid partially cooking food ahead of time, which allows bacteria to multiply to the point that subsequent cooking cannot destroy them.

If bringing hot take-out food, eat it within 2 hours of purchase. Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of foodborne illness. Food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill for more than 2 hours (1 hour when the outside temperature is above 90°F). Cook only the amount of food that will be eaten to avoid the challenge of keeping leftovers at a safe temperature. Remember to discard any leftovers that are not ice cold after the game.

Following this game plan is sure to reach the goal of preventing foodborne illness. For more information contact the Extension office at 940/627-3341.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reasons for Illness in Trees

When people see a sick tree, they often think that some sort of disease is causing the illness. Actually, a majority of the problems causing trees and shrubs to look sick stem from stress or physical injury rather than disease.     A common symptom of stress or injury is marginal leaf burn, or leaves fringed by dead tissue. This has been a common problem with numerous species of trees and shrubs this summer. Marginal leaf burns are seldom caused by leaf disease, which usually shows up as random lesions (dead areas) scattered about the leaf? Leaf burn occurs at the leaf tip or along the leaf margin because salts (plant nutrients) accumulated along leaf margins. Anything that causes the plant to pump insufficient water (stress) can result in a toxic burn of this tissue because it contains the highest level of salt.
            Stress symptoms ranging from leaf burns to limb dieback or tree death can result from numerous causes. Drought is the most obvious cause of stress, but even more so this year. Generally every summer we see extremely dry weather, coupled with the heat of June and early July, may cause some serious problems for some homeowners. This year we are in a record drought and are setting records for 100 degree days, so it is no wonder why our landscapes and trees are suffering.  Large trees show responses to stress more slowly, some of the marginal burns now being observed relate to last summer. High temperatures cause plants to pump more water and simply compound drought problems. As temperatures exceed 100° F, water loss by some trees and shrubs can equal or exceed the ability of the roots to supply water, even when the soil moisture is not deficient. I expect we will continue to see some problems with trees and other landscape plants until we receive some significant rainfall.
            Because of extreme Texas temperatures each summer, freeze injury is often overlooked, yet it is one of the most common and damaging causes of stress. Direct injury to twigs and limbs is usually fairly evident, and the damaged wood can be pruned. Often the injury is more subtle, occurring on a portion of the trunk with no immediate or noticeable effect on the entire tree or shrub.
            Thick bark sometimes remains intact, hiding trunk freeze injury for well more than a year. Probing the bark on the lower 3 feet of the trunk with a screwdriver or tapping with a mallet (listen for hollow sound) will usually reveal hidden freeze injury if it is present.
            Just as drought causes trees to stress, so does excess water. Tree roots need oxygen in order to function properly, so roots that are waterlogged lose their ability to take up water. It can take several years for a seriously injured root system to be regenerated.
            In recent years, numerous trees growing in poorly drained soil have been killed or damaged following periods of heavy rainfall. Trees with damaged roots systems are vulnerable to summer droughts and heat stress. Be sure to deeply water your landscape trees as we continue into what are normally the driest months of the year.

Breakfast Matters

It’s that time of year again! School time! I hope that everyone’s year got off to an exciting start. Being sure to take time to enjoy a nutritional breakfast is one of the ways that children and parents alike can keep that high level of enthusiasm throughout the school year or even just a regular work week.
Breakfast has been dubbed the “most important meal of the day”.  However, breakfast is the most commonly missed meal of the day. Recent research suggests that children who eat breakfast are more likely to have healthful nutrition behaviors and make healthy food choices such as eating more fruits and vegetables than those who do not eat breakfast. While breakfast is also important for academic performance and may help with maintenance of a healthy weight, fewer United States youth are eating breakfast.  Here are a few ways you can make breakfast a part of your family’s daily routine.
First, be sure that as the parent you set a good example and eat a healthy breakfast every day.  Parents serve as role models for healthy eating behaviors to their children.  Be sure that your children see you eat breakfast, make it a family activity.
Like any meal, breakfast takes planning. Prepare for breakfast as much as you can the night before. This might include slicing fruit, mixing frozen juice, or packing lunches for the next day at night so that you have time to prepare breakfast in the morning. Also include breakfast foods on your grocery list. Stock your kitchen with healthy breakfast options such as milk, juice, yogurt, fruit, whole grain cereals and breads, or hot cereals such as oatmeal and grits.
Your children may also need a few minutes after waking up before they are ready to eat breakfast. Even though this means you are up earlier, you and your children will feel better. You will have energy to start your day and will enjoy time together as a family before leaving the house for work and school.
Some ideas for a healthy breakfast include peanut butter on whole wheat toast, low-fat yogurt with granola, toasted waffles with fruit, bagels with cheese, grits, hard boiled eggs, or oatmeal with dried fruit or nuts. You might also try something unconventional such as rice and beans with fruit or a grilled cheese sandwich.  Just remember, breakfast matters!
To learn more about healthy breakfast options, contact Wise County’s Texas AgriLife Extension office at 940/627-3341.