Help! I’m a Germaphobe!

So you’re a germaphobe. The first step is to admit it. It’s not a bad thing….is it? Well, let’s take a look and see!

First, the term “germ” – what is a germ? That’s a slang term, usually we are referring to bacteria and viruses. Let’s define those words to make them less scary! Bacteria are single celled, living organisms. They are similar to all living organisms, in that they meet the same basic requirements. They need food, water, and oxygen to survive. There are few weird bacteria who only can survive well in an total lack of oxygen; those are called anaeobic. Bacteria multiply, and they produce waste. Sound familiar?

Beneficial bacteria – these are the good guys. Most bacteria are either neutral (they don’t bother us), or they are beneficial. According to the latest science, we think it’s 40 trillion bacteria reside in an average human male, most of them in his gut. These bacteria help us to digest our food and a lot of other important stuff. In food, bacteria do things like ferment food (think of sauerkraut) and help with production of other foods like yogurt. They exist in nature for our benefit in many ways as well. Continue reading

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Why Does My Coke Have an Expiration?!

There is a funny joke about dairy products. You know your milk is bad when it looks like yogurt. You know your yogurt is bad when it starts to look like cottage cheese. The cottage cheese is bad when it starts to look like regular cheese. Regular cheese is just spoiled milk anyway. Your regular cheese is bad when it starts to look like blue cheese and you just KNOW you didn’t buy moldy cheese on purpose!

So…is it OK to use food after that expiration date on the package? I’m going to tell you a secret now that will probably just blow your mind. Well, maybe it will just surprise you a little bit.

Those expiration dates, which are sometimes also called “best-by” dates, or “use-by” dates, are really just dates that allow the stores to know when to rotate their products. In other words, they are not required by law to be placed on the packages. I know! SHOCKING. Continue reading

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Those Aren’t Really Chocolate Sprinkles, and Other Tails

When you open a can of spinach for dinner, what gastronomic pleasures await you? You might think to expect the slippery, muddy green of canned spinach, the pungent vinegary smell we associate with that particular treat. Unfortunately, this was not the case for one very unsuspecting consumer.

I received a phone call one afternoon at my desk at the health department from a distraught older lady. She had heated her canned spinach to go with her meal, and was halfway through chewing a bite when she realized the stuff in her mouth had an unusually crunchy texture. After pulling the remains from between her teeth, she was able to determine this particular bite of spinach was actually grasshopper. Mmmm.We analyzed the sample for her, to verify the validity of her entomological complaint. It does happen, you know. After all, canned fruits and vegetables are harvested from fields, and other things live in fields, besides plants.

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Handwashing – Are You Doing it Right?

Once upon a time, when you were young enough that you probably don’t remember, an adult taught you to wash your hands. Probably mom or dad, or a teacher, showed you how to turn on the faucet, rub the slippery bar of soap over your hands, scrub up some bubbles, then rinse them away.

Some of us are still pretty conscientious hand-washers. Then others of us figure it might not hurt to skip this procedure sometimes, if we’re in hurry…then there are those “others”. The ones we all spot leaving a public restroom, without washing their hands. The dirty hands police will catch up with them soon enough. Ugh! Continue reading

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Food Sleuth On the Road

It’s spring break season, and many of us are traveling. One of the best parts of being on the vacation is the new restaurants we get to visit. But it’s not so much fun if we wind up with a foodborne illness from something we’ve eaten, especially in the middle of our much-anticipated getaway!

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 6 Americans will experience a foodborne illness every year – that’s 48 million people! And 3,000 of them will die. How can you avoid being one of these numbers? When you’re choosing a restaurant to eat, it can be difficult sometimes to know which one is safe, especially if you’re out of town and aren’t familiar with the territory. Below are tips to help you spot some obvious clues the establishment may not be too concerned with cleanliness or food safety. Continue reading

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Living Dangerously

You may have heard that it’s not a good idea to eat undercooked hamburgers. You might have been told you should really cook your meat to a certain temperature, or noticed the labels on the packages of meat you buy that say: cook to blah blah degrees. Raise your hand if you own a kitchen thermometer, and you actually use it. You get a gold star!!

Not many kitchen cooks I know are very good about doing this. Why? Are they lazy? Nah, it’s just that most people tend to think, “I’ve always done it this way, and I haven’t killed anyone yet.” Or, “I can tell when it’s done by looking at it.” Unfortunately, this is not true. If you haven’t made anyone sick, you are either lucky, or you might actually be wrong about that. Continue reading

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