Focus on safety with mailed food gifts
Q: Last year we received a gift in the mail and didn’t open it until Christmas Eve. The box contained cheese spreads that said, “keep refrigerated” on the label. They had been at room temperature for more than a week, so we threw them out. But since then, I’ve seen some types of cheese spreads sold at the grocery store on the shelf. Were we being overly cautious?
A: If the label said, “keep refrigerated,” you absolutely did the right thing. But it’s no wonder you’re confused. There are many different types of cheese and processed cheese products, and some don’t need to be refrigerated until they’re opened. It depends on several factors, including the product’s moisture content, its level of acidity, its packaging and how it was made and processed. But a “keep refrigerated” instruction on the label is a sure clue that the product should not be kept at room temperature for extended periods.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service offers a detailed fact sheet to help you sort out how to keep perishable foods safe when delivered over long distances. For the lowdown, go to www.fsis.usda.gov and search for “Mail Order Food Safety.” It includes a chart with time limits for storage of a wide variety of foods at room temperature and in the refrigerator or freezer.
Among the food safety tips it recommends are:
• When a food labeled “keep refrigerated” arrives, open it immediately and check its temperature with a food thermometer to make sure it’s 40 degrees F or lower. If it’s warmer than that, throw the food away and contact the company.
• If you’re ordering perishable food to be delivered to someone, let them know when it will arrive. Perishable foods can be sent safely if packaged and handled properly before, during and after delivery.
• If you’re sending perishable food from home, pack it in a reusable insulated cooler with enough dry ice or frozen gel packs to keep the food cold. Mark “keep refrigerated” clearly on the outside of the box, as well as “contains dry ice” if that’s what you’re using, to warn the recipient. (Dry ice should not be touched with bare hands.) Use next-day delivery whenever possible.
For additional guidance, The Ohio State University offers a food safety hotline during business hours at 800-752-2751, or by email at food email@example.com.
Q: I need some inspiration to help keep me from gaining weight during the holidays. Any ideas?
A: The temptations of the season often come not with glitter and sparkle, but with sugar, fat and calories.
Fortunately, weight gain isn’t inevitable. In fact, most studies suggest an average weight gain over the holidays of about 1 pound. This is good news, because most people assume it is 5 or 10 times that number.
Still, researchers warn that people tend to keep that extra pound instead of shedding it after the season is over. Those pounds can pile up over time, leading to significant weight gain.
Studies also indicate that people who are already overweight are more likely to gain 5 pounds or more during the holidays.
Perhaps the first thing to acknowledge is that this won’t be easy. Accepting that in advance will help you make a more serious effort. With that in mind, here are a few tips from the experts:
• Unless you can already easily estimate and track calories of the special treats and meals you’re likely to face over the holidays, try a “mindful eating” approach instead. A recent Ohio State University study showed that this technique can help people with diabetes to significantly reduce their weight and blood sugar. To use this method, take a few minutes before eating to assess how hungry you are, and then make a conscious choice about how much you eat. When you’re full, you stop eating no matter how tempting the food is.
• Learn to say “no” politely: “It’s delicious, but if I eat one more bite, I’ll feel stuffed.” Don’t let yourself feel pressured into eating more than you want to.
• Help yourself with portion control by using smaller plates, especially at a buffet. Fill it up with vegetables or lean protein, if possible, before you add other dishes. When eating out, ask for a take-home box to be delivered with your food, and put half of your meal in it before you take a bite.
• Watch the alcohol. A recent study showed that American adults get an average of 5 percent of their calories from alcohol alone, amounting to about 100 calories a day. That could easily increase during the holidays. Set yourself a limit in advance, and follow any alcoholic beverage with a nice big glass of water.
• Find ways to increase physical activity to account for extra calories. Stretch your 30-minute workout to 45 minutes. And, make it a point to always park far from the entry to work or the store, just to work those extra steps in.
For more ideas from around the web, see bitly.com/holidaygain.
Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1044, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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